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Minnesota elk survey results underscore importance of elk research

Fluctuations in the 2016 annual elk population survey illustrate one of the

primary reasons wildlife researchers have begun placing GPS collars on

elk in northwestern Minnesota and tracking their movements.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ aerial survey counts

elk in three herds in the state’s elk range. This year’s survey results show

large population swings in two of the three herds that might be caused

by elk traveling into and out of Canada – and across the survey boundary.

“These survey results underscore the importance of upcoming research into

elk movements,” said John Williams, the DNR’s northwest region wildlife manager.

“The aerial survey is a snapshot in time. Tracking elk movements over a

longer time period will provide information that will make our elk survey

more effective and allow us to better manage elk.”

In total, survey spotters counted 83 elk in the state’s elk range in Kittson,

Marshall and Roseau counties, down from 131 in the 2015 survey.

In the Grygla herd in Marshall County, spotters counted 21 elk, up slightly

from the 18 counted last year and 20 counted in 2014. The current

population goal for the Grygla herd is 30-38.

“While the number of elk in the Grygla herd remains stable, its status is

still of concern,” Williams said. “This herd hasn’t been hunted since 2012.”

In the Kittson-Central herd located near Lancaster in Kittson County,

spotters counted 52 elk compared to 34 in 2015 and 37 in 2014. This

year’s count remains above the current population goal of 20-30 animals.

In the Caribou-Vita herd (also known as the Cross Border herd

or the International herd), spotters also counted 10 elk, down

from 79 animals counted in 2015 and 51 in 2014. This is Minnesota’s

largest herd, which migrates between northern Kittson County and

Manitoba. The Caribou-Vita herd’s current population goal is 150-200

elk inhabiting both sides of the border.

“We continue to see the Cariobu-Vita herd regularly travel between

Minnesota and Canada,” said Williams. “We know these animals

move back and forth across the border daily, and perhaps intermix

with the Kittson-Central herd.”


Elk study begins

The DNR’s recently begun research into elk movements and habitat

use stands to help managers speed up and improve the effectiveness

of the elk surveys, as well as improve knowledge of Minnesota elk

biology and management of the species.

As part of the study that began Feb. 16, the DNR will collar

approximately 20 adult female elk, some from each of the three herds.

“This research project is the first of its kind in Minnesota,” said

Gino D’Angelo, DNR deer project leader. “Our goal is to improve

understanding of the species and ultimately develop management

programs that benefit elk and their habitat while also minimizing

conflicts with landowners.”

The study is being conducted by researchers from the DNR and

Minnesota State University-Mankato and will run through June


Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota

Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended

by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

(lccmr) and approved by the state Legislature. The DNR and the

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are also providing funding.

Elk are managed to maintain a free-ranging, wild population in

far northwestern Minnesota. These herds afford recreational and

economic opportunities, including wildlife watching and hunting

seasons when their populations can sustain a hunt.

Current population goals for each herd were established in the

2009 elk management plan, which DNR developed with local

landowner groups. The plan reflects a priority to increase landowner

acceptance of elk.

The DNR is in the process of finalizing the 2016-2020 plan.

A public input process was completed Jan. 22. The management

plan will address population goals, landowner concerns about

crop damage and opportuni¬ties to hunt and view elk.

For more information on Minnesota’s elk management, visit