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Jeff Lampe
Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors


A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Recalling Manning’s elk idea

February 20, 2008 at 09:46 AM

With today being the State of the State and all, I was pondering the State of the DNR. Which is bad. Very bad. And possibly soon to get worse, if dire budget predictions come true after Gov. Blagojevich’s speech.

All this lack of leadership and negativity makes me long for the good old days under Brent Manning, the long-time DNR director who actually did something in his tenure. But in the interest of fairness, it’s worth noting that Manning didn’t always get his way. Remember his grand idea to restock elk in southern Illinois? I do, as this article from the April 13, 1997 Decatur Herald & Review proves. (And no, the DNR never did stock any elk in southern Illinois).

Wild elk in Illinois? State weighing opposing opinions

H&R Outdoors Editor

It’s been nearly 150 years since the bugle call of a free-ranging bull elk was last heard in Illinois. But by next spring, the bellowing giants could be back and roaming through the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. And that possibility has some Illinois residents beaming ... while others are bemoaning what they see as a potentially costly decision.Illinois Outdoors

Unlike the reintroductions of wild turkey, prairie chickens and river otters—which met with little or no resistance—the possible release of a creature that weighs up to 1,000 pounds and stands 5 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder has raised the ire of some landowners and residents in Southern Illinois who would be most directly impacted.

``There is definitely a split of opinion in our community,’’ said Fran Herring, a teacher at Malan Junior High School in Harrisburg whose seventh grade class has conducted a survey of residents. ``There’s a greater number in favor, but not a large majority.’‘

The main concerns of those opposed to the release are elk-vehicle collisions, crop and fence damage and the possible spread of disease. Those on the other side of the issue point to a possible tourism boom and in time perhaps even the chance for limited elk hunting in Illinois.

Over the next few months, the DNR will weigh those two sides with a target date of July 1 for a final decision on the release.

``We believe the potential for reintroduction of this majestic species is there,’’ said Brent Manning, director of the DNR. ``The incredible thing to me is the socio-economic portion has shown us that if elk were reintroduced, there would be an additional 1.2 million visits to Southern Illinois to listen to the elk bugle, to watch them, to take pictures of them, to record their bugling.

``We just have to be sure it’s right and that we do things right in reintroducing them.’‘

Once native to the state, the last free-ranging elk in Illinois was recorded in about 1850 near Herrin. Since then, the only place to view elk in Illinois has been behind fences at a zoo or farm.

But after being approached by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which provided $6,000 for an initial feasibility study, the DNR has moved forward to investigate the possibility of a reintroduction.

If approved, initial plans call for a test stocking of 20-25 animals in one of two 400-square-mile tracts of the Shawnee National Forest: one south of Harrisburg and the other south of Murphysboro. Transport and acquisition of the animals would be funded by two anonymous private doaners.

If all went well after three years of observation, additional stockings could then be carried out. According to the DNR, those areas could eventually support a herd of up to 1,600 elk.

Similar reintroduction efforts have already been carried out in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky. In fact, there are currently wild elk populations in 24 states.

Results have been mixed in other states, with Michigan the most successful example and Pennsylvania the most costly example. The Pennsylvania program is currently costing that state between $200,000 and $250,000 per year.

Whether or not Illinois becomes the 25th elk-inhabited state will hinge largely on the results of a survey that was sent out this week to 3,000 Southern Illinois residents.

``That survey is going to weigh very heavily in the decision-making process,’’ said John Buhnerkempe of the DNR’s wildlife division. ``To me it’s like Director Manning says, it’s a decision the people of Southern Illinois will have to make.’‘

That’s due largely to the fact that two-third of the Shawnee National Forest is privately owned. ``It will be interesting to see what people feel about having this big of an animal placed in their backyard,’’ said Buhnerkempe, who expects the survey results to be complete in about a month.

Polls conducted thus far have favored the reintroduction. A statewide survey showed Illinoisans were 53 percent in favor of releasing elk, while a poll of deer hunters showed 77 percent support and a survey of recreational users (campers, hikers etc.) indicated better than 60 percent support.

But there are also those strongly against the proposed change, like the Illinois Farm Bureau.

``The position of the Illinois Farm Bureau is that we oppose the release of any elk in Illinois,’’ said Nancy Erickson, a legislative aid with the bureau. ``The state has estimates at how many people would go there for tourism and we’ve indicated those are guesstimates at best. But agriculture is in the area already and is a viable part of the local economy.’‘

The DNR is already considering several ways to deal with crop damage, including planting crops like timothy and clover to divert the elk or paying subsidies to farmers whose fields are impacted.

Whatever the decision, several other states are paying close attention to what happens in Illinois.

Roy Grimes, director of wildlife for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said he doubts his department would ever attempt to stock elk in the areas Illinois is considering. But Grimes is still interested to see what happens this summer.

``Illinois is exploring something that will be important to states like Indiana, Illinois, southern Wisconsin, southern Michigan and western Kentucky,’’ Grimes said. `` If Illinois learns that the public outcry is what we think it will be in those parts of our states that are like that, then we will have learned something. So when people are 15 years from now, `Why not western Kentucky?’’ we’ll say `Illinois 1997.’ ‘’

Big differences between elk and deer

Think the deer you see bounding through fields are big animals? Well consider that an average bull elk weighs nearly four times more than an average whitetail buck.

Bull elk average 700 pounds and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, while deer bucks average about 200 pounds. So while both these herbivores graze for food, elk understandably eat more: 10-15 pounds per day compared to 2-5 pounds per day for deer.

Deer are also much faster than elk and can leap higher. Elk are more wary of humans and more prone to roam. Elk also tolerate extreme temperatures better than deer. Here are some other comparisons of the two:

—Elk have an average life span of 9 years in states with hunting and 14-15 in states without hunting.

Deer have an average life span of 5.5 years where hunting occurs.

—Elk antlers can weigh up to 40 pounds with a spread of 48 inches.

Deer antlers generally weigh between 3-5 pounds with a spread of 20 inches.



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