Sharpshooters take four of 16 problem elk in Kittson CountyKnown as the “Lancaster subgroup,” the elk herd being targeted by sharpshooters has been especially problematic because many of the animals are suspected of having captive origins. As a result, they were less afraid of humans and prone to causing depredation problems by raiding farmers’ crops and livestock feed.
By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald
An early snowmelt and warm spring temperatures have hampered sharpshooting efforts targeting a herd of 16 elk with a history of causing problems for landowners near Lancaster, Minn., in Kittson County.
According to Paul Telander, regional wildlife supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, sharpshooters as of Friday had killed four elk — three cows and a spike bull — since shooting began last month. The DNR contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to remove the elk, and sharpshooting will continue through Friday, Telander said.
Telander said the project has been especially difficult because the early snowmelt scattered the herd and made the elk difficult to locate. The elk also have been less responsive to bait the sharpshooters placed to attract the animals, Telander said.
Known as the “Lancaster subgroup,” the elk herd being targeted by sharpshooters has been especially problematic because many of the animals are suspected of having captive origins. As a result, they were less afraid of humans and prone to causing depredation problems by raiding farmers’ crops and livestock feed.
Two other herds — the “Water Tower Subgroup” and the “Caribou-Vita Subgroup” — are located farther north and east in the county closer to the Manitoba border and are of wild origin.
According to Dennis Simon, wildlife management section chief for the DNR in St. Paul, the agency will handle depredation problems on a case-by-case basis once sharpshooting concludes. He said the DNR also will offer another hunting season next fall in Kittson County. The DNR last fall offered 15 tags in the county, and hunters ultimately filled 12 of the tags during the two regular seasons and an extended late-season hunt in early January.
Simon said the DNR’s five year elk management plan calls for a population of 20 to 30 animals in Kittson County outside of the Caribou-Vita herd. He said the DNR estimates the herd going into this spring’s calving season exceeds 30 elk, so efforts to bring the population into line with management goals will continue.
“If those animals are still in that Lancaster area, we would direct some hunters toward the animals,” Simon said.
Simon said the DNR received a few complaints from people who opposed the sharpshooting campaign. But in many cases, Simon said, they were more understanding of why the effort was necessary once he explained it to them.
“We don’t particularly care to be out there shooting these animals, but it’s something we have to do,” he said. “People have questioned, ‘How do you know they have game farm genetics in their background?’ And they miss the point. The point is these animals had aberrant behavior. They had behavior tolerant of human presence that got them into trouble from a forage depredation standpoint, so it is the behavior that’s really the issue, not so much genetics.
“We think some of that behavioral origin may have been game farm, and it’s a behavior we’re trying to eliminate.”
Simon said efforts to target the problem herd, both during hunting season and the sharpshooting campaign, appear to have helped alter that behavior.
“We can haze them. We can loft cracker shells, you can chase them around, and that doesn’t seem to bother them too much,” Simon said. “But as soon as you drop an animal out of that herd, they change their behavior quickly. It took some mortality to change their behavior, and I think we’re going to get there.”
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.