Elk herd should start to grow

Hunting season has now totally opened across Rainy River District.
Travelling to the Stratton cattle sale on Saturday, our newest reporter, Ron Wolf, had a deer crash into his car. It just proved how plentiful the deer herd is in our region to this southern Ontario transplant.
Another employee last Friday counted 34 deer on his drive to work from Clearwater.
On Saturday, driving to and from Dryden, I noticed at least one successful party with a deer down just off the highway. Employees have told me of sightings of large wolves in the area that seem not to be afraid of humans or cars.
Little has been heard about the elk restoration project and the growth of that herd in the region.
The elk of the region had been hunted to extinction with the opening of the area to farming and timber harvesting back in the late 1800s.
As such, a group of interested citizens (the Northwestern Ontario Elk Restoration Coalition) sought to re-establish a herd in our region and, through successful planning and fundraising, began the process in 2000.
In the next two years, a total of 108 elk were introduced into the Cameron Lake area south of Sioux Narrows.
During their first few years, the herd suffered a loss of 35 animals to wolves, bears, and natural mortality. Others died as a result of poaching and careless hunting.
One of the original animals travelled almost to Duluth while the others dispersed around the area.
Of the original 108 elk, 73 carried radio collars. Today most of those radio collars have ceased to function. While funding existed, the animals were tracked with radio telemetry.
Following the introduction of those animals, a ban was placed on importing elk from Elk Island national park in Alberta into Ontario because of an outbreak of chronic wasting disease.
It had been hoped that additional animals would be imported to create and stabilize a herd in our region.
Volunteers like Murray English from Kenora, Mike Solomon of Fort Frances, and the Fort Frances Sportsman’s Club worked hard and long to bring the elk back to the region.
This year, during its aerial survey, the Ministry of Natural Resources spotted 22 elk. In last year’s survey, 27 elk were observed from the air, with the MNR estimating that the Cameron Lake herd numbered between 35-45 animals.
A smaller herd of 10-15 animals split off and had established itself near Morson.
Another survey by the Northwestern Ontario Elk Restoration Coalition, using volunteers and remote cameras, put the herd at above 95 animals in 2006, with most being seen without radio collars.
The coalition also has relied on information received from loggers and trappers to help determine elk numbers.
Much of the monitoring work now is being carried on by graduate students from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, funded and supported by Thunder Bay Rocky Mountain Elk Restoration Inc.
By their estimates, the herd has stabilized and should start to grow. Its re-establishment is now dependent upon their own reproduction.

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