Record-breaking elk hunting apps fuel conservation efforts

Elk. Image: Gaylord Region Tourist Board

By Nicolas Simon

Capital Information Service

More than 49,000 hunters have applied to hunt Michigan elk in 2021, a record that is part of a steady decade-long increase, according to state wildlife officials.

They requested one of 300 tags available to hunt the state’s herd during the year, estimated to number between 900 and 1,500 elk, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

“This is a large, charismatic, iconic Michigan animal,” said Rachel Leightner, wildlife awareness coordinator for the DNR. “So hunting is really a coveted experience. “

They are also profitable. MNR estimates that hunters spend an average of $ 1,200 per elk hunt. That’s double what the average American spends on a standard 4-day domestic vacation, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Annual requests for elk hunting tags. Credit: Nicolas Simon

Elk-related recreation outside of hunting is also a growing trend in state-run areas, Leightner said. Viewing sites in elk range attract visitors from across the Great Lakes region

Interest in elk hunting has grown steadily, Leightner said, and there were at least 5,000 more requests in 2021 than the year before.

Due to demand, a lottery has been in place since the hunt began in 1984.

The limited number of tags available each year means that some repeat applicants could wait decades for their opportunity.

The limits are in place to ensure the herd is better managed than the native Michigan elk, which became extinct in the 1870s due to overhunting and extensive forestry.

Elk prefers old growth forests and wetlands and was the dominant species in northern Michigan until replaced by deer, which thrived in more lightly wooded forests that came later, according to the department.

Elk were reintroduced to Michigan in 1917 from the then newly established Yellowstone National Park, according to the DNR.

The population grew to around 1,500 in the 1960s, but was decimated by habitat destruction and unregulated poaching. In the mid-1970s, there were only about 200 in the state, according to the agency. An improved conservation strategy saw the number quadruple to over 800 in the 1980s, when hunting was officially resumed.

Since then, elk have mostly roamed the Pigeon River State Forest in northern Michigan. Their numbers are strictly controlled by the ministry, which says it is trying to keep the herd at 1,000 to keep a balance with the environment.

Recent MNR counts indicate the population is around 1,200 after the preliminary hunt in September which eliminated 73 of the herd out of 100 permits issued. To bring the numbers down to more manageable levels, the department has issued 200 permits for the hunt due in December.

Keeping the elk population at a manageable level is a benefit to animals, hunters and nature lovers in general, according to Ian FitzGerald, policy and events coordinator for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the largest lobby state conservation. This is because the remaining elk range is so limited that a larger herd would cause competition problems.

“There is a carrying capacity for elk in a certain range in northern Michigan,” said FitzGerald. “The population really can’t exceed 1,200 or 1,300, otherwise you have problems with hunger. “

Interest in elk hunting has increased over the past decade.

Hunters fund much of the ministry’s elk habitat rehabilitation. The ministry raised about $ 250,000 from the sale of lottery apps alone, and the MNR estimates that hunters spent an additional $ 230,000 on travel and supplies.

“Almost everyone who draws elk labels knows that this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of label,” said FitzGerald. “People hire local guides who know the area to take them out, stay in local accommodation, and buy balls from local stores.”

“Watching moose in the northern lower (peninsula) is a very popular activity,” said Leightner. “It brings people from all over the state and sometimes from out of state to come and see our wild herd.”

But, for the lucky few who are selected for the coveted tag, elk hunting offers a unique way to experience these animals, according to department officials.

“It’s really an experiential hunt,” said Leightner. “You spend days in northern Michigan spotting and tracking elk. Maybe you harvest an animal, and maybe not. You always get a great experience.


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