There was a time when wild elk roamed most of Minnesota and a significant part of the landscape featured 11.3 million acres of a patchy mixture of open grassland, brush and bushes, and island forests.
But as brushlands shrunk, combined with the over-harvest of elk, so too did the elk population.
Today, there are approximately 125 elk, not including a herd of about the same size that migrates back and forth between Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada.
And Minnesota brushlands that provide a seasonal variety of elk forage including green and dried grasses, forbs and woody plants, now cover a mere 1.3 million acres.
Dating back to 2002, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided more than $140,000 in funding that leveraged an additional $205,000 from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other partners to enhance the state’s brushland habitat.
Ongoing conservation treatments take place across ten different wildlife management areas in four northwest Minnesota counties.
Crews use heavy equipment during the cold winter months when the ground is frozen to minimize soil disturbance.
To stimulate new growth and early successional habitat, they shear off willows and alders at ground level, mimicking historic, natural disturbances such as windstorms, grazing and fire.
Enhanced brushlands benefit 256 species of Minnesota birds and wildlife including elk, black bears, bobcats, snowshoe hares and sharp-tailed grouse.
Restoring elk country is core to RMEF’s Managed Lands Initiative.
Since 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners completed more than 12,400 conservation and hunting heritage projects that protected or enhanced more than 7.9 million acres of wildlife habitat.