MDC & U of M using radio collars for elk research

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SHANNON COUNTY, Mo. -- All 34 elk and five new calves at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Peck Ranch Conservation Area are sporting new jewelry, specifically radio collars, which are part of a cooperative research project with the University of Missouri.

According to MDC Resource Scientist and Elk Biologist Jason Sumners, the cooperative research project will provide critical information to help the MDC track the success of the elk restoration project, determine when management through hunting is appropriate, and guide future habitat and harvest management. Sumners said the GPS (Global Positioning System)-enabled collars, provided by the university, may also assist MDC in deterring poachers.

Joshua J. Millspaugh, professor of Wildlife Management at the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources, said it’s critical that MDC has adequate information about what the elk do after their release from the holding pen.

“Close monitoring leads to effective management, and using radio collars is the most effective and efficient way to do this,” Millspaugh said.

He said the university hopes to gather a full spectrum of information on Missouri's new elk herd. A big portion of that information will go toward a population model of the elk herd that researchers hope will assist in projecting the growth of the herd and potential harvest, document possible physiological stress responses after the release, and observe movement patterns and resource selection.

By resource selection, Millspaugh said he means to observe what management practices specifically attract or discourage elk population growth. This is where Geographic Information System (GIS) data layers will come in handy by showing researchers what vegetation types are preferred by the elk.

Millspaugh said information collected each day will help the biologists understand where the elk go during different times of the day and why.

Elk survival data will also be collected to help determine when, where, and why elk die, which will help in predicting the rate of growth of the restored elk herd.

Arial surveys to develop elk census techniques and fecal sample collections to assess stress levels will accompany the information gathered from the radio collars. The elk will wear the radio collars as long as the research project is active.

Millspaugh said it’s important to note that, although this sort of research has been done for other restored elk populations, it hasn’t been accomplished to the same scale or with this level of technology. Although radio-collars have been a component of other elk restoration programs, such as those in Kentucky, Tennessee and Wisconsin, this project is unique in that each and every elk in Missouri’s new herd is collared.

“The MDC should be given credit for their progressive and forward-thinking related to technology used in this project,” Millspaugh said. “It is not only the most efficient, but also the most cutting-edge available, and it will pay strong dividends in our ability to effectively manage the herd.”

Sumners said the MDC is fortunate to have a strong cooperative relationship with the university, and the experience and expertise that Millspaugh brings to the project.

Like others involved in the historic restoration of elk to Missouri, Millspaugh said his involvement has had a personal impact.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am thrilled to be involved,” he said. “Although I’m involved in many other wildlife projects around the country, the opportunity to study elk in my backyard is special and exciting.”

The 346-square-mile elk restoration zone covers parts of Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties and is home to Missouri’s newly restored elk herd. Sumners said catching sight of elk in the vast restoration zone may be a challenge for the public.

“These several dozen animals have more than 221,500 acres of habitat in the rugged terrain of the restoration zone,” Sumners said. “As we learn more and as the herd grows, public viewing opportunities will increase.”

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided funds for the initial purchase of radio collars, and the entire research project is supported by the Wildlife Restoration Program, administered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For more information on Missouri’s elk restoration efforts, visit and search “elk restoration.”