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Elk a focus for revived MDHA chapter

A defunct chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association in Kittson County is reorganizing, and members say they'll be focusing on elk management, youth hunting opportunities and low deer numbers.

About 25 people turned out Thursday night at the Caribou Grill in Hallock, Minn., in support of re-establishing the North Red River Chapter of the MDHA. Also attending were Mark Johnson and Becca Kent of MDHA headquarters in Grand Rapids, Minn., and former state Sen. Bob Lessard, who now works as a special assistant for community outreach to Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

"It's a good group and real excited people," Johnson, MDHA executive director, said Friday in an interview. "Definitely the chapter is going, and the focus is going to jell very quickly into those major things of the elk and youth outdoor education and deer numbers."

Elk for the past several years have been a hot topic in Kittson County, where crop and feed depredation problems helped set the stage for an elk management plan the DNR finalized in 2009 with stakeholders that included local farmers, business people, teachers, hunters, county commissioners and field staff from the DNR and University of Minnesota Extension.

That plan, which guides DNR elk management through 2015, calls for maintaining a pre-calving population of 20 to 30 elk in Kittson County. That number doesn't include a subgroup of about 40 elk that ranges between Minnesota and Manitoba near Caribou in the northeast part of the county.

More recently, there's been growing grassroots support in the county to revise the elk management plan to increase elk numbers. More than 150 Kittson County residents signed a petition last summer asking the DNR to expand the elk population and reduce the number of hunting permits it issues.

While DNR officials, including Landwehr, have said the elk plan will guide their management through 2015, elk proponents say the petition and attendance at Thursday night's meeting speaks to the interest in expanding the herd.

The hope, they say, is that people who support the idea of more elk on the landscape will have a stronger voice when the DNR assembles a new working group to guide elk management.

"I would say there's definitely more acceptance than there used to be," said Kelly Turgeon, Hallock, who helped organize Thursday night's meeting. "The petition effort last summer showed that support. There always is going to be some people that wouldn't be supportive of an effort to expand the elk, deer or whatever, but that's why it's important to have an elk working group comprised of membership that reflects all interest levels and points of view."

MDHA's Johnson said elk now are being managed as pests instead of big game animals.

"MDHA's mission is we work today for tomorrow's wildlife and hunters; we don't just deal with deer," Johnson said. "This chapter -- each one of our chapters -- has a different focus and mission based on their community's concerns. Besides deer and youth, one of this chapter's major concerns is management of elk, and we're going to support the chapter in their concerns and in this being part of their focus."

Turgeon said the chapter will have a formal organizational meeting within the next month to elect officers and discuss issues of interest to the chapter, along with possible habitat projects and fundraisers.

Hunting definitely plays a role in elk management, Turgeon said, but so do strategies that reduce depredation problems and make it easier for landowners and elk to coexist.

"If the elk management plan is to be successful, it's of crucial importance we address concerns of ag producers and depredation losses," Turgeon said. "It's kind of a fine line that needs to be balanced."

No doubt elk will be a priority for the revived MDHA chapter, he said.

"The elk plan is definitely a point of interest for the chapter, and I would assume that will be one of the natural resource issues that the chapter follows closely," Turgeon said.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send e-mail to

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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