It might be easy to mistake an elk for a deer or maybe even a moose, but elk are in fact a separate species, despite being part of the deer family. Elk are one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America and are known for the bull’s bugle call that can carry for more than a mile. They can live in meadows, rainforests, hardwood forests and even deserts making them very versatile.
Historically, elk roamed the United States and Canada at numbers around 10 million, but due to overhunting, habitat loss and urbanization their numbers had declined to a staggering 100,000 in the early 1900s. During this time, all elk east of the Mississippi River had completely disappeared, and for 130 years elk were eliminated in the state of Wisconsin. It wasn’t until 1995 that 25 elk were reintroduced into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Clam Lake and elk once again roamed in Wisconsin. But why is the return of the elk so important?
When elk were eliminated in the state of Wisconsin, their absence was felt heavily within the native tribes of the area, namely the Ojibwe Nation. The Ojibwe Nation is the most populous tribe in North America and they occupy land around the Great Lakes region. Restoring elk populations is important to the Ojibwe tribes because it is reviving a piece of their culture. Bringing elk back into Wisconsin was a major team effort by the Ojibwe tribes, the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. If you haven’t already, check out our episode “Into Bringing Back Wisconsin’s Elk” for more information on the importance of elk in the Ojibwe culture as well as the role the tribes had in bringing them back.
While the elks’ absence was felt culturally, it was also felt within the natural environment. In some locations, like Yellowstone National Park, elk are considered a keystone species. A keystone species is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, in a way that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically. While Wisconsin’s elk aren’t considered keystone, they are currently listed as a protected species in the state of Wisconsin — not classified as endangered or threatened. The goal of the elk reintroduction is to restore the elk populations within the areas where they lived historically and to reinstate their connections within the natural ecosystem. Elk are important for managing and maintaining plant communities through their grazing and browsing, and they also provide a source of food for predators like wolves and bears. The proper management of the elk population can help promote biodiversity and ecosystem functions. While reintroducing elk into this ecosystem will take time, restoring elk populations is like piecing together the web of life, putting something back in place that had been missing.
As the elk numbers in Wisconsin continue to slowly grow, many efforts have been put in place to protect the fragile elk populations until their numbers are more established. One of the highest causes of elk fatality, unrelated to the natural ecosystem processes, is car accidents. To prevent these accidents, the DNR has implemented precautionary measures that give the radio tracking collars — fitted onto elk to gather information on their movements and preferred habitats — another purpose. The collars are given a reflective blaze orange color so they are more easily seen by drivers traveling during twilight hours. The DNR has also implemented an elk crossing warning system in high risk areas up in northern Wisconsin, where the Clam Lake elk herd lives. This system relies on the radio collars to trigger the flashing warning lights on the cautionary signs whenever elk were within a mile of these high risk areas, alerting drivers to slow down and watch the edges of the road. Taking measures to stop these preventable deaths helps manage the growth and survival of the elk herds in Wisconsin to ensure the success of their reintroduction.
Thanks to the work of restoration programs and conservation groups, wild elk populations are at an estimated one million living in the western United States and Canada. As these numbers continue to rise, elk are successfully reclaiming their role in the ecosystem.
With each step, a thousand years fall behind me, and I plunge deeper into the past. The ground beneath my feet exhales with every heavy footfall, swirling red dust engulfs my boots and stains them orange. My feet move on their own down the narrow switchbacks, rhythmic in the way they hit the ground, eyes glued to the laces making sure they wouldn’t wander. After hours of descent, the steps level and the cliff to my left fades away.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the familiar pink of a prickly pear. My gaze slowly lifts from my boots to the path ahead of me, either side overflowing with cacti and shrubbery, a natural garden in the middle of a canyon. Up to the sky, the canyon walls reach thousands of feet. Layers upon layers of multicolor strata from the eras stacked like pages of history tell the tales of the last 1.8 billion years.
In the distance a condor — Did I have you there? That scene was from four miles deep within the Grand Canyon, just one of the many natural wonders on our beautiful planet. Many of today’s youth are experiencing the world through their phone screens rather than setting it aside and taking in scenes like this for themselves. Here at Into the Outdoors, we’ve decided that the most efficient way to switch up the narrative is to take the problem and turn it into the solution.
Into the Outdoors is a youth environmental education television series that strives to inspire kids to put down their electronics and find adventure in the great outdoors. Our brand is built upon the very foundation that we have been competing against: digital media. Ironic, we know, but with good reason. Today’s youth have grown up with their hands wrapped around electronics rather than around tree limbs. By utilizing platforms like television, streaming and social media, we hope to get in front of the younger generations that are heavily ladened by the digital world and engage them in the science and excitement of the natural world.
Here at Into the Outdoors, we produce episodes that cover themes spanning a wide range of environmental topics such as wildlife, outdoor recreation, aquatic science, conservation, sustainable energy, ecosystem science, agriculture and more. We have grown to live on broadcast and PBS as well as on a variety of other streaming platforms such as Hulu, Roku, Vizio, Apple TV, Sling, Chromecast and FireTV, just to name a few. Our Facebook and Instagram followings are growing every day, and we’re looking to branch into more platforms as they inevitably arise. As the youth migrate to new platforms, we plan to meet them where they are, and even if just one life is changed thanks to our efforts, it’ll have been worth it.
While we do our best to hit the hard questions during our episodes, there is a lot of information to cover in a short period of time. This blog gives us the opportunity to dive deeper into specific questions and topics that have sparked interest in our viewers.
For example, after watching our episode on Into National Marine Sanctuaries, you may find yourself interested in learning more about how plastic in the ocean impacts marine life, or maybe how invasive species can affect an ecosystem. Your first stop on your search for answers should be right here to see what
resources we have for you in addition to our episodes. We will occasionally share project and activity ideas that can be done at home or in the classroom, so that this blog may serve as a resource for parents and educators looking to keep the lesson going! Our goal is to foster and nurture this curiosity and help it grow into a passion for the outdoors.
Now that I’ve introduced Into the Outdoors and our new blog, let me pull away the curtain and introduce myself. My name is Kylie Compe, and I am a Digital Content Specialist on the Into the Outdoors team, meaning I specialize in the creative ideation and logistical marketing implementation of our social campaigns. I have enjoyed co-founding projects like our Into the Outdoors Mini series on IGTV as well as creating fun, educational posts on topics that I am passionate about.
As a child, I spent most of my waking hours outside swimming in rivers and climbing trees. Not much has changed since then, whether it’s canoeing the Kickapoo, hiking the Grand Canyon or camping in the Black Hills, I still spend most of my free time in nature. My love for the outdoors has grown from a pastime into a passion for helping the environment. I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Environmental Studies, so educating others on how our world works and our role in that process has become a goal very near to my heart.
It is a pleasure to be a part of a brand that is helping educate our youth on how to be the environmental stewards the world needs. That being said, the first step to environmental stewardship is getting kids excited about the
outdoors! We know it’s not always easy to get kids off their electronics, and sometimes that decision to unplug needs to be made themselves. If you’re looking for a way to coax your young learner in the right direction, slip some engaging educational content into your child’s social scrolling by having them follow Into the Outdoors on Instagram at @intotheoutdoorstv or download our app to stream all of our episodes in one easy place!
We’re always posting age-appropriate educational content to our social platforms to ensure a fun, kid-friendly experience that’s meant to inspire them to put down their phones and head Into the Outdoors. Join us on our adventures with our upcoming episodes, and keep an eye out for the next blog! See you out there!