This research will determine areas of suitable habitat and levels of public support for restoring elk to Northeastern Minnesota. Research will be conducted in an area already identified as having local public interest and abundant public forest land (i.e., southern St Louis, Carlton, and northern Pine counties). The research team will build upon existing eastern elk restoration research to address two research goals:
1) Identify the amount of public support for a restored elk population by surveying citizens in and around the prospective restoration sites.
2) Determine where suitable habitat exists and how many elk it could sustain. Combine the public support and habitat suitability maps to identify areas likely to support a restored elk population.
Despite potential economic and ecological benefits, care must be taken to determine if suitable habitat exists for elk and if the public will support having elk on the landscape. Our initial interaction with county governments and conservation groups indicates there is great interest in exploring elk restoration; however, we will conduct a quantitative survey of public attitudes to determine levels of tolerance for elk across the study area. To identify locations of suitable habitat, we will compile existing data on land use and land cover and collect field data on forage availability. We will use these data in conjunction with a synthesis of existing elk research in the Midwest to map how habitat suitability varies across the study area. Finally, we will combine the public support and habitat suitability maps to identify areas most likely to support a successful restoration. This study will provide critical information to wildlife managers and local governments allowing them to make an informed decision regarding habitat suitability and public support for the next steps in elk restoration.