Over 20 years ago, people moved 50 elk from Jasper to the Swan Hills, but the elk scattered.
“There’s elk here,” says Keith Denoncourt. The Lesser Slave Lake and the Swan Hills are within the historic elk range, with pockets of elk still around Smith, Kinuso, and Widewater.
In 1999, Denoncourt was the chair of the Slave Lake chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Studies showed the the Swan Hills were “ripe for a transplant,” says Denoncourt.
The Jasper elk were genetically similar to the ones already living in the Swan Hills.
“There was an abundance of of them (elk) in Jasper. We gave them a chance to survive and thrive and rebuild an area.”
The project was “the best of things and the worst of things,” he says. The project had “phenomenal community support” and was “a great learning process for everyone.”
One of the things people learned was how far elk travel.
In one case, an elk in town was moved 80 km, says Denoncourt. The next day it was back in Slave Lake. Other elk were spotted in Wabasca, Edmonton, and Athabasca.
The elk were relocated in the winter because they are easier to capture when there is less food around.
Alberta has around 26,000 elk (also known as wapiti), says huntalberta.ca.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation puts the population at 20,000. The lowest population was in the early 1900s. Elk are prized for big game hunting and also farmed.
At the moment, the closest elk ranch to Slave Lake, registered with the Alberta Elk Commission, is near Whitecourt.
In the past, there were some elk ranches near Kinuso and Smith.