Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Lewis and Clark in North Dakota:
Wildlife Then & Now
In 1804, the abundance of elk on the northern Great Plains was eclipsed only
by bison and pronghorn. Elk were found in woodlands and on the open prairie.
Elk remained common throughout the state until the late 1870s when railroads
brought homesteaders. With elk providing a large quantity of choice meat, and
being relatively easy to kill, subsistence and market hunting resulted in the
rapid extirpation of this animal. Only a handful of elk remained in the state
after 1900, with the last known animal being shot by a man from Mountrail County.
After a failed attempt in the 1940s to bring elk back to the badlands, elk were
accidentally released in 1977 from a captive herd on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
These elk established themselves in and around the Killdeer Mountains southwest
of the reservation. In the early 1970s elk also began appearing on their own
in the Pembina Hills near Walhalla in Pembina County. By 1982 a limited hunting
season was permitted on both the eastern and western herds. In 1985, the National
Park Service released 47 elk in the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National
Park. Today elk may be viewed and hunted in Cavalier and Pembina counties in
the northeastern portion of the state, Dunn and McKenzie counties in the northern
badlands, and Billings and Golden Valley counties in the central badlands.
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