Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Missouri: MDC & U of M using radio collars for elk research

Radio collars will help answer questions about elk
population growth and habitat use

All 34 elk and five new calves at the Missouri Department of
Conservation’s (MDC) Peck Ranch Conservation Area are sporting new
jewelry, specifically radio collars, which are part of a
cooperative research project with the University of Missouri.

According to MDC Resource Scientist and Elk Biologist Jason
Sumners, the cooperative research project will provide critical
information to help the MDC track the success of the elk
restoration project, determine when management through hunting is
appropriate, and guide future habitat and harvest management.

Sumners said the GPS (Global Positioning System)-enabled collars,
provided by the university, may also assist MDC in deterring
poachers.

Joshua J. Millspaugh, professor of Wildlife Management at the
University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources, said it’s
critical that MDC has adequate information about what the elk do
after their release from the holding pen.

“Close monitoring leads to effective management, and using radio
collars is the most effective and efficient way to do this,”
Millspaugh said.

He said the university hopes to gather a full spectrum of
information on Missouri’s new elk herd. A big portion of that
information will go toward a population model of the elk herd that
researchers hope will assist in projecting the growth of the herd
and potential harvest, document possible physiological stress
responses after the release, and observe movement patterns and
resource selection.

By resource selection, Millspaugh said he means to observe what
management practices specifically attract or discourage elk
population growth. This is where Geographic Information System
(GIS) data layers will come in handy by showing researchers what
vegetation types are preferred by the elk.

Millspaugh said information collected each day will help the
biologists understand where the elk go during different times of
the day and why.

Elk survival data will also be collected to help determine when,
where, and why elk die, which will help in predicting the rate of
growth of the restored elk herd.

Arial surveys to develop elk census techniques and fecal sample
collections to assess stress levels will accompany the information
gathered from the radio collars. The elk will wear the radio
collars as long as the research project is active.

Millspaugh said it’s important to note that, although this sort of
research has been done for other restored elk populations, it
hasn’t been accomplished to the same scale or with this level of
technology. Although radio-collars have been a component of other
elk restoration programs, such as those in Kentucky, Tennessee and
Wisconsin, this project is unique in that each and every elk in
Missouri’s new herd is collared.

“The MDC should be given credit for their progressive and
forward-thinking related to technology used in this project,”
Millspaugh said. “It is not only the most efficient, but also the
most cutting-edge available, and it will pay strong dividends in
our ability to effectively manage the herd.”

Sumners said the MDC is fortunate to have a strong cooperative
relationship with the university, and the experience and expertise
that Millspaugh brings to the project.

Like others involved in the historic restoration of elk to
Missouri, Millspaugh said his involvement has had a personal
impact.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am thrilled to be
involved,” he said. “Although I’m involved in many other wildlife
projects around the country, the opportunity to study elk in my
backyard is special and exciting.”

The 346-square-mile elk restoration zone covers parts of Shannon,
Carter and Reynolds counties and is home to Missouri’s newly
restored elk herd. Sumners said catching sight of elk in the vast
restoration zone may be a challenge for the public.

“These several dozen animals have more than 221,500 acres of
habitat in the rugged terrain of the restoration zone,” Sumners
said. “As we learn more and as the herd grows, public viewing
opportunities will increase.”

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided funds for the initial
purchase of radio collars, and the entire research project is
supported by the Wildlife Restoration Program, administered through
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For more information on Missouri’s elk restoration efforts, visit
www.MissouriConservation.org and search “elk restoration.”

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