Shawnee storytellers relate accounts of great herds of elk roaming the forests, open woodlands, and prairies of what is now Ohio. Archeological evidence places elk in this part of the North American continent at least 10,000 years ago.
But European settlement of the region brought dramatic change to the landscape, habitat, and much of the wildlife of Ohio, including the elk. By the early 1800s, elk had disappeared from this area, and eventually from much of its historic range that covered most of the contiguous United States.
“We would like to see elk come back to as much of their original range as possible, and we are working toward that goal all of the time,” said Larry Turner of Perrysburg, a member of the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“This country used to have elk from the east coast to the west coast. At some point in our history, elk were right here in Ohio and Michigan.”
The group has supported efforts to reintroduce elk to sections of its historical homeland, where practical.
“Our open land is being consumed by development, and this is cutting off habitat that could be used by elk,” Turner said. “We need to save what we can.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has been involved in reintroduction efforts in six states and the province of Ontario. In this part of the country, elk have been successfully reintroduced to suitable areas in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
“We concentrate on rehabilitating suitable habitat, removing fences, and protecting natural habitat that all wildlife can take advantage of, not just elk,” Turner said.
The organization counts nearly 200,000 members throughout the U.S., with seven RMEF chapters in Ohio hosting 2,500 members. Michigan has a dozen chapters and more than 4,000 members.
Elk disappeared from Michigan about 1875, but were reintroduced in the northern lower peninsula about 1920. The size of the Michigan elk herd is believed to be about 900 animals.
Kentucky started its elk program in 1997 and created a 16-county, 4.2 million acre elk restoration zone in the southeast part of the state, encompassing some abandoned and reclaimed strip mines. The Kentucky elk herd is estimated at about 10,000 animals.
In Pennsylvania, 50 elk were transported into the state from Wyoming in 1913, and the herd today is about 800 animals.
The local RMEF chapter, which includes members from southeast Michigan, will hold its annual fund-raising banquet on March 9 at Fallen Timbers Fairways in Waterville. There will be a prime rib dinner, along with auctions and raffles, including the featured item, a limited edition Browning A-Bolt .300 rifle with detailed adornment and 24-carat gold plating.
“This is a conservation-based organization, so I’d encourage anyone with an interest in wildlife or habitat issues to come out and see what we’re all about,” Turner said. “We travel to other states to do volunteer work to better the habitat, so we are always recruiting to get more people involved.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, started in 1984 by four Montana elk hunters, has partnered to preserve, protect or enhance more than six million acres of elk country in North America.
The Rocky Mountain elk is one of six subspecies of elk that have been identified by wildlife biologists. Rocky Mountain elk, which have been utilized to re-establish herds in historic elk range, are the dominant species in the American West and have the largest antlers of the various subspecies.
Roosevelt’s elk are found in the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, while Tule elk live in Central California and Manitoban elk are found in the northern Great Plains. The Merriam’s elk of the southwest and Mexico, and the Eastern elk from east of the Mississippi River are both extinct.
“My biggest concern is that our future generations will not have anywhere to go to see elk and other wildlife in their natural setting,” Turner said. “I’m worried about losing a whole generation, and not having them know about things like elk, and their history in this country.”
And as for the prospect of elk someday again roaming the hill country of southeastern Ohio, where other civilizations once relied on the large mammals as a source of food, clothing and material for making tools . . .
“There’s not anything confirmed on that right now, but it is part of the discussion,” Turner said. “And for anyone involved in this organization, to have elk back in Ohio would be nothing short of a dream come true.”
RMEF BANQUET: For tickets or more information on the March 9 banquet of the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, call Larry Turner at 419-902-0502.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.