Minnesota's elk population is up a bit from last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources' annual aerial survey.
Three distinct herds totaling 131 animals roam far northwestern Minnesota.
Spotters counted 79 elk in the Caribou-Vita herd (also known as the Cross Border or International herd), up from 51 animals counted in 2014. This is Minnesota’s largest herd, which migrates between northern Kittson County and Manitoba.
“We continue to see more elk in this herd on the Minnesota side of its range,” said John Williams, DNR’s northwest regional wildlife manager. “We know animals move between those grouped in Minnesota and those grouped in Manitoba, so our next step is to work with Canadian officials to determine the actual herd size.”
The Caribou-Vita herd’s population goal is 150-200 elk inhabiting both sides of the border.
The Kittson-Central herd is located near Lancaster in Kittson County. Spotters counted 34 elk compared to 37 in 2014. This year’s count remains above the population goal of 20-30 animals.
Grygla’s herd is at 18 elk, down from the 20 counted last year and 28 counted in 2013. Williams said the decline of this herd in Marshall County is troubling because it hasn’t been hunted since 2012. The population goal for the Grygla herd is 30-38.
The DNR completed its population survey in late February, when weather and snow conditions provided the best opportunity to effectively count individual and groups of elk on their winter ranges. Herd counts are estimates based on the number of elk actually spotted.