The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is taking comment on a proposal to increase the goal for elk populations in central Kittson County to a herd size of 65 to 75 animals as part of a new five-year management plan scheduled to take effect in 2016.
The current goal for the Kittson Central herd near Lancaster, Minn., is 20 to 30 elk.
The potential increase in central Kittson County is among the highlights in the draft of a new elk management plan the DNR developed for Minnesota’s elk herd. The state’s three elk herds are in central Kittson County, the Caribou-Vita herd—also known as the international herd—that ranges between Caribou Township and the Vita, Man., area north of the border, and near Grygla, Minn.
The DNR developed the draft plan with help from local work groups that included a broad range of stakeholders in northwest Minnesota. The draft includes a variety of recommendations for managing elk in northwest Minnesota, but the proposal for growing the Kittson Central herd to nearly triple its present size marks perhaps the biggest change from the existing plan, which has been in place since 2009 and expires Dec. 31.
“That’s a huge increase,” said John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji. “And regarding that, the team thoroughly discussed it, and I asked at the end of the process, ‘Is this group OK with that range?’ and they were.
“They have legitimate concerns about population levels of that degree,” he said “There was a fairly large group that maybe wanted more than that, and some obviously wanted less.”
The consensus came down to a herd goal of 65 to 75 elk, Williams said.
“It’s yet to be seen whether or not the goal of increasing the elk herd to that degree will be a possibility,” Williams said of the Kittson Central proposal.
The draft plan calls for keeping the goal for the Grygla herd at 30 to 38 elk and the Caribou-Vita herd at 150 to 200, a number agreed upon by Manitoba Conservation and the DNR. Between the three herds, Minnesota’s elk population stands at about 130 elk. The Caribou-Vita herd has an estimated population of 120 to 150—the DNR counted 79 on the Minnesota side of the border during a survey last winter—the Kittson Central herd has slightly more than 30 elk, and the Grygla herd has declined to an estimated 18 elk, far below management goals.
Williams said the proposed increase for the Kittson Central herd reflects a growing tolerance, if not appreciation, for elk and efforts to mitigate depredation problems the animals have caused for area farmers and ranchers.
An elk herd of mostly captive origin caused widespread problems in the mid- to late 2000s for Kittson County producers. That herd was eradicated, Williams said, and the elk now in the county are wild.
“If you remember back to 2008-2009, that Lancaster herd was largely captive-origin elk, and they were just trouble,” Williams said. “They would come into someone’s hay yard and didn’t mind people watching them. That was just an egregious time when the elk got a very bad name. The elk today largely behave themselves. We have had some issues with producers and try to work with them.”
Williams said the goal of the 41-page draft plan is to maintain a healthy elk population that offers recreational and economic opportunities while balancing conflicts between the animals and landowners. Limited hunting remains a component of the plan to control numbers as needed and ensure the elk remain wary.
In northwest Minnesota, comment meetings on the draft elk plan are set for 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Lancaster Community Center, 95 Second St. W.; and 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Grygla Community Center, 127 S. Main Ave. A meeting in the Twin Cities suburb of New Brighton Minn., is scheduled for 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the New Brighton Community Center, 400 10th St. NW.
The DNR is taking comments on the plan through Dec. 27. For more information, including a draft of the new plan and how to comment, check out the DNR’s elk management page at mndnr.gov/elk.