One hundred years ago, Michigan reintroduced elk onto its native historic landscape. In 2018, the state is celebrating the animals’ return.
Michigan’s native elk disappeared in the late 1800’s. Today’s elk herd dates back to 1918 when seven animals were released near Wolverine. From that reintroduction, the number of animals grew steadily, with estimates of 300-400 in 1939 and 900-1,000 by 1958. As the elk population grew, the area they occupied also increased.
The first Michigan elk hunting seasons were held in 1964 and 1965 to help address crop damage complaints, reforestation problems and concerns of elk competing with deer for limited food resources.
Through the late 1960s, elk numbers declined due to poaching and lack of quality habitat. The 1975 winter survey estimated only 200 elk.
The elk herd rebounded due to increased law enforcement efforts and improving habitat. Elk hunting resumed in 1984, and since then has been held annually to address social and ecological concerns. Biologists currently survey the elk population by airplane in the winter and strive to maintain the population within the goal of 500 – 900 elk using annual hunting seasons for maintaining the population and controlling distribution.
To honor the 100-year anniversary, Michigan recently unveiled its new elk license plate designed to raise funds for wildlife across the state.
As of December 31, 2016, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners completed 149 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Michigan with a combined value of more than $5.3 million. These projects conserved or enhanced 5,600 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 943 acres.