The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will attempt to more than double the number of wild elk previously planned in central Kittson County, where residents have lobbied hard for expansion of the small herd for greater tourism and hunting.

But under the state’s new elk management plan, unveiled Thursday, the agency’s wildlife managers will stick to the status quo in managing two other elk herds in the same northwest corner of the state. In those two areas, especially around the town of Grygla, elk aren’t as welcome because they have been known to destroy crops, eat stored hay and damage fences.

The new plan also will provide for closer oversight of the animals, including use of radio collars for a certain number of cows, John Williams, the DNR’s wildlife manager in the northwest, told reporters on a conference call. For one thing, the agency would like to know why the Grygla area herd has shrunk to an estimated 18 elk. Poaching, predation by wolves and other factors may be at play, Williams said.

DNR officials were set to publicly unveil the new plan Thursday night at the New Brighton Community Center. It’s an offshoot to elk management goals set in 2009 to increase the number and range of wild elk for hunting, viewing and tourism without disrupting the interests of private landowners.

Few hunting permits

Minnesota has three elk herds in proximity to each other. The biggest is the Caribou-Vita herd in northern Kittson County, which is shared with Manitoba. The Caribou-Vita herd is being managed for an ideal range of 150 to 200 animals. The latest Minnesota survey counted 79 elk in Minnesota, up from 51 in 2014.

The management goal for the Grygla area herd was set at 30 to 38 elk in 2009, and that won’t change under the new plan, Williams said. Until that herd is revitalized, hunting opportunities will be even more rare than they are in the other two herds.

To grow the Kittson-Central herd — located around the town of Lancaster, north of Hallock — hunting will be allowed only in small increments to keep the deer wary and away from private land, Williams said. The new plan proposes a herd of 65 to 75 elk, up from the 2009 management goal of 20 to 30. In the latest survey, spotters counted 34 elk in the Kittson-Central herd, compared with 37 in 2014.

“To grow, we will have to be conservative” in granting hunting permits, Williams said. He said demand for licenses already far exceeds the number of chances hunters will be given. As many as 2,000 people have applied for as few as a dozen or so licenses in past years.

This year, in the largest of the three herds, for instance, the DNR allowed only two bulls to be killed. But 800 to 1,000 people applied for the two permits. The majestic animals weigh up to 900 pounds, sporting massive antlers, as big as those in Western states.

Like the 2009 elk management plan, the new plan will provide financial assistance to farmers and others in the area where elk cause damage. From 2012-2014, for example, the state paid out about $125,000 in elk damage claims, the DNR said.

Williams said elk in all three herds appear to be generally healthy.