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Cattle producers seek elk-ranch balance

Cattlemen Roundup: DNR manages three state elk herds.

Kaitlyn Root

July 10, 2024

3 Min Read
Elk in crop field
MENACE IN MINNESOTA: Cattle producers are at odds with the state’s elk herd. While recognizing the benefits a diverse wildlife population brings to the ecosystem, they also experience the damage elk do to crops and fencing.skhoward/Getty Images

States such as Minnesota are an outdoors enthusiast’s heaven on earth. Wildlife such as deer, elk and black bear is plentiful in certain areas of the state.

Although wildlife brings many benefits to our ecosystem and is appreciated by Minnesotans, including farmers and ranchers, these animals can be a nuisance and a serious challenge for livestock producers.

Minnesota’s most recent legislative session, which wrapped up at midnight on May 20, included discussions on elk herd populations and depredation in the state.

Northern Minnesota is currently home to three elk herds: Grygla, Kittson Central and Caribou-Vita. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages the elk herds and conducts elk herd population estimates by aircraft in survey blocks encompassing the winter range of each herd.

The Grygla survey block covers ground in Marshall and Beltrami counties and includes one herd of elk. The Kittson Central survey block is in Kittson County and includes two subherds of elk, Kittson Central North and Kittson Central South. The Caribou-Vita survey block is home in Kittson and Roseau counties, as well as Manitoba; it includes one elk herd, which frequently alternates on either side of the U.S./Canada border.

During the 2023 DNR elk population survey, DNR observed 29 elk in the Grygla herd, 75 elk in the Kittson Central herd and 227 elk in the Caribou-Vita herd.

A Minnesota state statute guides DNR on elk management to prevent populations from increasing. Specifically, the Grygla herd must be managed for 30 to 38 elk, the Kittson County herd for 50 to 60 elk and the Caribou-Vita herd for 150 to 200 elk, according to DNR’s Interim Strategic Management Plan for Elk, 2016-19.

Elk herd management

Elk have the ability to cause serious destruction to crops and fencing each year, so elk depredation is a key factor in managing these elk herds. Prior to this legislative session, the DNR was unable to manage elk herds in a manner that would increase the size of the herd unless it was verified that crop and fence damages attributed to the herd have not increased for at least two years.

During this legislative session, the DNR aimed to remove this language so they would have the ability to increase Minnesota elk herd populations, even with soaring depredation claims.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is allotted $155,000 per fiscal year for elk depredation payments. According to the MDA, fiscal year 2022 elk depredation claims totaled nearly $125,000, and fiscal year 2023 elk depredation claims totaled around $263,000. That certainly is not a decrease — rather a doubling in depredation claims payments.

I testified on behalf of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association against DNR’s proposed language change once in the state House and once in the state Senate during this session, and we were able to work with state Sen. Aric Putnam and DNR to find common ground on this issue.

The final language passed allows DNR to manage the Kittson-Central herd population to increase by a maximum of 30% of the estimated 2023 population to allow for genetic diversification and herd health.

There was also $50,000 appropriated to convene a working group to recommend options for addressing crop and fence destruction caused by elk and deer. MSCA is hopeful that this working group will be beneficial in the elk-deer depredation conversations moving forward.

MSCA will continue to push for increased funding for elk depredation claims and continue discussions with DNR and MDA on improving wildlife management in Minnesota and ensuring cattle producers’ voices are heard on these issues.

We recognize the importance of cattle and wildlife in this state, and we look forward to the progress we can make to benefit the land and our ecosystem.

MSCA is made up of Minnesota cattlemen and cattlewomen working to defend producers and members of the beef industry within Minnesota. We strive to ensure cattle production remains a relevant, safe and sustainable way of life for generations to come.

For more information, or to become a member, visit mnsca.org or email me.

Root is the executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association.

About the Author(s)

Kaitlyn Root

Kaitlyn Root is the executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association.

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