The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wrapped up its elk collaring project in northwestern Minnesota last week reaching its goal of capturing 20 adult female elk and fitting them with collars that can precisely track their locations.
Seventeen adult female elk were collared in Kittson County - fourteen in the Kittson Central group near Lancaster and three in the Caribou-Vita group along the Minnesota-Canada border. Three elk were also collared in Marshall County near Grygla.
“Aerial capture of wildlife involves a lot of simultaneous moving parts and is by definition inherently dangerous,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “It went as smoothly as any capture project we’ve undertaken.” Cornicelli noted that flight weather was good, there were no mechanical or logistic issues on the ground or in the air, the capture crew found elk and processed them quickly and well within the handling protocols; all of which contributed to a successful operation that was completed in just three days.
Cornicelli credits the success of the project to the expertise of the capture crew contracted by DNR; the team of research and management professionals from the DNR, the Minnesota Zoo, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the landowners who provided property access to the team for capture.
During the capture effort near Grygla one elk was fatally injured and one elk was collared that appears to have recently suffered a gunshot wound, which was noticed when the animal was being worked up. All other elk appeared to be in good condition. Similar to data already collected on hunter-harvested elk, any elk that may die during the course of the study will be necropsied to better understand mortality factors and overall condition of the elk.
Prior to this project, research on Minnesota’s small elk herd has not been conducted. “The collaring effort is a first of its kind research project on free-ranging, wild elk of northwestern Minnesota. What we learn will help us develop a basic understanding of elk movements and habitat use by combining the volume of information from the radiocollars with field surveys that identify what habitats are important to elk”, said Gino D’Angelo, deer project leader.
“Our goal is to improve understanding of the species and ultimately develop management programs that benefit elk, their habitat, and increase public support both locally and statewide,” said D’Angelo.
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 can track elk locations in near real-time via computer. The collars will also send a text message to researchers if the animal dies. The study runs through June 2018 and the collars are programmed to automatically drop off.
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.
For more information on elk, visit www.mndnr.gov/elk.