State wildlife scientists will collar and track about 20 elk starting next week as part of a larger research effort designed to expand Minnesota’s herd for additional hunting while addressing the interests of ranchers and farmers.
The first-ever study, scheduled to begin Monday, is being conducted by researchers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota State University, Mankato, and it will run through June 2018.
“We know very little about elk in Minnesota,” said Gino D’Angelo, the DNR’s 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.”
Using nets shot from a helicopter, the DNR will restrain and collar roughly 20 adult female elk from three herds in Kittson, Roseau and Marshall counties. Each will be fitted with a GPS collar and an identifying ear tag. The collars will collect locations of the elk every four to six hours during most of the study, the DNR said. During the time when calves are born, the locations will be recorded every hour. The three herds total about 130 animals in the far northwestern part of the state, according to the DNR.
Demand for licenses to hunt elk far exceeds the supply in Minnesota. As many as 2,000 people have applied for as few as a dozen or so licenses in past years. In 2015, 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. Minnesota’s male elk weigh up to 900 pounds, as big as those in Western states.
Ranchers in the affected counties say elk feed on hay and other crops and that they damage fences. Many say that more elk will only add to the trouble and expense.
The DNR has reported that the state’s elk populations could be suffering from poaching. Investigators still are trying to solve a blatant killing near Grygla, Minn., in 2013, when two rare bull elk were shot illegally and left to waste.