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For information on elk, contact:
Kevin Wallenfang
Deer and Elk Ecologist
Bureau of Wildlife Management

Elk information

Wisconsin welcomes new elk to Clam Lake

A total of 31 elk have been released into the Clam Lake elk range, the first reintroduction in over 20 years. Read the news release below for more details.

July 18, 2017 - Third year of reintroduction effort provides 31 Kentucky elk to Wisconsin’s Northwoods [PDF]


Elk (Cervus elaphus) once ranged over most of North America and throughout Wisconsin. They were extirpated from Wisconsin in the mid- to late-1800s due to overhunting and a rapid decline in habitat with the onset of European settlement. Historic records show elk once inhabited at least 50 of the state's 72 counties. An attempt at bringing elk back to the state in the 1930s failed because of poaching and the last four elk were reportedly killed in 1948. Today, however, most of the suitable elk habitat is in the northern and central forest regions of the state.

A bull elk taking a “selfie” near Clam Lake

A bull elk taking a “selfie” near Clam Lake

Early reintroduction efforts

In 1989, the department was directed by the state legislature to explore the feasibility of successfully reintroducing elk, moose and caribou. In the end, it was determined that an elk reintroduction effort could succeed, while reintroductions of moose or caribou likely would not. In 1993, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UW-SP) to evaluate the potential for reintroducing elk to the Great Divide District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) near Clam Lake. During February 1995, 25 elk were trapped, held in a quarantine facility while undergoing disease testing and transported to the Clam Lake release site. After being held in a pen for an acclimation period, the elk were released into the CNNF on May 17, 1995. At this time plans were also made, but never carried out, to reintroduce elk to the Black River State Forest near Black River Falls of west central Wisconsin (Jackson County).

Management responsibility of the herd was transferred from the UW-SP to the department in May 1999 after the initial reintroduction study was considered a success. At that time, approximately 40 elk were present in the herd.

Current reintroduction efforts

The department recently completed a new elk management plan - the management plan and current efforts include the following:

  • an agreement with the state of Kentucky to import as many as 150 elk over a 3-5 year period. Of these wild elk:
    • up to 75 will be added to the existing Clam Lake herd with a long-term population goal of 1,400 elk; and
    • up to 75 will be used to establish a new elk herd in the Black River State Forest with a long-term population goal of 390 elk.
  • allow for the assisted dispersal of elk to suitable habitat within the existing elk ranges;
  • recognize the importance of quality habitat and the factors that correspond with reducing predator impacts; and
  • increase the size of the current Clam Lake range to include more and better habitat.

View the Wisconsin elk reintroduction fact sheet [PDF].

Elk hunting in Wisconsin

When the population size of the Clam Lake herd exceeds 200 animals, a hunting season will be considered.

Elk photos

Photos of the current elk reintroduction program.

Photos from the 2015 & 2017 trapping, relocation and release.

Releasing an elk after initial data collection in Kentucky. Elk health testing gets you in close. Elk approaching a trap in Kentucky. Assembling a Kentucky elk trap. Constructing a Kentucky trap. Elk arriving at the quarantine pen in Wisconsin! The health testing and transportation crew. Another view of the first elk being released into the quarantine pen in Wisconsin. All four calves grazing near a cow. Two bulls in velvet. Attaching a collar to a yearling bull. DNR researcher Dan, sporting one of the GPS collars used to track elk. Researchers applying a collar to monitor the elk after release. A calf nursing on its mother. A cow with her newborn calf. Herd of elk on the move. An aerial photo of the Wisconsin quarantine pen. A series of sliding gates help move animals through the processing facility one at a time.(2017) ( Waiting for final health checks. (2017) Elk in the processing facility waiting for final health check and fitting of GPS tracking collar. (2017) Elk calf. (2017) Cow group in Jackson County, captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera. (2017) Making final adjustments to a GPS tracking collar. (2017) Elk being driven to the processing facility during final health testing. (2017) Two bull elk in Jackson County A bull elk near Clam lake A bull elk A fall sighting of a bull elk in Sawyer County A bull elk taking a “selfie” near Clam Lake A cow elk An elk running through the woods near Clam Lake A mom and her baby feeding An elk making his way through the snow in Sawyer County A bull elk near Clam Lake A cow elk in Jackson County

Clam Lake herd

January-June 2017 Semi-annual Clam Lake elk herd update [PDF]

Exciting rutting activity by a Clam Lake bull.

Collared cow

As of spring 2017, approximately 190 elk made up the main herd near Clam Lake and a second smaller herd located near Butternut. Although they currently occupy approximately 90 square miles of the designated elk range, the herd has grown at an average rate of 13 percent annually. However, growth rates have varied from as high as 30 percent to as low as -16 percent since 1995. Primary causes of mortality include predation by wolves and bear and vehicle collisions. Primary habitat used by the elk consists of aspen and pine forests interspersed with forest openings, lowland conifers and water bodies.

Current management practices are focused on research aimed at securing the future of elk in Wisconsin. Research is utilized for gaining additional knowledge in regards to survival and recruitment rates, habitat use and movement patterns.

Viewing Clam Lake elk

Clam Lake Exhibit

An interactive touch screen kiosk has been retrofitted into an existing sign board located at the junction of state highways 77 and GG in Clam Lake, Wisconsin. The kiosk is designed to provide visitors to the area with expansive information about the resident elk herd and their habitat. The program provides information about the history of elk in Wisconsin and even has a video clip of the original elk reintroduction. Most importantly, the program contains other tools and information to help visitors experience elk including wildlife spotting guides, maps and directions to nearby viewing areas.

Ongoing projects

Along with staying busy working on the reintroduction of elk in to Jackson County, department staff are attending to numerous projects to ensure for the success and sustainability of our Clam Lake herd. Some recent and ongoing projects include:

Click for a printable flyer
  • posting elk management area [PDF] signs prior to the deer hunting season to ensure that hunters are aware of elk in the area;
  • distributing elk identification sheets [PDF] to local registration stations and popular establishments to educate hunters prior to deer hunting season;
  • retrieving trail cameras that were deployed and looking at captured photos in order to obtain a bull population estimate and assess calf production and survivorship;
  • completing habitat work for elk including creating two large wildlife openings in the Flambeau River State Forest that are planted with winter wheat and rye - they will be replanted with clover and timothy next spring or early-summer;
  • working on an assisted dispersal of Clam Lake elk to ensure that the entire Clam Lake elk range is utilized; and
  • obtaining weekly locations on all currently collared elk including males, females and calves as well as doing a weekly mortality check.

Jackson County herd

January-June 2017 Semi-annual Black River elk herd update [PDF]

An important message about elk viewing in Jackson County

To ensure a successful reintroduction of elk into Jackson County, please respect the elk and their habitat! Disturbances to the elk, such as calling them or attempting to view them by foot, may force the elk into areas in which they may not otherwise reside and can make them more susceptible to predation, vehicle collisions, or other undesirable circumstances.

While it is understandable that people will have the desire to observe the elk, in the interest of the animals’ health the public is asked to refrain from pressuring or calling to the elk during this year’s rutting season. This type of disturbance can disrupt breeding activities and separate the elk from their family units, leading to slower population growth.

The many partners involved in the elk reintroduction are happy to see high public interest and excitement surrounding the elk reintroduction. Please respect their space and view the elk from afar.

Thank you!

Elk range

Click to download this image as a printable map
Clam Lake elk range

Based on the habitat suitability model derived from a study by Didier and Porter, the Wisconsin Elk Study Committee (WESCO) determined that the United States Forest Service (USFS) Great Divide District (GDD) of the Chequamegon National Forest (CNF) near Clam Lake was most suited for an elk reintroduction. The Clam Lake elk range was recently expanded by 506 square miles so the CNF-GDD currently consists of 1221 square miles (781,440 acres) in portions of Ashland, Bayfield, Price, Rusk and Sawyer counties in north central Wisconsin. State Highway 77 and county highways GG and M converge near the center of the GDD at the community of Clam Lake. The GDD is mostly under National Forest ownership (81 percent or 370,656 acres). The remaining 19 percent (86,944 acres) is privately owned, with relatively little in agricultural production.

Click to download this image as a printable map
Black River elk range

In December of 2001, the Natural Resources Board (NRB) approved the Black River Elk Herd (BREH) Management Plan. The Black River Elk Range (BRER) is approximately 320 sq. miles and located in the Central Forest region of eastern Jackson County.

Last revised: Tuesday September 12 2017