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Elk at Home on the Prairie

Fort Riley Elk
Photos by April Blackmon

By Alan Hynek
Fish and Wildlife Biologist
DES, Conservation Division

More than 15 years have past since Elk were first reintroduced onto Fort Riley. During that time, the elk herd has evolved to become a symbol of Fort Riley, a symbol that has restored a native component to the Kansas Flint Hills. For those who have experienced the elk firsthand, it is a sight they most likely will never forget.

Elk were always a part of the Great Plains. Literary records indicate that herds numbering in the thousands could be found in Kansas through mid-1800s. It is fascinating to imagine what herds numbering thousands of elk must have looked like on the plains of Kansas.

Elk as well as bison were critical to the survival of Native Americans and to the early settlers. They were a source of tools, food, shelter and clothing. At the turn of the century, they were completely gone.

Then, in 1981, the first free-ranging elk were reintroduced to the state at the Cimarron National Grassland in southwest Kansas. The herd in this extreme corner of the state grew steadily through the early 1990s to about 200 animals. However, the elk began to migrate into the states of Oklahoma and Colorado. Efforts to keep the elk on the National Grassland failed and a hunting program aimed at reducing their numbers was implemented. About 50 elk remain on Cimarron Grasslands today.

Fort Riley ElkThe Fort Riley herd was started in 1986 with 12 elk being released from the Maxwell Game Preserve near McPherson, Kan. Supplemental stockings in 1987, 1988, 1990 and 1994 released a total of 47 elk from Colorado, Montana and South Dakota. Most releases occurred in the vicinity of the Madison Creek area on Fort Riley. For several years, the released animals and their offspring stayed in that area.

The Fort Riley herd grew to about 250 animals by 1998, when a herd reduction program was administered by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to reduce conflicts with private landowners. The current population on Fort Riley is about 125 animals.

The elk herd offers a diversion to residents who like to hunt, take photographs or just view them in the open prairie.

Elk can be found throughout Fort Riley but are most likely found in the northern half of the installation.

To hunt elk on Fort Riley, you would first have to be real lucky. State of Kansas elk permits are granted through a lottery drawing with plenty of competition. Even though your chance of an elk tag is extremely low, there are many other ways to enjoy the elk herd.

Fort Riley ElkYou do not need a permit to photograph or view the elk. However, you do need to be aware of current access restrictions on Fort Riley. Please remember to review all regulations before engaging in any type of recreation on Fort Riley.

For more information, call the Conservation Office at 239-6211, or visit the Fort Riley Web page at http://www.riley.army.mil/Recreation/Outdoor/.

 

 

 
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Last UpdaApril 6, 2009->->->->->->->
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