MADISON — Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board has again tabled proposed changes to the state’s 10-year elk management plan, which has drawn sharp criticism from farmers and cranberry growers in the central part of the state.
Once abundant throughout the state, Wisconsin’s elk population was wiped out by hunting and habitat loss in the late 1800s. Starting in 1995, elk were brought in from Michigan and Kentucky in an effort to re-establish a herd.
The state Department of Natural Resources has proposed expanding the 252-square-mile Black River range by about 45%, bringing elk into contact with another 11 cranberry bogs.
Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, said the 500 to 800-pound “behemoths” wreak havoc on the state’s largest fruit crop, pulling up vines and damaging crops for multiple seasons.
Will Peasley, an organic dairy farmer from Jackson County, said elk represent a major threat to his feed stocks.
“I don’t have a major problem today, but my understanding is it’s coming,” he said. “I’m scared for the livelihood of our farm.”
The board unanimously voted to send the plan back to staff for additional work but did approve a 2021 hunting quota of eight bull elk from the state’s northern herd, which is expected to number around 330 this fall.
That quota, down from 10 in each season since 2018, will be split evenly between the state and Native American tribes.
The board also approved a new master plan for Blue Mound State Park that includes redesigned mountain bike and snowshoe trails as well as a snowmobile trail to connect the Military Ridge State Trail to county trail systems north of the park.