Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Michigan elk plan is up for approval

Lansing — DNR Director Dan Eichinger is expected to approve an updated elk management plan at the Dec. 8 meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission at Lansing Community College West Campus.

State officials have been in the process of updating the management plan for months.

According to a DNR document, the first Michigan elk management plan was written
in 1975, largely due to a decline in elk abundance. The current plan was
finalized in 2012 and has guided management efforts since then.

The department’s goal is to update species management plans every 10 years,
and in 2022, the revision and update process for the elk management
plan started.

The updated plan features three principal goals: manage for a sustainable
elk population in balance with the habitat; use hunting as the primary
method to control elk numbers, herd composition, and distribution; and
enhance public understanding of elk management in Michigan.

The plan identifies strategies to achieve these goals. Other specific
issues also are identified in the plan including habitat use and home
range, population and impact monitoring, herd health, population
management, elk/human conflicts, and information and education.

The updated plan recommends maintaining a herd of between 500 and 900 elk
in Michigan (the same as the 2012 elk management plan) within the
current elk management range.

American Indian tribal interests are pushing to expand the elk range and
population, but state biologists are concerned that such an expansion
could increase human/elk conflicts and the possibility of disease
transmission in the herd.

“The department does not support expansion,” Chad Stewart, the DNR’s deer,
elk, and moose management specialist told the state Natural Resource
Commission while presenting a draft of the plan at the Commission’s
November meeting in Lansing. “We are concerned about (increased) issues
on private property.”

One change to the plan includes language that defines how wandering elk substantially outside of their range will be managed.

“Elk traveling great distances can carry, contract, or spread transmissible diseases like
bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and chronic wasting disease (CWD),” the DNR
wrote in a memo to the commission.

Elk reports outside of their range will be assessed on a case-by-case
basis. If elk are traveling into known areas of higher disease
occurrence, they will be lethally removed and submitted for testing.

“We’re going to make attempts to lethally remove them,” Stewart said. “We
don’t feel we want them to return to typical elk range and possibly
bring disease back with them.”

“Every attempt will be made to utilize the meat should disease failed to be
detected,” the DNR wrote. “Elk outside of the range and not in a known
disease location may simply be monitored and not removed, especially if
there is no conflict associated with them.”

The most recent elk survey was conducted in January 2022. It produced a
population estimate of 1,227 elk with 95% confidence intervals of 870 to
1,684 animals.

“We have been carrying more elk than the management plan states and we’re
working to reduce those numbers, but we’re not seeing increased issues
(conflicts),” Stewart said.

Some of the other strategies in the plan include:

• Shift emphasis for openings management to native openings rather than food plots;

• Enhance public viewing opportunities, including improving accessibility;

• Pursue partnerships to improve social and economic benefits locally;

• Address private landowner conflicts with elk;

• Continue and improve interactions between the department and elk guides; and

• Increase hunter education efforts.

The DNR has been busy educating the general public about the benefits of
elk and elk management in Michigan. It started an Elk University in 2015
and since then more than 20,000 students in schools across the state
have been educated about Michigan’s elk population and management
objectives.

In 2018 the department celebrated 100 years of elk management in Michigan, and
the conservation license plate, which helps fund habitat management,
recently featured an elk.

“A lot of cool things have been done regarding elk over the past 10 years,” Stewart said.

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