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State updating its elk management plan, but don't expect big changes

A series of elk poachings have made the past few months some of the worst in recent memory for Michigan's elk herd.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan is in the process of updating its elk management plan — something that happens every 10 years.

The plan focuses on a single population of elk in the woodlands of northeast Otsego County and parts of Cheboygan and Montmorency counties.

The animals were introduced more than 100 years ago to repair an ecosystem that was decimated in the late 1800s.

And the plan for managing the animals isn’t changing much since it was last updated in 2012.

The Department of Natural Resources wants to keep the total population between 500 and 900 animals. The total land mass the elk herds occupy doesn’t look much different either.

The plan aims to keep both the animals and nearby residents happy by outlining goals for hunting, habitat restoration and public education.

The DNR gathers public opinion through a lengthy review process. At a meeting in Gaylord on Tuesday, many hunters showed up to learn if regulations would change.

The lottery to receive an elk hunting license gets over 40,000 entries a year but only about 250 are actually given out.

That could increase in the new plan but it’s too early to tell, said DNR elk specialist Chad Stewart.

“One of the main goals of our current plan and our revised plan is that hunting is the main source of management for elk so that we expect to continue moving forward,” he said.

New additions to the plan include projects to increase elk viewing opportunities near the Pigeon River. Otsego County currently has over a dozen viewing spots.

The DNR is also increasing its focus on monitoring bovine tuberculosis (BTB) and chronic wasting disease (CWD) which can both be transmitted by the elk population.

If elk are traveling into known areas with higher disease, they will be lethally removed and submitted for testing.

The plan will go through further revisions before it is submitted to the Natural Resource Commission before the end of the year.

Stewart says there are additional opportunities to provide public comment online. It’s what he views as the most important part of the process.

“One group may want as many elk as possible, other stakeholders may want to see fewer elk or no elk,” he said. “The trick is to get both of those sides together.”

Read the complete draft plan below:

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.