Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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MN: Manitoba, Minnesota take to helicopters to count elk

Karlstad, Minn. – Wildlife officials in Minnesota and Manitoba
are planning a coordinated aerial survey of the elk herd that roams
between the two countries.

If weather allows, surveys of the Caribou/Vita herd will be
conducted this week. American and Canadian crews will fly at the
same time to ensure none of the animals are counted twice.

It’s the first time the two have scheduled to coordinate their
surveys.

The idea is to “get a more accurate count on that Caribou/Vita
group,” said Donovan Pietruszewski, DNR area wildlife manager in
Karlstad.

Officials planned to do similar surveys last year, but an early
snowmelt in March caused them to scrap those plans. Despite warm
weather last week, Pietruszewski was hopeful the surveys would be
flown.

“We’re getting a major melt right now,” he said last week. “If we
get one more warm spell… we may end up losing our good snow
conditions.”

While this would be the first time the state and Manitoba
officially coordinated, several years ago the two wound up flying
their surveys on the same day. At certain points, the two
countries’ helicopters were within sight of one another.

Pietruszewski’s best estimate is there are between 80 and 120
animals in the Caribou/Vita herd.

At this point, there is no hunting of the Caribou/Vita herd, which
is separate from the hunted population of elk in central Kittson
County. Still, the Caribou/Vita herd is 10 to 12 miles from the
open hunting area, so it’s possible “an animal or two” could wander
into the open area, Pietruszewski said.

The herd also receives some pressure in Manitoba, where First
Nation people can target them year-round on land where they have
permission to hunt.

Changes

The behavior of the animals in the Caribou/Vita herd has changed
some in recent years. For some time, those elk spent most of the
year in Minnesota, then moved north for the winter. They seemed to
be going for hay bales on farms near the border.

Manitoba has fenced off many of those types of areas, and also
planted food plots to keep elk from depredating on farmers’
property, Pietruszewski said.

“Lately, elk have been spending more time in Manitoba than they
have in the U.S., which is (the opposite) of what happened in the
past,” he said.

There still are animals in Minnesota in the spring and summer, “but
no longer the majority of the group, like it was four or five years
ago,” Pietruszewski said.

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