Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Tribal Elk Hunt in the Great Lakes

Group of native men, sitting under a tent, plaing drums
Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission member tribes singing traditional drum songs at the tribal elk harvest. Photo courtesy of C. Rasmussen, GLIFWC.

WISCONSIN – For the second consecutive year, the 11-member tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission will carry out a ceremonial elk hunt on Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

“Elk are an important source of food and many parts of the elk are used in many different cultural ways, including in ceremonies,” explained Travis Bartnick, commission wildlife biologist.

A memorandum of understanding between the tribes and USDA Forest Service allows tribes to request temporary closure of public access areas in national forests for traditional and ceremonial purposes. This request is based on an authority from the 2008 Farm Bill.

Bartnick says that “lack of harvest regulations and the decimation of habitat due to clearcutting, attempts to convert forest land to agricultural land and mining activities in the 1800s, and the activities of European settlers led to the extirpation of elk throughout much of their former range.”

Elk were reintroduced to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in the 1990s and have since returned to sustainable populations. This restored population permits limited hunting of bull elk on the forest and is a testament to almost three decades of shared stewardship between the Forest Service, commission and other institutions.

The temporary closure authority provides tribes with the privacy needed to carry out traditional cultural practices to start the elk hunt. District Ranger Mike Martin says, “selection of the closure site was a collaborative success where forest officials worked with tribes to find a site that met their exact needs.”

Martin is happy to have been a part of executing the closure, saying it is “rewarding to be able to work with tribes on a ceremonial elk camp. After decades of shared stewardship to revive a lost population, we have reached sustainable harvest and can see community members reap the benefits of these shared efforts.”

Any federally recognized tribe interested in initiating a forest closure may request to do so using the Cultural Heritage Cooperative Authorities from the 2008 Farm Bill.