FWP to study elk in Sanders County


December 29, 2022

FWP file photo

An elk herd was photographed by air in Sanders County.

Wildlife biologists are embarking on a multi-year project in the Lower Clark Fork near Noxon in Sanders County to better understand what is influencing elk populations.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) biologists are partnering with researchers at the University of Montana W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation to carry out a comprehensive study of elk populations in Hunting District 121.

The project will focus on:

• Survival, recruitment, and pregnancy rates of elk;

• Predator-prey interactions between elk and wolves, bears, and lions;

• Seasonal distribution patterns on public and private lands;

• Habitat needs and land-use practices that could benefit elk;

• Wildlife management strategies for northwest Montana.

"We are hoping to better understand elk population dynamics in northwest Montana by studying the top-down influences like predation and the bottom-up influences like habitat," said Dr. Kelly Proffitt, FWP research lead for this project. "FWP will use this information from the field to develop an adaptive management plan for elk in this region. It will also help FWP and land managers continue to collaborate on forestry practices that benefit wildlife."

In order to properly manage any wildlife species, biologists and managers must have a good understanding of the animals and habitat conditions in an area. This new project will gather valuable local information about the drivers of elk populations, including predator-prey interactions and changes in forest management.

This winter and spring, biologists and researchers will begin capturing elk, mountain lions, wolves and black bears. The goal is to catch 60 elk, 10 mountain lions, 10 bears, and five wolves and fit the animals with GPS radio collars to track their movements, help evaluate population numbers, and identify the different causes of elk mortalities. Female elk will also receive implants that detect when and where calves are born so biologists can capture and collar the young animals for tracking survival and mortality rates.

Elk captures will involve helicopters and ground traps starting this winter and continuing through the duration of the project to maintain 60 collared elk.

To learn more about where and how animals are using the landscape, remote triggered cameras will be distributed throughout the area and will collect observations of wildlife for abundance estimates.

Another part of this project will include studying effects of timber management on elk habitat and distribution. This will include surveying the types of forage and forested habitats that elk are using throughout the year.

Research will also try to better understand how hunting pressure drives elk movements on public and private land throughout hunting season.

To follow the progress of this project, visit fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/regions/region1.

To learn more about elk management in Montana, visit fwp.mt.gov/conservation/wildlife-management/elk.


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