Now, if the elk across Northland Outdoors country can just stay put for a bit.
Not only could that help current efforts to collar elk for studies in Minnesota and North Dakota, it might allow at least natural resources types in Minnesota to get a better handle on herd sizes — elk from two of the state’s three herds, all in northwestern Minnesota, often stray to and from nearby Canada and across the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources‘ elk survey boundary.
For Wisconsin and its elk reintroduction efforts, elk on the go aren’t a problem — 40 elk currently are being held in a pen, where they’re receiving daily care and monitoring.
But these elk are in Kentucky; for the second year, elk were captured there as part of a trans-location project aimed at reintroducing elk into the state. So, with the capturing phase complete, the elk will be quarantined and tested for at least four months, which also will include acclimation time in Wisconsin, before their release into the area in and around Black River State Forest in Jackson County in west-central Wisconsin.
Twenty-three Kentucky elk were released in eastern Jackson County in the first year of the project in 2015, and 15 remain, the Wisconsin DNR said. The goal of the multi-year project is to bring up to 150 elk from Kentucky, with future additions going to the state’s Clam Lake herd that was established in 1995 and has grown from 25 to 155 animals.
“We are very happy with how things went in the second year of this project,” said Tom Hauge, Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director. “The majority of this year’s class are females, including many adult cows that are likely carrying calves. This should bode well for herd growth during the early years of the project. Both Wisconsin and Kentucky’s wildlife professionals worked extremely hard with safety of the elk and staff as the top priority during the trapping effort.”
So it has been with Wisconsin’s neighbor to the west.
In Minnesota, the focus is on managing the three herds that total an estimated 130 animals and make up the state’s entire elk population. The collaring effort, which started Tuesday, is part of the “Movements and Seasonal Habitat Use of Minnesota Elk” research project being conducted by the Minnesota DNR.
During a teleconference Wednesday morning, the DNR reported that five female elk were captured and collared by a helicopter crew Tuesday, with plans to collar another 15 or so elk cows yet this week in Kittson, Roseau and Marshall counties in the heart of Minnesota’s elk range.
It’s a quick and painless process for the animals, said Gino D’Angelo, DNR deer research leader.
“The pursuit was less than three minutes per animal and the handling less than 10 minutes,” D’Angelo said on the teleconference. “(The animal) is cut off from the herd. The helicopter crew uses a 15-square-foot net. The helicopter lands when it’s safe — it’s done in an open area — and the three members of the crew get out, restrain the elk and blindfold them to calm them down. They remove the elk from the net, affix the collar (and ear tag) and take biological information and then return it to the herd pretty quickly and then move on in the herd.”
Unlike with moose, tranquilizers usually aren’t needed with elk.
“Elk are a very hearty species,” D’Angelo said. “And the adequate snow cover slowed them down. It’s easier on them. Drugs can have an impact on them. It’s different with the recovery. You can use (a tranquilizer on elk), but it wasn’t necessary to go to darting this time. The captures were very smooth.”
According to the DNR, fluctuations in the 2016 elk population survey — likely caused by elk traveling in and out of Canada and across the survey boundary — are one of the reasons wildlife researchers are placing GPS collars on the animals and tracking their movements. North Dakota also is doing a capture-and-collar of female elk this week in order to learn more about elk in three herds in the state. And, like in Minnesota, North Dakota elk country also abuts Manitoba.