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Elk Populations Double In Michigan, Aerial Surveys Show

Feb 18, 2016 04:45 PM EST

Elk appear to be thriving in Michigan, as new aerial footage released by the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) suggests. Populations seemed to have doubled within the last two years with officials estimating 1,371 elk roaming the state today after having survived hunters and habitat restraints.

Elk in Michigan have had somewhat of a rocky history. The large-bodied animals dissappeared from the state in the late 1800s. In 1918, desperate conservationists reintroduced the species – a herd of about seven – near Wolverine. Since then, the population has flunctuated, taking a hard hit to poaching in 1975 but subsequently rebounding with improved federal protection in 1984.

In the recent nine-day aerial survey, the DNR flew more than 5,000 miles, and counted 1,002 elk. Assuming not all elk were spotted, the department used a special formula to estimate 1,371 elk. The DNR conducts these types of surveys every other year, and in 2014 there was an estimated 668 elk, down from an estimated 1,040 in 2012.

"Michigan has come a long way with elk management," Brian Mastenbrook, DNR Field Operations Manager, said in a statement. "Even though elk are only found in the northern Lower Peninsula, they are an important part of Michigan's natural resources history and also a great conservation success story."

The DNR tries to keep the state's elk population at 500 to 900 individuals, with hunting being the primary way of controlling the population. Since the state distributed only 100 hunting licenses for elk in the last couple of years, however, less hunting is thought to be the reason behind the animals' growth. The population goal is set to balance the number of elk with available habitat and food sources, as well as reduce crop damage, disease and forest regeneration.

"This is an extremely effective survey that provides great input for our management recommendations," Mastenbrook added. "We've used this survey to generate population estimates since 2008."

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