DNR to begin elk research project in northwestern Minnesota

A new research project on free-ranging, wild elk of northwestern Minnesota aims to improve understanding of elk movements and habitat use. 

Elk herd“This research project is the first of its kind in Minnesota,” said Dr. Gino D’Angelo, deer project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We know very little about elk in Minnesota. Our goal is to improve understanding of the species and ultimately develop management programs that benefit elk and their habitat, while also minimizing conflicts with landowners.”

The study is being conducted by researchers from the DNR and Minnesota State University-Mankato and will run through June 2018.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and approved by the state Legislature. The DNR and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are also providing funding.

As part of the study, beginning Feb. 15 and weather permitting, the DNR will collar approximately 20 adult female elk in northwestern Minnesota, from three herds in Kittson, Roseau and Marshall counties.

Elk will be temporarily restrained and fitted with a GPS collar and identifying ear tags; body measurements and other biological data will also be collected. The elk will be released at the site of capture.

The GPS collars will collect locations of the elk every 4 to 6 hours during most of the study. During key biological periods, such as when calves are born, locations of the elk will be taken every hour. The locations will be uploaded to satellites, and the researchers will receive email messages with elk locations daily.

“The information collected will aid researchers in tracking elk movements and determining habitat use during different seasons,” D’Angelo said. “The primary objective of the research is to develop a basic understanding of elk movements and habitat use by combining the collar data with field surveys that identify the primary types of vegetation that elk use.”

Elk are managed to maintain a free-ranging, wild population in northwestern Minnesota. Three herds totaling an estimated 130 animals roam portions of far northwestern Minnesota and comprise the state’s entire elk population, according to the DNR’s most recent population survey.

The DNR’s draft Strategic Management Plan for Elk in Minnesota for 2016 to 2020 has a long-term vision of enhancing the size and range extent of Minnesota’s elk population and to provide increased recreational opportunities, while maintaining positive coexistence with private landowners. More information on elk management in Minnesota is available on the elk management page.