STEVENSVILLE – State wildlife researchers have put high-tech GPS collars on 60 elk in the Sapphire Mountains in southwestern Montana.
Officials also recently put traditional radio collars on five other elk as part of a two-year study to track the movements of 45 cows and 20 bulls.
Craig Jourdonnais, a retired biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, tells the Ravalli Republic that officials hope to find out the reasons behind changes in the herd’s habits.
“I think a lot of us think we know where they go and where they end up, but no one knows for sure,” said Jourdonnais, who is serving as a consultant on the project. “We don’t know how much mixing occurs between the north and south herds. We don’t know how many go over the mountains in Rock Creek.”
A growing number of elk have given up migration patterns to instead focus on lowlands where farmers and ranchers grow crops. The study might offer information that biologists could use to encourage elk to start migrating again.
“A lot of this stuff that we learn will be new,” Jourdonnais said. “We have a lot of vegetation work to do this summer. And then we just need to sit back and let the collars work. It will be exciting to see where all that information leads.”
The elk were captured by a helicopter crew that used a net-gun or tranquilizer darts.
“When they got a window in the weather, they were very effective,” Jourdonnais said. “They were fortunate in the way the weather set up. It offered them a chance to work with bigger groups of elk that were out in the open.”
The elk came from a variety of locations. That could help give a good overall picture of elk movements.
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