Funded through a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Division grant, a research project is underway aiming to determine how elk interact with their habitat and the people who recreate within it.

The $500,000 study was launched last year when biologists collared 40 elk in the Pigeon River State Forest area. The data extracted from these GPS collars will be used to better understand the state’s growing elk population, recently pegged at over 1,100 animals.

“The research is extremely important for a lot of reasons and a lot of different groups, but I think this is really crucial for managers that are attempting or trying to successfully manage these elk populations,” Ph.D. student and research assistant at Michigan State University, Chad Williamson told Gaylord Herald Times. “Michigan has a huge interest and motivation, desire to promote wildlife in general as well as recreation.”

In addition to the collars, the research team has installed 60 cameras in the region to not only monitor elk behavior but to also gain insight as to how humans utilize the habitat recreationally as well.  Moving forward with elk management plans, the combined data will help biologists determine if elk habitat should be modified and also how outdoor recreation will fit within any future plans.

“Based on that (good) elk habitat, that’s (an area) where we should see elk, but are we seeing something different based on recreation trends?” he said. “Are we seeing elk move out of what’s really good habitat because there’s a high recreational activity? Or maybe we’re seeing that elk just stay in that good habitat regardless … maybe they don’t care.”

Of the original 40 collared animals, only 35 remain in the wild.  Two of the originally collared elk were illegally killed and two were legally taken as part of last year’s elk hunts.  The remaining collar belonged to an elk that unfortunately contracted brain worms and died.

The research remains ongoing with the project not expected to wrap up until May 2019.  At that point, the research team plans to publish their findings.