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Lewis and Clark in North Dakota:
Wildlife Then & Now


Elk (Elk) Past Elk Distribution Map of North Dakota Present Elk Distribution Map of North Dakota
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Elk (Elk)

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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