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DNR hears varying comments to elk proposal

BEMIDJI--The Department of Natural Resources has completed its three public input meetings on the draft of a new plan for managing elk in northwest Minnesota and will continue to take comments on the proposal through Dec. 27.

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The Department of Resources is taking input on its proposed management plan for elk herds in northwest Minnesota through Dec. 27. (Minnesota DNR photo)

BEMIDJI-The Department of Natural Resources has completed its three public input meetings on the draft of a new plan for managing elk in northwest Minnesota and will continue to take comments on the proposal through Dec. 27.

The draft replaces a five-year plan written in 2009 that expires at the end of the year. The plan addresses elk population goals, elk-landowner conflicts and opportunities to hunt and view elk.

Minnesota has three free-ranging elk herds-near Lancaster, Minn.; the Caribou-Vita herd that ranges between northeast Kittson County and the Vita, Man., area in Canada; and near Grygla, Minn.

"The goal of the draft elk management plan is to maintain a healthy elk population that offers recreational and economic opportunities to citizens of the state," John Williams, regional wildlife manager for the DNR in Bemidji, said in a statement. "To provide these opportunities, the DNR must also address conflicts between elk and landowners."

Minnesota has an estimated population of 130 elk between the three northwest herds, DNR surveys show. That doesn't include the portion of the Caribou-Vita herd that wanders into Manitoba; DNR surveys last winter tallied 79 elk from the Caribou-Vita herd on the Minnesota side of the border.

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The draft plan calls for increasing the population goal for the herd near Lancaster from the current 20 to 30 elk to a new benchmark of 65 to 75 animals. The goal for the Grygla herd, meanwhile, is unchanged at 30 to 38 elk; the Caribou-Vita herd, which has a goal of 120 to 150 on both sides of the border, also is the same.

Public meetings

The DNR this past week held meetings in Lancaster and Grygla to take input on the plan. In an interview, Williams said Tuesday night's meeting in Lancaster drew more than 50 people, while 30 to 40 people attended the next night's meeting in Grygla, despite a snowstorm that created hazardous driving conditions.

A meeting held Dec. 3 in the Twin Cities suburb of New Brighton, Minn., was sparsely attended.

As expected, Williams said the Lancaster and Grygla meetings drew people who favor more elk, those who'd like to see the elk herd reduced and those who favor the status quo.

"That's very typical," he said, adding the plan only is a draft at this point. "The plan isn't in concrete. We've already found half a dozen small tweaks we need to correct, and with that come other things. Do we want to keep all of the objectives as written? Is there any reason to change them?"

Williams said the DNR had received about 25 comments on the plan as of early this past week, but he expects more will trickle in now that the meetings are complete. DNR staff will go over all of the comments early in the new year before unveiling the new management plan, he said.

On the horizon

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The DNR will conduct its annual winter aerial elk survey sometime in February, Williams said, and after that, a project is on tap to fit some 20 cow elk with GPS collars to learn more about their travels and habitat preferences. The DNR has contracted with a professional helicopter crew to catch and collar the elk.

Williams said people attending the two northwest Minnesota meetings reported elk so far this winter seem to be on the move more than previous years.

A landowner in Juneberry Township of Kittson County reported seeing elk in that area, which is farther east than the Lancaster herd typically roams, he said, and a person at the Grygla meeting shared a photo of two elk spotted north of Thief River Falls along state Highway 32.

"I don't recall any we've had as far south as the Thief River Falls area," Williams said. "That's pretty outstanding."

Comments on the draft plan can be submitted online at mndnr.gov/elk, by email at elkplan.dnr@state.mn.us or by postal mail to Elk Comments, DNR Wildlife, 2115 Birchmont Road N.E., Bemidji MN 56601.

Related Topics: WILDLIFE
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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