Many District residents are surprised to learn that North American Elk (Cervus canadensis) live in and around Forest Park. Landowners near the park have reported seeing herds of thirty or more elk on their properties, usually in meadows near the forest edge. Elk prefer to travel through forested areas for cover, but generally feed and sleep in meadows.
You can see elk year-round, but they’re most commonly reported in spring and fall. Walking through Forest Park and on connected tracts of private forestland, you may see signs of elk, including hoof tracks about 3-5” long and 3-4” wide, piles of droppings with pellets about the size of a penny, and damage to tree bark where bulls have rubbed off the velvety covering on their antlers. The tracks and droppings of elk are similar to those of deer, but larger.
Elk also have a variety of calls, including a bugle-like sound. If you see elk, enjoy viewing them from a distance and do not approach them. A bull elk can weigh over 700 pounds, and they can be especially dangerous during mating season, between mid-August and mid-October.
The Conservation District and Forest Park Conservancy, a partner organization, help support the large areas of connected habitat that elk require by working with private landowners near and adjoining the park. Since almost all of Forest Park is forested, meadows on private property are important to provide habitat for feeding and resting. Encouraging native groundcover, instead of ivy, on the forest floor can also improve elks’ diets. Removing invasive ivy also creates open space for ground-cover plants and grass to return. The District and Forest Park Conservancy collaborate to remove ivy within and around the park. Also, District restoration projects often involve thinning overgrown forests. This allows light to reach the forest floor, promoting the growth of groundcover plants. The District helps private landowners restore groundcover and native plant forage in riparian forest corridors, where elk travel.
~ Submitted by Ann Rasmussen, WMSWCD