Glacier to begin study of east side elk herds

Print Article

Elk are all ears on the flats at St. Mary. (Chris Peterson/Hungry Horse News)

Glacier National Park will embark on a comprehensive study of its east side elk herd in the coming years.

Elk are a common sight in Glacier’s east side valleys, particularly in the spring and fall, when they travel to meadows to feed early and late in the day.

The park takes pains to protect them — winter range in the St. Mary drainage is closed from mid-December to mid-May each year.

But the Park doesn’t know how many elk actually live on the east side, noted supervisory biologist Mark Biel and it doesn’t know the migration patterns of the herds.

Glacier’s herds are hunted — almost all of them leave the Park at some point, where they are fair game. Unlike Yellowstone’s elk herds, most Glacier Park elk bolt at the sight of people. The study will not just look at elk migration and herd size, it will also look at the health of the herd. The Park has no evidence of chronic wasting disease in its ungulate herds, but Biel noted that the disease has been found in regions surrounding the Park.

The study isn’t just about elk, however, Biel noted. It will also look at vegetation, songbirds, amphibians and pollinators. The Park is anticipating that at some point, a bison herd the Blackfeet are raising will eventually become a free-ranging herd and at some point the herd will wander into the Park. When they do, the Park will allow them to stay, Biel noted, as they’re a native species.

Bison once roamed Glacier freely, but haven’t been in the Park for about 150 years. They were all but wiped out by commercial hunters in the late 1800s. The study will form a baseline of ecological conditions prior to their return.

“(Park) grasslands evolved with bison,” Biel noted.

Bison are an apex herbivore, he explained and they’ll have an impact on the Park. Once small example is their wallows can fill with water, forming small season ponds amphibians can breed in.

Bison bones have been found in ice formations in Glacier, studies have found, and their bones have been found in the riverbanks of streams.

Their roaming wasn’t just at low elevations, either. Bones have even been found at high mountain passes.

“If bison come back, are we going to see a more diverse plant community?” Biel said.

The study will start in earnest next year, with the hopes to radio collar some elk by the fall of next year.

The study is being done in cooperation with the Blackfeet Tribe, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Wildlife Conservation Society. It’s supported in part through a grant from the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Print Article

Read More Local News

Uphill travel on Big Mountain closes due to lack of snow

December 05, 2019 at 11:43 am | Whitefish Pilot Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Flathead National Forest are temporarily closing the front side of Big Mountain to uphill skiing until more snow is received. Officials on Thursday said the closur...

Comments

Read More

Former county commissioner Dale Lauman dies

December 05, 2019 at 1:54 pm | Whitefish Pilot Former Flathead County Commissioner Dale Lauman, who was well-known not only for extensive community service that spanned decades but also for his statesmanship, kindness and compassion, died Wednesd...

Comments

Read More

Out West Trading on Central Avenue offers variety

December 04, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Whitefish Pilot Out West Trading Co. is both modern and rustic in the feel of the downtown shop, but also in the unique gifts and clothing in the store. The store opened last week in the former Nelson’s Hardware s...

Comments

Read More

Public art project at City Hall building unveiled this week

December 04, 2019 at 11:23 am | Whitefish Pilot A sculpted bronze art piece will be unveiled this week putting the finishing touch on Whitefish City Hall. The sculpture Harmony Waters depicts whitefish swimming up a rocky stream bed. The work is...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 862-3505
312 E. Second Street
Whitefish, MT 59937

©2019 Whitefish Pilot Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X