- Associated Press - Saturday, December 15, 2018

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - An effort is underway to reintroduce elk to parts of northeast Minnesota, but it could be a long process.

Minnesota Public radio reported that the University of Minnesota has spent three years observing potential habit for elk in the Cloquet Valley State Forest north of Duluth, the Fond du Lac State Forest near Cloquet, and the Nemadji State Forest near the Wisconsin border.

Researchers say nearly 80 percent of rural landowners and residents in the area support reintroducing elk, which is key to the project’s success. A law was approved amid tension in 2016 that barred the expansion of elk in northwestern Minnesota, where elk have feasted on farmers’ crops.

“Without enough public support, this idea would probably be dead in the water,” said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist with Fond du Lac Band. “It would be difficult to successfully turn loose a big hairy animal like an elk on the landscape without support from the public and landowners for doing it.”

About a dozen states to the east have brought elk back in the past few decades. Schrage said Kentucky is probably the “poster child” for elk reintroduction, noting the state brought in roughly 1,500 elk about 20 years ago and currently has an elk population of more than 10,000.

Backers of the Minnesota plan are due to submit their final report to the state in the summer. Policy makers will then decide whether to bring elk back to the region, something that would require “a significant chunk of funding,” Schrage said.

Schrage says the earliest northeast Minnesota would likely see a new elk herd would be three or four years from now.

The forests being studied for elk reintroduction include areas that are logged for aspen trees, which creates new habitat because young aspen trees provide ideal forage for elk.

“They like aspen, they like grass, but they can eat a lot of different things,” Schrage said. “I’m pretty confident in the end we will find that there’s enough habitat. It’s just quantifying where is it and how much of it there is.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Kentucky, not Minnesota, reintroduced about 1,500 elk two decades ago.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org


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