Elk NetworkMorrison Creek Public Access Project

Conservation , onX Public Access | April 1, 2018

More Acres for Elk on Morrison Creek 

360 acres protected and opened to the public

At 122,000 acres, the Jackson County Forest dwarfs some national forests. But it also borders the Black River State Forest and two other county forests, creating a 350,000-acre expanse of public lands in central Wisconsin. Combined with its outstanding habitat, this led state wildlife managers to choose the area as home-base for the state’s newest elk herd. 

Yet the forest doesn’t fall in one perfect block. Like an old jigsaw puzzle, it’s missing some pieces, which complicates stewardship of wildlife, habitat and recreation. So county land managers moved quickly when a 360-acre inholding came up for sale last year less than three miles from where the state has released 70 elk since 2015. 

“We’re not really looking for more land, but we watch for opportunities to block up our holdings and smooth out the borders,” says Jim Zahasky, Jackson County Forest and Parks (JCFP) administrator. “This parcel was surrounded by Jackson County Forest on three sides and to the south by Morrison Creek.”

But Zahasky knew the $400,000 price tag would take time to pull together, so he called RMEF to ask if it might provide bridge financing. After one visit to the land, RMEF Eastern Conservation Program Manager Steven Dobey knew it begged to be Wisconsin’s newest piece of public elk country.

“It’s just a great place,” Dobey says. “In addition to shoring up the Jackson County Forest and eliminating the threat of subdivision, it holds some great possibilities for habitat work that would be a boon for elk and a wealth of other species. So we jumped on it.”

RMEF bought it using proceeds from its Torstenson Family Endowment, reselling it to the county before year’s end. That was welcome news for state wildlife managers. Black bears, whitetails, wolves, wild turkeys and sharp-tailed grouse all use the parcel. And large marshes on the property’s north end are magnets for waterfowl, whooping cranes, American bitterns and Blanding’s turtles. 

It also hosts wild lupine, which the endangered Karner blue butterfly needs to lay eggs. Zahasky says the parcel lies less than a half mile from a well-documented “mega-population” of Karners. Reproduction of this butterfly recently took a huge upswing in Wisconsin thanks to forest thinning projects to increase lupine growth, which the county aims to conduct on this new parcel, too. 

That will not only benefit Karner blues but also act as a flashing “welcome” sign for elk, which thrive in open-canopy forests. The fall migration of hunters will like it, too, as it only enhances what is already the largest tract of public hunting grounds in the southern half of the state. 

“This acquisition is a great win for both hunters and wildlife,” says Kevin Wallenfang, Wisconsin’s lead elk manager. “Both RMEF and JCFP have been key partners in the Black River elk restoration, and this is a huge example of their long-term commitment.”