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MDHA supports DNR request for elk study funding

Minnesota’s largest deer hunting organization is asking a panel of legislators and citizens to approve funding from a state environmental trust fund for an elk study in northwest Minnesota.

The state Department of Natural Resources is seeking funding for the study, “Movement and Seasonal Habitat Use of Minnesota Elk.”

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, made the request on behalf of MDHA in a letter to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. The 17-member panel of 10 legislators and seven citizens makes funding recommendations to the Legislature on various outdoors-related projects from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Proceeds from the Minnesota state lottery are a major source of funding for the trust fund.

 “Minnesota’s northwestern elk herds are largely unknown to most Minnesotans,” Johnson said in his letter to the LCCMR. “Ironically, that lack of knowledge is paralleled by MNDNR’s lack of knowledge about the elk herd’s movements, habitat uses, breeding grounds, etc.

“In short, (the DNR) knows far too little about our elk. Considering that elk are a native species to Minnesota, the shortage of knowledge about them is disappointing to say the least.”

About the study

John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji, said the agency is proposing to put GPS collars on 10 elk each near Grygla and in Kittson County near Lancaster, Minn.

Learning more about where the elk spend their time and the habitat they use during different times of the year would help the DNR fine-tune its habitat management strategies, Williams said, but there’s not enough money in the agency’s Game and Fish Fund to pay for the study without funding from the LCCMR.

According to the LCCMR’s website, the DNR is seeking $250,242 for the study. The DNR made a similar request last year, but the elk study proposal didn’t make the LCCMR’s cut, Williams said.

 “We’re hoping that with a bit of tweaking, the (LCCMR) might consider it,” he said. “It’s a pretty expensive study. Those collars aren’t cheap.”

As outlined in the DNR proposal, the three-year study would begin in July 2015.

The timing of the request coincides with initial efforts to draft a new management plan for elk in the two areas of northwest Minnesota. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr recently appointed new members of an elk “working group” to help guide the DNR through the process.

The existing elk plan, drafted in 2009, is in effect through 2015. MDHA’s Johnson is a member of the Grygla elk working group.

Rocky history

Elk have been a controversial species in northwest Minnesota because of the problems they sometimes cause with farmers who suffer crop and hay depredation. Keeping elk at a relatively low abundance is a key component of the existing management plan, but there has been a grassroots effort to increase numbers, especially in Kittson County.

The Grygla herd has been below DNR management goals in recent years.

 “You may ask, ‘Why wasn’t research done previously?’” Johnson writes in the letter. “The answer is simple. Previously, due to legislation passed many years ago, elk have been managed as basically a pest species with the goal of keeping elk numbers at a minimum to avoid depredation by elk upon farm crops. However, today, with considerable public outcry for management of elk as a truly indigenous big game animal, our need for insight and research into the elk’s habits are sorely needed.”

Williams said members of the new elk working groups held their first meeting earlier this month and will speak with constituents before meeting again in July.

According to the LCCMR website, the committee on June 4 selected 76 proposals, requesting $74.9 million, to make presentations for funding requests in the next two weeks. The elk study is among the presentations that will be heard, and the LCCMR will recommend projects for funding in early July.

To see a full listing of proposals, go 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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