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

Fundraiser aims to assist teacher injured in car accident

December 10, 2019 at 12:09 pm | Whitefish Pilot After Whitefish Schools Choir Director Sky Thoreson totaled his car in an accident last week, his colleagues are stepping up to help. Thoreson slid across the median on U.S. Highway 93 while heading...

Comments

Read More

Christmas Stroll

December 10, 2019 at 10:57 am | Whitefish Pilot Folks walked through downtown Friday for the annual Whitefish Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Stroll. Events included the lighting of trees in Depot Park, vendors on the street and visits with Santa...

Comments

Read More

Whitefish Mountain Resort opens for 72nd season

December 06, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Whitefish Pilot Whitefish Mountain Resort opened for its 72nd season on Friday. Skiers and snowboarders got the chance to get in some early season runs on the north side of the mountain and on the beginner terrain...

Comments

Read More

Under the Big Sky music festival announces 2020 lineup

December 06, 2019 at 2:34 pm | Whitefish Pilot The Under The Big Sky festival on Friday announced the lineup for its 2020 festival set for July. Under The Big Sky will showcase the very best in Americana, folk, alt-country and rock across two b...

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