First GPS Tracking Elk Program in Minnesota Begins

21 Apr 2016

Elk are a part of the culture and tradition of Minnesota. In the past, these majestic creatures inhabited nearly all of the state; however, currently, it is estimated that there are less than 200 that inhabit the northwestern region of this northern state.

Thanks to efforts made by the Department of Natural Resources, these animals may be able to thrive once again. Twenty female elk will be collared with GPS tracking devices, which will track their movement throughout the state. This is a first-ever project in Minnesota, and one that is met with great excitement by outdoor enthusiasts, and Minnesotans, alike.

According to John Williams of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, history has hinted that elk make some interesting moves both in and out of the elk range. Understanding the movements of these animals is an important part of managing and protecting them. GPS tracking devices can provide that pertinent information.

There are three distinct Elk Herds that inhabit Northwest Minnesota:

  • The Grygla herd, which is located in Marshall County
  • The Kittson-Central Herd near Lancaster
  • The Caribou-Vita hers, which migrate between the US and Canada

In order to outfit the elk with GPS tracking devices, an animal capture team from Washington State uses a helicopter and a net-gun to knock down and then collar the cows. Only females will be collared to prevent the males’ antlers from being tangled in the nets. Additionally, the team will only chase the animals for up to five minutes. It will take a total of 5-10 minutes to collar the cows, collect their measurements and gather important data, such as stool samples.

Minnesota elk have been protected since 1893. The decline of their numbers is largely due to human interaction. Most of the elk that currently inhabit the state were transplanted there in the early 1900s. This transplant took place as a means of rebooting the population of these animals.

The GPS tracking devices that the elk are collared with will collect data through 2018. The hope is that this data will provide insight into helping maintain the population of these animals and preserve this important part of Minnesota’s living history.

The project, which will cost $280,000, is primarily being funded by the Minnesota Lottery fund.



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