Bull and baby elk at the edge of a forest

Reintroducing Elk in Minnesota

November is Native American Heritage Month. This time is an important opportunity to celebrate the unique cultures and traditions of Native people, to acknowledge the past and present harm done to Indigenous communities, and to strengthen our commitment to improving our environmental advocacy alongside the tribal nations of Minnesota.

At Conservation Minnesota, we acknowledge that we operate on the ancestral and current homelands of the Dakota and Anishinaabe people, who have and continue to steward this land through generations. And we recognize that a history of oppression has created a landscape of ongoing marginalization of Indigenous people, including in environmental advocacy. We’re committing ourselves to becoming better allies and to uplifting Indigenous conservation priorities. We believe that this is not only the right thing to do, but that it’s also a path toward more effective advocacy. Minnesota is better off when we address historic disparities, tear down systemic barriers, and ensure that every Minnesotan has a seat and a voice at the table. As we work toward this commitment we’re proud to partner with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to support their efforts to reintroduce elk in northeast Minnesota.

In the summer of 2021, the Fond du Lac Band submitted a proposal to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reintroduce an elk herd on the Fond du Lac Reservation and the Fond du Lac State Forest. The project is a thorough and innovative proposal founded on years of local, comprehensive research. The process allows for a reasonable, phased approach toward reintroduction, including considerations for chronic wasting disease, habitat adaptation, and impact reduction.

The elected leaders of the Fond du Lac Band have clearly stated that elk restoration is a priority in the best interest of the Band, as elk have historically played a significant role in the diet and culture of the region’s Native people. By facilitating this project, the State of Minnesota can help repair longtime linkages with this vital species.

Research completed with funding from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund shows substantial local support for restoring wild, free ranging elk. Additional studies indicate that elk habitat on both the Reservation and state forest would be suitable and minimally disruptive.

In the 2022 legislative session, Conservation Minnesota worked to assist the Band’s ongoing efforts, lobbying the DNR and the State Legislature. Our organization drafted legislation to provide funding for the Fond du Lac elk reintroduction proposal and offered support for the bill as it received a hearing in the Minnesota House of Representatives. As a result, funding was included in the bipartisan conference report for the Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus—however, the omnibus stalled as the House and Senate were unable to reach a compromise on other budget and policy bills.
As we approach the next legislative session, we remain steadfast in our support for the Fond du Lac Band’s elk reintroduction proposal and are committed to continued advocacy. Alongside the Band’s leadership, we support the DNR in its efforts to facilitate and approve a strong implementation plan, and we’re calling on the Legislature to provide meaningful, comprehensive funding and policy to advance this project.

When complete, the Fond du Lac Band’s efforts will:

  • restore the role of elk in the diet and culture of Native people
  • revitalize essential ecosystems
  • allow wildlife watchers, hunters, and all who enjoy our Great Outdoors to benefit from wild, free ranging elk once again.

By working alongside Native communities, we can better restore and steward the places that we love while practicing more equitable, constructive, and responsible environmental advocacy. Elk reintroduction is an important example of Native environmental leadership, and we hope that our members will stay tuned and join us in supporting this proposal at the Legislature in 2023.