A study led by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks kicked off Thursday that will help researchers understand elk distribution in western Montana.
It's called the North Sapphire Elk Research Project, and is focused in an area that stretches from the Northern Sapphire Mountains from Miller Creek to the north, to Rock Creek in the east, down to Burnt Fork Creek in the south.
"There's been some changes in elk distribution in the last 10 years, probably in the last 20 years,” said FWP Biologist Nathan Borg. “We're trying to figure out some of the reasons for that."
Borg says biologists will begin the 2-year study by collaring 20 bulls and 45 cow elk from a herd on MPG Ranch, near Florence, that will allow them to monitor migratory behavior and nutrition.
The goal is for public and private landholders to use the information gathered to update their management policies.
"Here, on this landscape, if we find we find them changing distribution on this landscape, then that means we need to change some of our management, and that means we need to work more hand-in-hand with some of these landowners to see what we can do to improve winter range," said Borg.
Project directors say $150,000 in funding for the study has been privately donated, and they hope to collect $50,000 in additional funds to cover the 2013-14 field season.