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Bill would give DNR more flexibility in elk management

HF 2564 would repeal “the current statutory language connecting the size of Minnesota’s elk herd to elk damage payments, giving the DNR greater ability to manage and grow Minnesota’s elk herd.”

MNDNR elk 2.jpg
A herd of elk moves through a patch of woods in northwest Minnesota in this undated photo.
Contributed/Minnesota DNR

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would no longer be required to set elk populations based on depredation complaints under legislation now making its way through the Minnesota Legislature.

Authored by Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, HF 2564 would repeal “the current statutory language connecting the size of Minnesota’s elk herd to elk damage payments, thereby giving the DNR greater ability to manage and grow Minnesota’s elk herd,” according to a DNR fact sheet on the legislation.

The House Environmental and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee heard the bill on Wednesday, March 22. Hansen is chairman of the committee.

Also referred to as the DNR’s 2023 policy and technical bill, HF 2564 is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that includes changes related to sustainable fisheries management, deer management, incidental take permits, improving equitable access to the outdoors and improving DNR business and policy practices, among other provisions.

The elk provision contained in the bill follows legislation introduced in 2016 by former state Rep. Dan Fabian, a Roseau, Minnesota, Republican who retired from the Legislature in 2021 after five terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Fabian’s 2016 legislation included language that prevented the DNR from increasing elk population goals until the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which handles depredation claims, could show crop and fence damages from elk hadn’t increased for at least two years.


The bill’s language eventually was incorporated into an agricultural policy bill then-Gov. Mark Dayton signed in June 2016.

Under an interim elk management plan signed in 2016, the DNR has been required to keep the elk herd in Kittson County near Lancaster, Minnesota, at a pre-calving population of 50 to 60 elk. During a winter 2022 aerial survey, the DNR tallied 84 elk – 33 bulls and 51 antlerless elk – in the Lancaster survey area. Results from the winter 2023 survey are not yet available.

According to statistics from the state Department of Agriculture, there were 16 elk damage claims in northwest Minnesota in fiscal year 2022, with $124,999.68 paid out in damages. That was down from 24 claims and $157,971.51 paid out in damages in fiscal year 2021. The majority of claims in both of those years involved the central Kittson County elk herd near Lancaster, which had 20 claims for $140,245.04 in fiscal year 2021 and 12 claims for $98,664.95 in fiscal year 2022.

In fiscal year 2020, by comparison, there were 20 elk claims for $100,728.49, with 13 of those claims involving the herd near Lancaster, according to statistics from the Agriculture Department.

The Department is required to submit a report to the Legislature each year with information on elk damage claims.

Minnesota has three recognized elk herds – the Kittson Central herd, the Caribou-Vita herd that ranges between Manitoba and northeast Kittson County and the Grygla herd.

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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