The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is working on a study of elk on Etolin and Zarembo Islands, near Wrangell. In 1987 elk were introduced to the area and could affect the plants and deer. Since their release little management or monitoring has been conducted. Department Biologist Rich Lowell says he’s working to gather more information to see if they’re at a manageable & sustainable population.

“To a large extent it’s all been new information for us,” That’s Rich Lowell, who works as a Wildlife Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. For the past 2-years he’s been collecting data on elk herds on Etolin and Zarembo Islands. Lowell says he’s working to collar a total of 12 elk so he can begin studying their populations.

“You have to get your hands on them first. We are doing helicopter darting of the elk with an immobilization drug. Once we get the animal on the ground, we collar the elk, the collar then releases after 24 months,” he says.

So far Lowell has collared six elk and says from that he’s been able to gather some critical information.

“We are starting to refine what their seasonal movement patterns are, where there delineating summer range is and delineating winter range. For management purposes, it’s good. We used to believe there were two herds, now we know there is just one, so consequently we have had Zarembo Island closed to elk hunting until that herd increases in size,” he says.

The gps collars help Lowell and researchers study the herd’s seasonal movement, their sex and age, as well as the survival rate of the collard elk. At this time he estimates there are a little more than 200 elk on the two islands. He says he expects to have all 12 elk collard on South Etolin Island by the end of this year.

Once the 2-years of tracking are done, the U.S. Forest Service will begin the next phase of the study.Bob Dalyrmple is Wrangell’s District Ranger.

“We just don’t know the impacts, and I think it’s that uncertainty of having an exotic species in a wilderness area sort of heightens that, of needing to get a better understanding of it,” he says.

He says once the data is collected from the collared elk, the U.S. Forest Service will better understand their environmental impacts.

“A primary purpose of wilderness management is the scientific study of the components of that wilderness. On Etolin Island we have the south Etolin wilderness area and that’s a known area of elk concentrations,” he says.

The U.S. Forest Service will start a companion project in 2014. The study will focus the elk’s impact on vegetation as well as on the native deer populations.