TRNP elk collaring programs helps survey habitatAn elk left its Theodore Roosevelt National Park home last winter and spent most of the cold season close to the Yellowstone River near Wibaux, Mont. Other elk often wander outside the park’s boundaries but usually return, wildlife biologist Wade Jones said.
An elk left its Theodore Roosevelt National Park home last winter and spent most of the cold season close to the Yellowstone River near Wibaux, Mont. Other elk often wander outside the park’s boundaries but usually return, wildlife biologist Wade Jones said.
Park staff know this because they have been tracking 15 elk fitted with radio collars in November 2010. Today’s plan is to fit 17 to 21 more elk with GPS collars that send information back to biologists.
The park has contracted Leading Edge Aviation out of Lewiston, Idaho, for the $32,000 project, said Bill Whitworth, TRNP chief of resource management. The project may cost less if the crew doesn’t use eight hours of flight time the park budgeted for.
“It’s a fairly specialized skill,” Whitworth said. “It’s an experienced group, and there’s very few out there.”
The park performed an elk survey in January in less-than-ideal conditions, because lack of snow made it hard to track the animals, Jones said. They counted 138 elk, knowing they missed some.
The collars will help better survey the population and will be helpful in the park’s elk reduction program, he said.
“It’s all interesting — where they are moving, their habitat,” Jones said.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation strongly supports the collaring project, said Rod Gilmore from Mandan, the foundation’s regional director for North Dakota and western South Dakota.
The foundation has helped fund the project, including assisting with collar purchases, he said.
“Any study that monitors elk movements, determining patterns, looking at movement inside and outside of park, what the range is, is valuable for (the North Dakota) Game and Fish (Department) to establish seasons and harvest quotas,” Gilmore said.
Elk are native to the Badlands but were hunted out of their range by the late 1880s. The park reintroduced elk in 1985 and the herd grew to more than 1,200. A controversial plan was created for herd reduction.
Nearly 400 volunteer shooters combed through the South Unit over the past two years, Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor told The Press in March, adding that park efforts resulted in a healthy elk population.
Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public affairs for the park, said in March the elk population dropped from about 1,200 to about 138 since 2010, when the reduction project began.