Cassandra Colson Reporter
Three elk in Jackson County’s herd recently were killed by wolves.
The total number of the recently reintroduced animals in the county now sits at 17 after the deaths of a cow, calf and bull in January.
“We knew things like this would happen. We’ve been very honest and open about it, and you’d kind of be foolish to think it wasn’t going to happen,” said Kevin Wallenfang, big game ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“This is part of a reintroduction – knowing you’re going to have some losses. That’s why you don’t start with 20 – that’s why you try to start with 75.”
Wildlife officials know that the elk killed were living in the same area as a group of wolves since their release from their acclimation pen because of tracking collars the DNR has on both the elk and some wolves.
Wolves killed the cow and calf during the same incident in mid-January, and it is the first time the DNR believes two deaths occurred simultaneously since elk were reintroduced into Clam Lake in northern Wisconsin more than 20 years ago. It’s likely the calf was killed first and the mother died while trying to defend it, Wallenfang said.
“We’ve never had a situation where we’ve had two taken down at once in the 20 years we’ve had elk,” he said. “That was a little strange, and then it was a few days later that they got the third one.”
Wisconsin and Kentucky officials trapped 28 elk in Kentucky last year and brought 26 back to Jackson County where seven died during the quarantine period and four were born to bring the total released to 23. Two since have been killed by cars and another four by wolves in the four months since being released from their acclimation pen.
Elk were last seen in the state in the mid-20th century and are native to 52 Wisconsin counties. They weren’t again present in the state until a university project reintroduced animals into Clam Lake, and the latest reintroduction effort – funded all through private dollars – brings animals to both Jackson County and the northern herd.
This year’s five-week trapping effort in Kentucky concluded this last Sunday and the animals obtained will be brought to Jackson County. The DNR hasn’t released the official number trapped yet, but Wallenfang said the number is higher than last year.
The animals trapped in 2017 will be brought to Clam Lake and conclude the three-year agreement with Kentucky.
“For the people that are really connected to (the project), it’s kind of a roller coaster ride,” Wallenfang said. “You have great things happen, and then you have a little bit of setbacks.
“It’s always disappointing when we lose animals, but that kind of stuff is expected, and that’s why we want to bring a good population of them to start with if you can do that. That way they should be able to overcome from some of those early setbacks.”