Elk-vehicle crashes a cause for growing concern Up North
Monday, November 27, 2006
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
At about 1,000 head, Michigan's elk herd is the state's smallest self-sustaining big-game wildlife species. Yet motor-vehicle accidents involving the creatures are becoming commonplace in several areas of northern Michigan.
A mile stretch of I-75 between Vanderbilt and Wolverine has been the site of numerous accidents in the past few months, according to Brian Mastenbrook, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Those accidents have killed around 15 elk.
That herd of up to 50 elk is cause for concern. So is the 300-pound elk calf that was hit and killed Nov. 15 on highway M-32 east of Gaylord.
''You're going to have a big story on car-elk accidents if this herd gets any larger,'' said Steve Tomaski, a horse and cattle farmer located just west of Johannesburg. ''This is the sixth accident with an elk, the fifth at least, within a mile or less of my house in the past nine months.''
Weighing up to a half-ton and standing much taller than a white tailed deer, the elk are racking up some hefty vehicle-repair bills.
The last vehicle serviced by Complete Collision of Gaylord after an accident with an elk was a 2-month-old Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to shop owner Rick Weber. Repairs cost nearly $20,000.
And Weber had his own roadway run-in with an elk.
''They walk out in the road like they own the place,'' Weber said, noting the animal took out the front of his Chevrolet truck. ''They're not like a deer; they're not skittish at all.''
The majority of Michigan's elk herd is loosely confined to a remote, 900-square-mile area in Cheboygan, Montmorency and Otsego counties. But smaller groups live outside that region.
By mid-December the elk will form smaller family groups and the herds should thin out, according to Mastenbrook.
''It's a seasonal thing,'' Mastenbrook said, noting larger herds are found during the mating season. ''The bulls form harems and this group keeps passing back and forth across the highway.''
Hunts this fall should pare herd numbers by around 150 animals, Mastenbrook said, noting the DNR depends on remote food plots to minimize human contact and reduce crashes between vehicles and elk.
But Tomaski claims Michigan's elk herd is on the move and those measures no longer work. He said the herd near his place moved in six years ago and causes upwards of $4,000 in crop and fence damage every year. And while that herd, now counting nearly 100 members, rarely wanders far, Tomaski said more recently another herd has taken up residence further south of his place closer to the Crawford County line.
''They don't want to eradicate them,'' Tomaski said, ''so the herd just continues to grow.''
And pass back and forth across the road.
''Actually, the cars are doing a fine job of killing these elk,'' Tomaski said.
For the Record Book
6 days ago