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DNR counts Michigan's elk population from the sky

DNR counts Michigan's elk population from the sky

OTSEGO COUNTY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) -- A century ago, there were no elk left in the state of Michigan.

Since they were reintroduced in 1918, the population has grown to roughly 1,000 elk at times.

The Department of Natural Resources keeps a close eye on the population and started its annual count on Tuesday.

Wildlife technicians took to the sky, flying about 800 feet above ground to count elk one by one.

"Our goal is to keep as many of the elk as we can within the elk range, which is basically from Gaylord to Vanderbilt, Atlanta to Onaway," said Katie Keen from the Department of Natural Resources. "That kind of makes a little square.”

Tuesday's flight went just north and east of Gaylord.

After landing, the crew said it spotted about 100 elk in its first grid search.

“Last year we saw right around 800 elk, and our model produced that we had a population of around 1,100, so we’re anticipating we’ll see eight to nine hundred elk this year," said Mark Monroe, one of the wild life technicians riding in a plane.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of elk being reintroduced into Michigan.

Michigan's elk population had disappeared in the late 1800's due to lack of habitat and unregulated hunting.

Once the number of elk reached more than 1,000, the state started to allow highly regulated hunting again to keep the population in check.

“Elk are a beautiful animal," Keen said. "They are large and they eat a lot. "They’re herbivores so they’re eating plants so that could be grasses, twigs, crops, something like that and we have a level which is manageable which is five to nine hundred elk. At that point, it’s kind of in balance of what the habitat is available for them to eat, so our goal is to keep it within that range.”

The DNR says this is the best time of the year to spot elk.

“The sun’s not to bright so it’s not blinding you, but you have really good snow cover and the animals really stick out," Monroe said.

It will take nine and a half days of flying to finish the elk count.

The total number of elk the DNR finds this year will largely determine how many elk hunting tags are given out for next Fall's season.

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