Tribe hopes to bring elk back to northeastern Minn.

Published 10:07 am Monday, January 25, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Majestic wild elk once roamed most of Minnesota before hunters killed them off. Now the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe hopes to bring them back to the tribe’s ancestral territory in northeastern Minnesota.

The Ojibwe name for elk is “omashkoozoog,” or “prairie moose.” Tribal officials and other supporters said restoring them could open up new opportunities for nature tourism, since they’re looking at an area that’s only a couple hours’ drive north of the Twin Cities. Success also could allow for elk hunting eventually. That’s important to a tribe with a heritage of subsistence hunting, but tribal officials envision even non-Indians eventually getting the chance to hunt the elk, too.

“It’s restoring not just a part of the band’s wildlife heritage but everybody’s wildlife heritage,” said Mike Schrage, a wildlife biologist with the tribe. “We used to have thousands of elk in the state and we’re down to 130.”

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Minnesota’s few wild elk are limited to three herds in the far northwestern corner of the state. Their numbers have been deliberately kept low to reduce conflicts with farmers.