DNR: Grow Minnesota’s elk herd

Bemidji, Minn. — The DNR aims to grow the elk herd over the next five years in the northwest part of the state, according to a draft elk management plan the agency released earlier this week.

The plan calls for increasing the pre-calving population goal for the Kittson County herd from 20 to 30 animals to 65 to 75 animals. The population goals for Grygla – 30 to 38 animals – and the Caribou-Vita herd – 150 to 200 animals – would remain the same. The DNR manages the latter herd along with Manitoba.

As it works to finalize the plan, the DNR will hold three informational meetings – Dec. 3 in New Brighton, Dec. 15 in Lancaster, and Dec. 16 in Grygla. Additionally, the agency is taking public input on the draft plan through Dec. 27.

The new plan will be in effect from 2016-2020.

“The goal of the draft elk management plan is to maintain a healthy elk population that offers recreational and economic opportunities to citizens of the state,” John Williams, DNR regional wildlife manager in Bemidji, said in an agency news release. “To provide these opportunities, the DNR must also address conflicts between elk and landowners.”

Elk historically have caused agricultural damage in parts of the northwest. Such depredation remains a concern, and is a primary reason why the agency – after collecting input from elk work groups that included a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the northwest – decided to keep the goal for the Grygla herd the same. Some members of the group wanted to decrease the goal, Williams said.

“The producers of the community are still quite concerned about the potential for elk damage,” he said.

In addition, that population has been decreasing in recent years. During the most recent aerial survey, the DNR counted 18 animals.

“There’s the very real reality that the last survey showed 18 elk there,” Williams said. “I’ll be truthful with you that to get to the upper end of that goal range – 38 animals – by 2020 may be a little bit of a reach.”

While producers in Kittson County remain concerned about damage as a result of elk, they were willing to consider increasing the size of that herd. The draft plan calls for more than doubling the size of that herd, but at the same time calls for maintaining a hunting season in the area to maintain elk wariness.

Williams said the agency doesn’t know the formula yet for “growing the herd while also continuing to hunt the herd to keep the wariness up.”

He says achieving the population goal is doable, but won’t be easy.

“In a perfect world, it would be easy to do that,” Williams said. “But I think it will be a little bit of a challenge for us to get there.”

The 41-page draft plan contains a wide variety of information about elk, including historical information as well as information about an upcoming elk research project.

Though the plan is focused on elk in the northwestern part of the state, one strategy within it is to “continue to voice support for research on potential elk restoration as proposed by the University of Minnesota and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.”

The band is currently looking into the potential for reintroducing elk into the eastern and northeastern portions of the state.

Input and meetings 

More details about the upcoming meetings are as follows:

• New Brighton Community Center, 6:30-9 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 3, 400 10th St. NW, New Brighton.

• Lancaster Community Center, 6:30-9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, 95 2nd St. W., Lancaster.

• Grygla Community Center, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 6:30-9 p.m., 127 S. Main Ave., Grygla.

Meetings will begin with an open house at 6:30 p.m. A formal presentation and opportunities for comment will begin at 7 p.m.

“The meetings will allow citizens to learn about our state’s elk herds and how elk are managed,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager. “We also want to give people the opportunity to hear about the upcoming research on elk movements and habitat use and plans to evaluate citizens’ perspectives toward elk in northwestern Minnesota.”

The draft plan is available at mndnr.gov/elk

Comments may be submitted through the site, or via email or mail. Send comments via postal mail to: Elk Comments, DNR Wildlife, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd NE, Bemidji, MN, 56601. 

Email comments, including your name and address, to elkplan.dnr@state.mn.us. 

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