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Omashkoozoog (elk) could return to Carlton County

A plan is in the works to restore wild, free-roaming elk to parts of east-central and Northeastern Minnesota for the first time since they were extirpated from the region 125 years ago.

Tribal leaders of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have authorized the Band’s natural resources staff to study the concept of reintroducing “omashkoozoog” in southern St. Louis, Carlton and northern Pine counties.

“We went to the tribal council with the idea of restoring elk to his part of the state and they said yes … enthusiastically yes,” said Mike Schrage, Fond du Lac wildlife manager. “So now we need to take it beyond an interesting idea to see if it makes sense.”

The elk, relocated from another state or Canada, would be released in the southern reaches of the 1854 treaty area and northern reaches of the 1837 treaty between the Lake Superior Chippewa and the federal government, which give tribal members hunting, fishing and gathering rights across much of the region.

Schrage noted that elk were abundant and native to the area until they were shot out by the late 1800s as European immigrants settled the area. Before that, the Ojibwe had a history with elk as much as with deer and moose and caribou, he noted.

It likely will take several years, lots of money and both social and political “buy-in” before the first elk are released in the area, Schrage noted. The region has extensive state and county forestland.

Elk are fairly adaptable, experts say, and are more likely to thrive in a warming Northland climate than moose, which are rapidly declining. Schrage said no elk would be released anywhere near the current moose population in northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties.