PAGE 13 MAZINA’IGAN HKOOZ • Eastern Minnesota elk restoration study underway In 2013 the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s Resource Management Division first pro- posed the idea of whether or not it would be feasible to restore elk to the Ceded Territories in eastern Minnesota. The next two years were spent researching elk and elk restorations and discussing the idea with the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee along other agen- cies and conservation organizations. This led to a 2015 partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the University of Minnesota to submit an application for funding to Minnesota’s Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund. The application was to study the feasibility of restoring elk to portions of southern St. Louis, Carlton and northern Pine Counties in eastern Minnesota. The application was supported by Pine, Carlton and St. Louis Counties, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Deer By Mike Schrage, For Mazina’igan returning to Ceded Territory ack iconic native species Lower Michigan is home to one of the oldest successful elk restoration regions in the eastern United States. In the north-central portion of the peninsula, home of Pigeon River Country State Forest, a thriving omashkooz herd provides ample recreational viewing and hunting opportunities. As in other western Great Lakes states, the original elk population in Michi- gan was wiped out by the late 19th Century. In 1918 a small founder population of seven Western elk were released near Wolverine, giving rise to today’s herd almost a century later. Habitat improvements and a crackdown on widespread poaching has helped stabilize the herd over the past three decades. Since 2007, Bay Mills Indian Community and other Michigan 1836 Treaty tribes have harvested elk for feasts and meals across extended families. Prior to the autumn elk seasons, state and tribal hunters that receive harvest tags through a lottery attend a mandatory orientation session that details carcass handling require- ments and other regulations. Under the 2007 Consent Decree with the State of Michigan, treaty tribes are entitled to 10-percent of the elk harvest quota annually. With a harvest target ratio of 30 percent bulls and 70 percent antlerless elk, Michigan wildlife managers issue kill permits to maintain the herd around the target goal of 900 animals or less. For wildlife officials, hunting is an important tool to reduce problems associated with agricultural damage and over-browsing woodlands. Each of the five 1836 tribes is guaranteed at least one permit annually. As wildlife diseases continue to spread, researchers study elk that have been harvested during hunting seasons or through other mortality. To assess the age struc- ture of the herd, state and tribal biologists collect tooth samples at elk registration stations. Tissue samples are also collected in an effort to detect bovine tuberculosis and other health issues. Elk in Lower Michigan’s 1836 Ceded Territory By Charlie Otto Rasmussen, Editor HuntersAssociation, and a number of other conservation organizations. In 2016 the Minnesota Legislature approved the application, and the funding, and it was signed into law by the Governor. The feasibility study, led by the University of Minnesota, has two parts. The first part is to determine if enough suitable habitat is available for elk, and the sec- ond part is to determine the level of public support for wild elk roaming across the landscape again. After consultations with county and tribal foresters and DNR Wildlife staff, three areas in the 1854 and 1837 Ceded Territories were selected for further study. These areas were picked based on the relative lack of agriculture,abundantforestsandabundantpubliclands. InJune2017,afieldcrewfromtheUniversitybegan assessing the amount of potential elk forage in the three study areas.Asurvey of the opinions of landowners and the general public is planned for late summer 2017. The habitat assessments will continue with GIS mapping of forest cover types and other land uses.The data from the habitat assessment and public opinion surveys will be pulledtogetherintoafinalfeasibilityreportinJune2019. Conducting the feasibility study is only the first step in what may easily be a 10-year long process. If the initialstudiesfindthatabundantgoodelkhabitatremains on the landscape and there is strong public support for restoring elk to the area, a number of other steps need to be completed before elk could ever be released back into the wild. The first step is convincing tribal, state, and local political leadership to support returning elk to the land- scape. Funding has to be raised for what may be a $3–5 million project and a plan has to be written for how elk will be managed once they are here. A source herd or herds of disease free elk has to be located and donated by another state or tribe. With an abundant wolf and black bear population, a larger number of elk will need to be brought in initially if they are to produce enough calves to overcome predation and other sources of mortality. While the goal is to someday have a thriving and huntable population of elk restored to the 1854 or 1837 Ceded Territories of Minnesota, this may take years to accomplish. It’s a process to be undertaken not for us, but for our children and grandchildren. (Schrage is a wildlife biologist for the Fond du Lac Band.) MDC photo