Back in 2002 I wrote a story about two elk herds in far northwestern Minnesota—the only populations of wild elk left in the state. The one near Grygla in eastern Marshall County is descended from elk reintroduced in 1930s, but due to crop depredation problems they live under a legislative mandate to keep their population below 30 elk.
Farther north, in Kittson County along the Canadian border, there lives another elk herd that has migrated from Manitoba and now lives mostly in Minnesota year-round. This is the herd I write about in the current story: Parkland Ambling. These elk are free to roam and reproduce as they please. Since I last visited this herd, its population has jumped from around 40 in 2002 to about 100 today, according to local wildlife manager Donovan Pietruszewski.
Another promising discovery on my most recent venture into Minnesota elk country: I found other people watching elk. Driving along the gravel roads that border the Caribou WMA, I came upon two men crouching in the back of a pick-up truck. One of them was using a bugling call to lure a bull elk out of the aspen woods. He brought his friend along to show him that there are, indeed, wild elk in Minnesota.
This was extremely gratifying, because this still small and fragile herd needs more people to take an interest in it. Elk once roamed most of Minnesota, and they could be an iconic species in our state again, but only if there's a strong public appetite for wildlife management that improves elk habitat, grows our two wild elk herds, and maybe leads to the return of an open public elk hunt one day.