Researchers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Humboldt State University hope to hear from the public about any encounters — negative or positive — they’ve had with Roosevelt elk.

CDFW and HSU are in the middle of a study seeking to understand the Roosevelt elks’ population size and growth, herd movements, habitat use, disease and causes of death.

Begun in early 2016, the study is focused on elk populations along the coast from Crescent City to Northern Humboldt as well as inland populations, said Carrington Hilson, elk biologist with CDFW. The study was spearheaded by public concern about elk numbers, including nuisance concerns as well as issues with hunting, Hilson said.

“The overall goal of this project for CDFW is to determine population abundance,” she said. “(Including) how many elk exist within the hunt zone. This hunt zone encompasses all of Del Norte and Humboldt County.”

Hilson began working with CDFW when the elk study began in 2016. She has also worked with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish and the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife. Most of Hilson’s work has been with large ungulates, but she also has experience with songbirds and black-footed ferrets.

Once scarce in Northern California, researchers have identified more than 20 distinct groups of elk in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. Some of the larger groups exist near Crescent City as well as from the Bald Hills south to Bridgeville in Humboldt County, Hilson said. Some of these herds consist of nearly 300 individual animals, she said.

The animals require large amounts of food to survive and tend to graze in agricultural areas and residential neighborhoods, often damaging crops, landscaping, fencing and other private property, Hilson noted in a recent CDFW Science Spotlight article.

“We hope to expand elk populations while minimizing areas of conflict, so it’s kind of a complicated process,” Hilson said, adding that researchers are also attempting to document any encounters between elk and local residents. “We’re really encouraging the public to reach out to us and let us know when they have issues, especially when damage occurs.”

Hilson said the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will release a link that allows people to report on elk sightings as well as any damage they have witnessed.

Hilson said she and her colleagues at CDFW are working with three faculty members at Humboldt State as well as four graduate students and a handful of undergraduates.

Hilson is also involved in a project that involves the capture of up to 16 female elk in Humboldt County on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. According to a CDFW press release, the elk will be ear tagged and fitted with a GPS collar.

Pregnant animals will receive an additional transmitter that monitors their pregnancies and helps biologists find their calves in the spring, according to the press release.

Hilson said the animals will be captured via helicopter and will be tagged and collared on-site before being immediately released. She said the study will focus an area from the Bald Hills south to Bridgeville.

“We’re looking at recruitment into the population, which is the number of elk that survive to be a year old that are added into the population,” Hilson said. “We’ve never collected information on this scale for elk in this area; we’ve done it in other parts of the state but not in Humboldt or Del Norte.”

Elk will be captured on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service as well as on private property with permission from the landowner.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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