By Bonnie Chasteen
Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.
How are Missouri’s elk faring almost 10 years since restoration efforts began? MDC, the University of Missouri, and the University of Montana started work to answer this question in 2016.
Conducted within Carter, Shannon, and Reynolds counties, the study estimated the herd’s survival rates and site fidelity. “High site fidelity is a good indicator of available habitat quality,” said MDC Cervid Biologist Aaron Hildreth.
“The elk herd has stayed within the area near the release sites,” Hildreth added. He credited the many governmental and nongovernmental partners, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, Pioneer Forest, and a dedicated group of private landowners who helped create quality habitat.
Researchers used radio collars to track the elk and collect data. The collars helped them determine habitat use, movements, and survival and reproductive rates, which they used to model the population and help determine harvest quotas. “We learned that elk cow and calf survival rates have increased through time, which is great news as the population settles into the landscape,” Hildreth said. “We have seen bull survival rates drop,” he added. “This can be explained in part by some older bulls dying and a few younger bulls succumbing to parasites.”
The study’s results helped MDC determine when to offer Missouri’s first regulated elk-hunting season. “In 2013, we set biological sideboards of 200 elk, 10 percent or greater annual population growth, and a ratio of at least 25 bulls per 100 cows before we would propose a hunting season,” Hildreth said.
By June of this year, Missouri’s elk herd had grown to an estimated population of 207, not including calves born this summer. “Given these numbers, we determined that we could sustain a very limited hunt this fall,” Hildreth said.
From left to right, study team members Ellen Pero, Colter Chitwood, Patrick Grunwald, and Braiden Quinlan examine a sedated, radio-collared cow elk to determine her pregnancy status. Shrouding protects the cow’s eyes and helps keep her calm.
“This study is a key piece that helps inform our model to track population changes through time.” —MDC Cervid Biologist Aaron Hildreth Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.
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