Frequently Asked Questions

  1. When is this going to happen?  Right now we are still in the process of researching whether or not there is suitable habitat for elk in northeast Minnesota and if the public is supportive of the idea of having elk here.  This first phase is scheduled for completion in June, 2019.  Then, if the answers are positive, we would still have to take additional input from the public, raise funding to bring elk here, find a source herd, write a management plan and then go and capture elk.  If all goes well, this is still likely to take several more years to complete.
  2. Why were these 3 areas chosen for study and could elk be restored to other areas of the state as well?  This idea to restore elk to more of Minnesota originated with the Fond du Lac Band and the Band has treaty hunting rights in all 3 of these areas.  These 3 areas were chosen for study because they have a large percentage of public land, lands actively managed for timber harvest (elk like to forage in young aspen stands) and less agriculture than many other areas of the state.  It’s unlikely we would get enough elk someday to stock elk in all 3 study areas.  We would likely have to pick the 1 or 2 with the best combination of the suitable habitat and public support.  If we are successful with elk restoration, there’s no reason we couldn’t take what we learned and use it to look at other areas of the state to restore elk as well.
  3. Where is funding coming from?  Most of the funding ($300,000) for our current feasibility study is coming from Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.  The Trust Fund is maintained from proceeds from the state lottery that are dedicated to natural resources.  The Fond du Lac Band has obtained almost $30,000 in matching funds through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has contributed another $15,000 towards this effort.
  4. Are there any wild elk still in Minnesota?  There are approximately 100 elk in the far northwest corner of Minnesota.  Many of them go back and forth across the border with Manitoba.
  5. Are established elk herds increasing their land-use area?  Depends on the state.  Wisconsin is actively working to expand the range of both of their elk herds.  Michigan’s elk herd has filled the available range and is being managed through hunting to maintain numbers and range.   In North Carolina the elk herd has grown enough that it’s expanding into areas of the state outside of Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  Kentucky’s elk herd has expanded from 3 counties and 1500 elk to 13 counties and 10-11,000 elk over the last 20 years.  In northwest Minnesota the DNR has been prevented by legislation from growing the elk herds much beyond current numbers.
  6. How are elk predicted to do with climate change?  Currently wild elk live from North Carolina to California and from Texas to Alaska.  Historically they were found in most of the lower 48 states.  They will likely do just fine with whatever climate change we experience in Minnesota.  They are a tough, adaptable animal.
  7. Will there be higher competition for winter forage, from a forestry stand point, are we going to have to protect seedlings for 3-5 more years than current due to higher browse reaching capabilities of elk?  Elk biologists in Michigan and Wisconsin report elk pretty much leave conifers like white pine and cedar alone.  Elk will browse on young aspen and can browse it pretty hard; however, young aspen stems have a high rate of natural mortality and elk browse may simply replace some of that.   We would most likely have to protect high value hardwoods like oak and maple for 3-5 years longer than we already have to to protect them from deer.
  8. There are a lot of farms in the area, pasture lands, hay storage, fences, other crops…how will this be mediated when damage is done by elk?  Minnesota currently reimburses agricultural producers for damage caused by wolves and elk.  Over the last 10 years or so this has averaged about $41,000/year for elk (much higher for wolves).  This money is an annual appropriation by the Legislature.  There are also state programs available to help producers take steps to protect against damage – providing fencing to protect stored forage for instance.  
  9. If an elk herd does get established will the public be able to hunt them or will it just be open to the tribe?  Except for wolves and wild rice, the Fond du Lac Band doesn’t restrict access to non- tribal members to hunt, fish, trap or gather on the Fond du Lac Reservation as long as you have the proper state license.  If elk are ever initially put on the Reservation, the Reservation is not fenced and there are state, county and non-tribal privately owned lands on the Reservation as well.   A successful, elk restoration is going to require active cooperation and support from the DNR and the non-tribal public because elk will not stay on FDL lands.  Off of the Reservation where the FDL and other bands maintain treaty hunting rights, someday tribal members would be entitled to up to half of any available elk harvest.  Those harvest numbers would be determined cooperatively between state and tribal biologists.
  10. How will the elk change the current ability to bag white-tails?  Hunters do not want to watch elk forage on food plots meant to increase the potential for bagging a deer.  Other eastern state with long established elk herds (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, ) haven’t complained about negative interactions between white-tailed deer and elk or a decline in deer hunting due to elk.   The two species tolerate each other and have different enough diet preferences that there’s little competition for food.  If a landowner is maintaining a food plot to attract white-tailed deer, it will probably attract elk as well. 
  11. Are there diseases that can be passed between elk, deer, and/or moose?  Yes, and livestock too.  Chronic Wasting Disease, bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis are the 3 major diseases of concern, but there are others as well.  Every state that has reintroduced elk in recent years has put their elk through extensive health checks and quarantine protocols before releasing them.  Elk are susceptible to brainworm, a parasite normally carried by deer and often fatal to moose.  However research from other eastern states with both deer and elk indicates brainworm has much less impact on elk as compared to moose.
  12. Elk and moose, are we attempting to have two large hooved animals struggling to maintain existence in the same area?  Should we put our energy towards moose?   We’re already putting a lot of research and management effort towards moose (although maybe we could do more).  The areas we’re studying to put elk in are primarily outside of what the state has designated as “moose range” and where we manage for moose.  If future climate change is too severe, it’s possible someday we may lose moose from Minnesota no matter what we do.  Elk could help fill that gap if it happens someday.
  13. Where would we get elk from someday?  Wisconsin, Virginia and Missouri have all gone to Kentucky to get elk in recent years.  Kentucky has 10-11,000 wild elk and so far they have been willing to give some away and biologists have not found any disease issues in Kentucky’s elk herd.  West Virginia is currently receiving elk from both Kentucky and Arizona for their restoration effort.  We might get elk from either state or we might look at other wild herds around the country if we could be confident they were disease free.  We could get some elk from established wild herds in northwest Minnesota, but there aren’t enough elk there to supply all of the animals we’re likely to need to start a herd in northeast Minnesota.  It’s not likely we would consider releasing farmed elk to establish a wild herd. 
  14. What about wolves?  Wolves (and bears) will present a challenge to growing an elk herd someday.  It won’t take them long to figure out elk are good to eat.  However, wolves, bears and elk coexisted in North America for 1000s of years, and could do so again in northeast Minnesota someday.  Wisconsin is slowly growing their two elk herds near Hayward and Black River Falls in wolf range.  Although the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s had a significant impact on elk, there are still 1000s of elk in the area.  However, abundant predator populations mean it’s unlikely we can succeed by only releasing a couple dozen animals.  We may need to think in terms of an initial release of 200-300 elk in order to successfully establish and grow a herd.
  15. What is the DNR’s position on this?  The DNR is supporting our feasibility study to see if we have enough suitable habitat and public support for putting elk in northeast Minnesota.  They haven’t taken any position yet on whether or not they would support going through with a restoration effort.

What can I do to help?  The best thing supporters can do right now is to contact their state representatives and DNR wildlife managers and tell then you’d like to see more elk in Minnesota.  Talk it up with friends, family, neighbors and any conservation organizations you might belong to as well.  If you would like to be on a list to receive email updates about the project and any future volunteer possibilities, please contact [email protected] .