LANCASTER, Minn. — Northwestern Minnesota ranchers are pleased by the shelving of a controversial plan to increase the number of free-ranging elk in the state. But ranchers say the underlying issue hasn’t been resolved.
“The situation we’re in with the elk, it (putting the plan on hold) was the right thing to do,” said Donnie Schmiedeberg, a Lancaster rancher whose hay, fences and pastures have been damaged repeatedly by elk. “But I’m still concerned about being able to manage the elk we have already.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the state agency charged with wildlife management, developed a plan that would have increased the state’s elk population, all of it in three herds in the northwest corner of the state, from the current 130 to about 200 in the next five years. Supporters say more elk would increase hunting and viewing opportunities, bringing more tourists to northwestern Minnesota.
The new 2016-20 plan, which would replace the expired 2009-15 plan, was expected to be finalized and implemented in late spring or early summer.
But Schmiedeberg and other ranchers opposed the increase. Elk are large animals that can damage ranchers’ property, costing producers time and money. More elk would mean more loss and stress, ranchers say.
Responding to constituent concerns, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, pushed a measure in the 2016 state legislative session to halt elk expansion until state officials can show damage caused by elk hasn’t increased for at least two years.
“There was concern about the herd getting bigger, when the current number already is doing so much damage,” Fabian says, who notes that he is an elk hunter and avid outdoorsman.
The bill was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Given that, DNR will maintain “the status quo. There won’t be any intentional increase” in elk numbers for at least two years, said John Williams, DNR Northwest Region wildlife manager and project manager.