Clam Lake Elk News—January through March, 2011; Vol. 11, Iss. 1
Current Status: The “grace” period is over! We have had 8 radio collared elk die during this quarter. A significant crust formed on February 13th (nights), over the 12 to 18 inches of snow in the Clam Lake area. During the 4 weeks following February 13th we lost 2 elk per week due to wolf predation. Using the estimated marked to unmarked ratio of calves and losing 4 calves during this quarter we expanded total estimated calf losses to 6. Because an estimated 85 plus percent of cows are radio collared we don’t extrapolate for cow losses. The result is the 8 observed elk lost expand to an estimated 10 elk lost as of the end of this quarter. We currently estimate the population at 152 elk. Last elk year (mid May to mid May) at this time, we observed 22 radio collared elk lost, 8 due to wolves. So far this elk year we’ve observed 12 radio collared elk lost, 8 due to wolves. Though we’re down 10 in total losses, we’re at the same level of wolf losses. Looking at all wolf loses, the period of January to mid May account for 60 percent of all wolf predation elk losses. It’s likely we’ll lose more elk before mid May.
Elk Research on the Clam Lake Herd: UWSP graduate student, Scott Roepke, continues processing genetic samples we’ve collected for him and those he’s received from Michigan. During our winter trapping effort we collected another 30 hair samples for him. We will continue to collect hair samples this spring during our calf searching effort and from any elk mortalities.
During this winter’s elk trapping effort, we marked 25 blaze orange cow collars with black numbering to identify individual elk. Using trail cameras, project staff will seek to collect information that may allow an independent population estimate, along with other demographic characteristics, such as calf to cow and bull to cow ratios. We hope to use this information to strengthen our population estimates.
Elk Health Issues: Bull 235 was one of the elk captured and moved to the acclimation pen for the “assisted dispersal” project on January 3. He died on January 6th, likely due to capture myopathy (still under review). We lost F25 (16 years), F318 (calf), F330 (calf), M317 (calf), M291 (yearling), F338 (calf), and F180 (4 years; had a healthy looking bull calf fetus) to wolves in February and March. Only M317 was fully consumed. The other 6 had 5 to 15 kgs consumed off the rump of the animals. From sign at the kill sites there were 4 wolves involved in M291, 3 wolves in the F180 case, and 2 wolves (possibly the same 2 wolves) with F25, F318, F330 and F338. There had been a fresh snow after M317 was killed and we couldn’t tell the number of wolves involved. All cases were in the pack territory of the Torch River Pack, which numbered 9 animals last winter. This winter it appears that the Torch River Pack may have split. We have not observed any definitive losses of radio collared elk due to the Ghost Lake pack since last April.
Assisted Dispersal Project and 2011 Elk Trapping and Radio Collaring: On January 3, 9, 24, and 31 we captured 29, 28, 22, and 17 elk, respectively. We moved one 2 year old bull, 4 yearling bulls, 4 yearling cows, two 2 year old cows and two 3 year old cows to the acclimation pen during this period. As mentioned we lost Bull 235 likely due to capture myopathy 3 days after moving. After that experience we did not select bulls older than yearlings, and candidates for moving were transported before they could stand. This way they remained laying throughout the transport. We would stop and check their status at 4 stops during the 21 mile trip to the acclimation pen. All elk ran out of the trailer, into the pen, after transport. All translocated elk received current radio collars before transport.
These 12 surviving elk were and are maintained on an alfalfa and grass/trefoil hay diet during the period of confinement. We plan to release them at the new site after green up in mid May. All 12 look healthy and prosperous. Final pregnancy test results should be back shortly.
Of the 96 elk captured there were 58 individuals. We recollared 25 cows, 8 bulls and 1 calf and collared 6 uncollared calves (40 newly collared elk). Blood samples were drawn on most and samples taken for pregnancy testing. At our high point this elk year we were at 96 radio collared elk, but that’s down to 89 as of the end of March. Collared numbers are likely to drop much more before calving season due to 2 year old calf collars going off the air and due to additional mortalities.
Of special note, we recaptured cow 25 (one of the originals) and cow 83. Radio collars on both had been off the air for several years, so it was nice to see that they still lived. We greatly appreciate the excellent help we received from citizen volunteers, DNR, GLIFWC, and USFS staff members, who all helped provide care and muscle for moving immobilized elk during the trap and translocation process. We are also indebted to the private landowners who provided a secure location for us to set up our corral trap and acclimation pen. We hesitate in naming you to protect your privacy.
Population Monitoring and Elk Education: During the last 3 months we made 1,040 telemetry location determinations and 2,108 telemetry mortality checks. During this quarter we gave 2 elk presentations to a total of 141 participants. We also gave 5 print media interviews. The elk display was set up at the RMEF Hayward Banquet February 19th and at the Douglas County Sport Show--Wessman Arena, March 25-27.
Partnerships: We met on February 18 and March 29 with GLIFWC and the USFS to develop site criteria for future “assisted dispersal” sites. We also assisted Scott Roepke, the graduate student from UWSP, with 3 aerial surveys in January and March.
Upcoming Events: During the next quarter we will continue maintaining the 12 elk at the acclimation pen, releasing them once the world turns green in mid May. We will work with GLIFWC and LCO to coordinate a “blessings ceremony” for the new elk in the Moose Lake area. We plan to meet again with GLIFWC and USFS on potential “assisted dispersal sites” in April. We will also initiate cow monitoring and calf searching in mid May. We will also be meeting with the RMEF Project Advisory Committee on April 18th on PAC funding in elk year 2011/2012.
Laine Stowell & Matt McKay, March 31, 2011