Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Whitney’s Elk Relocation Experiment

elk enclosure sketchIn the early 1900s, numerous elk were set loose at several places in the Adirondacks, with the hope of re-introducing the species.

These efforts, made possible by private individuals, were described briefly in a book by William Temple Hornaday, American Natural History: A Foundation of Useful Knowledge of the Higher Animals of North America, Volume 2 (published in 1914).

The Albany Evening Journal (Sept. 10, 1903) related that 43 elk from Wyoming had been shipped in two railroad cars, and delivered at Paul Smith’s. There, they were to be released into a forest owned by Paul Smith at St. Regis Lake. The elk were a “present” to Paul Smith from a California friend (unnamed in the article).

Also, William C. Whitney, who had brought numbers of elk and other game animals from the West to his private game farm at his estate in the Berkshires, made several donations of elk. Hornaday notes that in 1901, he “caused twenty-two head to be liberated” in the Adirondacks. In the same news article cited above, it reports that Whitney had contacted Dr. F. F. Kendall that he would be shipping a carload of elk, to be distributed to whichever places Kendall thought advisable. Kendall planned to release some of them near the “new state bridge” near Saranac Lake.

In 1903, Whitney shipped 68 head of elk, via five railroad cars, from his estate (October Mountain) to Saranac Lake, Floodwood Station, and Paul Smith’s.

In the case of the Whitney’s 1901 elk donation, the transportation of the animals was described in some detail in the Seventh Report of the Forest, Fish and Game Commission, (1902). A state official went to October Mountain to oversee the process. Of the 120 elk at Whitney’s estate, 22 were selected for relocation: 5 males and 17 females.

The report explained that “As the animals were very wild, considerable difficulty was experienced in driving them into the wagon vans for transportation to the railway station, six miles distant.”

After being loaded onto the railroad car, the elk rode to Raquette Lake, where they “arrived in good condition and none the worse for their journey.” At Raquette Lake, the car was put on a scow belonging to the Raquette Lake Transportation Company and towed to the Forked Lake Carry, where they were released into the wild in Township 40, Hamilton County.

The writer of the report expressed a bit of reservation as to the prospects for the elk, however: “The general character and feeding grounds of the Adirondack forests are so different from the usual habitat of these animals that their introduction is largely a matter of experiment. There have been no elk in the Adirondacks within the memory of any one now living; but, so far as heard from, these elk seem to be doing well, and will probably increase in number. ”

The report also stated, perhaps prophetically: “Unfortunately, the cows resemble the deer greatly in their general appearance, and so may be killed by hunters who mistake them for does. True, they differ in color and are of a much greater size; but these differences would not be apparent when the animal was standing breast high in the underbrush.”

According to Hornaday, by 1913, the elk herd had increased to about 400 head. But their residency did not last.

Illustration of an elk enclosure from the Clyde Democratic Herald, September 8, 1897.

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David Fiske is a co-author of the books Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave (Praeger Publishing, 2013) and Madame Sherri: The Special Edition (Emu Books, 2014).

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