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Michigan Elk: Past and Present

Elk (Cervus elaphus)

Michigan's native elk disappeared around 1875. Today's elk herd dates back to 1918, when seven western animals were released near Wolverine. From that reintroduction, the number of animals grew steadily to about 1,500 elk in the early 1960s. They reached the point where limited hunting was possible in 1964 and 1965.

During the late 1960s, several factors kept the elk herd below its biological potential for population growth, including reduced habitat quality. The herd also was hard hit by poaching. There were about only 200 elk in the winter of 1975.

In the late 1970s, renewed public interest in the elk herd was spurred by oil exploration in the Pigeon River area of the elk range. Reduced poaching losses, habitat improvement and successful management of hydrocarbon development resulted in an increase in elk numbers to 850 by 1984.

As the herd grew, problems also increased with forest and agricultural damage. To bring the herd in better balance with its natural food supplies and with the needs of landowners, elk hunting resumed in 1984. Biologists estimated the January 2006 population to be between 800-900 animals. This goal is a winter herd of 800 to 900 elk.