GRYGLA, Minn. — A project to capture 20 cow elk in northwest Minnesota and fit them with GPS collars to track their whereabouts wrapped up Thursday, and the animals now are online.
Gino D’Angelo, deer project leader for the Department of Natural Resources in Madelia, Minn., said three elk are online near Grygla, Minn., and 17 have collars in Kittson County — three from the Caribou-Vita herd in northeast Kittson County, and 14 cows from the Central Kittson herd near Lancaster, Minn.
A helicopter crew from Kiwi Air of Clarkston, Wash., a company that specializes in wildlife capture for research projects, captured and collared the elk.
In an interview Monday, D’Angelo said the capture, which began Feb. 16, was a success, overall, although one cow elk near Grygla died after becoming awkwardly tangled in the capture net.
“It happened in a quick instance, and there’s nothing we could have changed,” he said. “That’s a risk associated with any capture activity. All we can do is buffer to make sure it’s minimized.”
Another elk collared near Grygla appears to recently have suffered a gunshot wound, which the crew noticed while working up the animal and fitting the collar. All of the other elk captured were in good condition.
“It went as smoothly as any project we’ve undertaken,” Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, said in a statement. He said there were no mechanical or logistical issues on the ground or in the air, and the capture crew found elk and processed them quickly.
D’Angelo said weather and temperature conditions were favorable — not too warm or too cold — and snow cover was adequate.
“Cold reduces stress on the animals and prevents them from getting too hot,” D’Angelo said. “Certainly, the animals were affected somewhat by the capture, but it looks like they settled right back into pretty typical patterns.”
The elk were collared as part of a two-year research project to learn more about elk movements and habitat use in northwest Minnesota. This is the first-ever research project to be conducted on Minnesota’s elk herd.
Minnesota has an estimated population of about 83 elk between its three herds. The Caribou-Vita herd — also known as the “Cross Border” or “International” herd — is the largest population, with an estimated population of about 100 animals between the two sides of the border.
This year’s Minnesota estimate is down from 131 in 2015 because more elk from the Caribou-Vita herd were on the Manitoba side of the border at the time of the DNR’s winter aerial survey.
The goal, D’Angelo said, is to use the information gleaned from the study to develop management programs that benefit elk and their habitat and in turn increase public support both locally and statewide.
“What we learn will help us develop a basic understanding of elk movements and habitat use by combining the volume of information from the radio collars with field surveys that identify what habitats are important to elk,” he said.
On the move
The GPS collars will collect locations every four to six hours during most of the study and every hour during key periods such as when calves are born. The locations are uploaded to satellites, and researchers then can track the elk in or near real-time.
D’Angelo said some of the collared Caribou-Vita elk already have been documented as crossing the border. Manitoba collared eight elk from the herd last week on the Canadian side of the border, and some of those elk have crossed into Minnesota.
“We’re getting a pretty good picture they utilize that cross border area pretty regularly,” D’Angelo said.
The collars will send a text message to researchers if an animal dies, and the units are programmed to fall off after the study ends in June 2018.
In a separate project, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department also collared 15 elk last week, five each in the Pembina Hills and Turtle Mountains of northern North Dakota and five in Sioux County in the south-central part of the state.