The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently completed its 2016 elk survey.
Two airplanes flew for nine days to count elk in northern Michigan, says the DNR.
“Every other year, we conduct the survey by counting elk from an airplane,” said DNR Field Operations Manager Brian Mastenbrook. “Because elk are so large and typically found in groups, they are a great animal to count by airplane. An airplane allows us to cover large areas much quicker than any other method, and it gives us a confident estimate of elk.”
According to the DNR, 1,002 elk were counted. The population estimate is 1,371. Officials say winter is the best time for the survey because its easier to see the larger animals against the snow. However, not every elk can be seen, so a “correction factor” is used to calculate the estimated total number of animals.
The “correction factor” has been developed by experimental trials on radio-collared elk, says the DNR. In order to count individual elk, pilots flew the two airplanes in transects, or grids, over the elk range in the northeast Lower Peninsula.
The DNR says the planes covered 88 transects, 2 miles wide by 6 miles long, flying more than 5,000 miles for the elk survey. Mastenbrook says the goal of the elk management program is to balance the population with the available habitat. He says the population goal is 500 to 900 elk.
Hunting is the main process to control the population.
“Michigan has come a long way with elk management,” Mastenbrook says. “Elk had disappeared from Michigan in the late 1800s, and today’s population is a result of seven elk released in 1918, just outside of Wolverine. Even though elk are found only in the northern Lower Peninsula, they are an important part of Michigan’s natural resources history and also a great conservation success story.”