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Wisconsin DNR proposes rule change for elk hunts

A healthy bull elk bugles on an elk farm in central Minnesota. (file photo)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proposing a change to its rule guiding elk hunts in the state. The change would allow the state to decide when a hunt could occur regardless of the elk population.

The state reintroduced 25 elk near Clam Lake in Northwestern Wisconsin just over two decades ago. The herd's population has since grown to about 180 elk. There also are about 60 elk in a herd in Jackson County, near Black River Falls.

Kevin Wallenfang, deer and elk ecologist with the Wisconsin DNR, said the state set limits on when they felt the two elk herds would be ready for an organized hunt.

"In northern Wisconsin, that number was set at 200, and in the Black River Falls area it was set at 150," he said.

Wallenfang said current rules allow the agency to issue hunting permits for 5 percent of the population once the herds reach that threshold.

"What we're trying to do with the rule is just remove those arbitrary requirements, which will allow us to set permit levels based on what we think at the time the population could actually handle," he said.

If the change is approved, Wallenfang said they would consider a number of factors when deciding whether to hold a hunt, including age, sex, number of bulls and location of the animals.

Wallenfang said they're not planning to hold a hunt in Jackson County anytime soon, after reintroducing the herd in recent years with elk from Kentucky. However, he said they hope to hold an elk hunt near Clam Lake in the near future.

"We want to continue to have that population increase. That's why we're bringing these animals in and when a hunt does finally occur — hopefully in the next couple years — we would want to make sure that we're protecting those new animals that we're bringing in," he said.

Wallenfang said they hope this coming winter will be the last year they bring in elk from Kentucky to the Clam Lake herd. So far, the state has reintroduced 73 elk to the Black River Falls area, and it added 31 elk to the Clam Lake herd last year for the first time since the original introduction. The severe winter in 2014 slowed the growth of the herds, as did bear and wolf attacks.

The state Natural Resources Board will take up whether to hold a public hearing on the proposed rule change later this month.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news.

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