DNR board OKs process to drop elk hunt population quota

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' board authorized the agency Wednesday to start working toward dropping population restrictions barring an elk hunt.

The DNR has been importing elk from Kentucky for the past three years in an effort to bolster a herd in Ashland County and establish a second herd in Jackson County. The agency's ultimate goal is to establish a population large enough to sustain a hunting season.

DNR regulations in place since 2003 prohibit elk hunting until the Ashland County herd grows to at least 200 animals and the Jackson County herd grows to at least 150 animals. Hunting permits would be limited to 5 percent of the total population.

Right now, the Ashland County herd stands at around 180 and the Jackson County herd at around 60 animals.

DNR officials said in a memo to the board they want to drop the population minimums and permit limit, saying the minimum animal requirement is arbitrary and they can manage the herds using science. Starting a hunting season sooner would generate license revenue and hunter spending that could be used to help the elk reintroduction effort, they added.

Kevin Wallenfang, a DNR deer and elk ecologist, told the board Wednesday that he doesn't know when a hunt might occur. The population could conceivably exceed the minimums before they're eliminated from the regulations, he said.

He insisted that no one is pressuring the DNR to start a hunt quickly. He did mention, however, that some believe the reintroduction effort won't be valid until a hunt takes place and the population minimums have "inhibited" the agency's ability to initiate a hunt.

"The intention is to use science to let us decide when a hunt can start," he said.

The board unanimously approved starting the process to drop the population minimums and permit limitations from the regulations and authorized the DNR to set up public hearings on the plan.