ND Game and Fish biologists track elk with GPS collars

Published: Aug. 1, 2020 at 6:37 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Dozens of GPS-collared elk in western North Dakota provide big game biologists with much-needed information.

In February 2019 North Dakota Game and Fish Department teamed up with University of Montana researchers to collar 90 elk to better understand elk populations and movements in western North Dakota after 900 animals were removed from the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park a decade ago.

“Well after the large reduction in 2010 and 2011, now we’ve seen herds that have established outside the park, both north of Medora and south, so the dynamics have completely changed. And that’s really the need that we have that we need to have better information on distribution movements and then ultimately be able to package this information into a population monitoring program,” said NDGF Big Game Supervisor, Bruce Stillings.

The GPS collars collect locations via satellite every two hours for the first three years of the five-year study.

“With over 400,000 elk locations to this point, we’ve got some really good information on distribution and movements,” said Stillings.

And there are some exceptional elk movements as well.

“We had one young bull that was collared east of Keene up in the Blue Buttes area and he took the long way around, headed south to South Dakota but he crossed the Missouri River into that Turtle Lake country and made it back around. But he’s covered about 200 miles,” said Stillings.

After the first year of the elk study things look positive for elk in western North Dakota.

“And it sure looks like we’re going to have elk on the landscape for the foreseeable future, and not just be relying on a park elk population that elk exit the park every once in a while. We’re looking at identifying a population monitoring technique that’s going to help us better manage and be able to determine abundance each year and be able to provide as many hunting opportunities as we can to the general public,” said Stillings.

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