UM Professor Continues World’s Longest-Running Elk Study

Hebblewhite receives $435,000 grant from NSF to continue a fifteen-year study of migratory elk in Canada


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Ya Ha Tinda elk herd

UM ungulate habitat ecology Associate Professor Mark Hebblewhite recently received a $435,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue a fifteen-year study of migratory elk in Alberta, Canada. Since 2001, Hebblewhite and co-principal investigator Evelyn Merrill of the University of Alberta have collared and tracked more than 500 elk in one of the longest-running field research projects on the species.

By monitoring this large herd over their lifespans—through reproduction, migration, and survival—this long-term study provides clues on why elk migrate, how their migrations change, the role of predators like wolves and grizzly bears on elk populations, and the effects of fire, logging, climate change, and management actions, such as hunting, on the herd.

Additionally, ten graduate students have worked on the project and hundreds of undergraduate students from both UM and UA have learned about elk and ungulate migration through the study. One former graduate student, Scott Eggeman, now is employed with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks in the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area.

Hebblewhite also will work with students in the UM School of Journalism and UM’s geography department to provide information to the public in innovative ways.

The Ya Ha Tinda elk herd is well-known regionally because it lives in and just outside Banff National Park. The elk winter outside the park and then move into the park in the spring where they remain through fall. The region also is important as a trophy hunting area—the largest bull elk registered in Canada was harvested there decades ago.

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