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Montana Study Gains More Funding and New Insights on Elk Migration

These findings could help hunters better understand elk migration patterns.

A 15 year research project to study elk migration in Banff National Park, Montana recently received $435,000 of funding for another five years.

The study tracks elk and monitors their migration habits out of the park. Once they’re collared with GPS tracking devices, the team of researchers can monitor winter feeding ground, calving areas, and what habitats elk target at different times of year.

Individuals are collared and tracked for long periods of time to record their reactions to a variety of natural causes. Forrest fires, increased predator activity, new hunting regulations, clear cutting, and the like all impact the lives of elk.

By recording their position researchers hope to gain new levels of understanding about long term patterns.

The story of one elk highlights the type of information the study hopes to gain. After tracking one elk in particular the team was able to record her movements after a grizzly bear moved into her primary area of summer migration.

When the grizzly became thick she abandoned the area and actually quit migrating all together for a brief period. Then, for no explainable reason, she once again picked up her migration habits, but began visiting a new area devoid of grizzly bear.

By recording a bulk of similar information the team would be able to anticipate elk movement in the future as events occur.

Results could also help habitat managers encourage elk to move through, or onto, public land more frequently.

“We want to look at ways of treating public land habitat that might draw elk off the private land and back onto public land,” says Scott Eggman a biologist with the Montana Game, Fish, and Parks.

Results of the study have also revealed what hunters have known for a long time; that individual animals have distinct personalities. After studying location data the team has tracked what they dub risk-taking and bold elk, as well as shy and more cautious elk. Where an elk decides to live and what risks to accept depend a lot on the individual personality.

In the end our use of technology could open a window into the lives of elk and help use better understand habitat management.

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Montana Study Gains More Funding and New Insights on Elk Migration