University of Montana Professor Mark Hebblewhite recently received a $435,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue the world’s longest running elk study. Scott Eggeman currently works for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and worked as a grad student on the elk project.

“Traditionally, about 95% of the elk herd migrated in Vance National Park where they summered and then they wintered on the Ya Ha Tinda ranch which is a lower elevation grass land,” said Eggeman. “They noticed a decline in the proportion of migratory elk and that prompted the research.”

Eggeman says some familiar predators are re-colonizing and that could play a role in the loss of migratory elk herds.

“We are seeing a very similar trend not just in Montana, but throughout the west with a loss of migratory portions of our elk herd,” Eggeman said. “We have also experienced re-colonization of wolves and we are seeing increasing numbers of grizzly bears. We are seeing some of our native predators re-colonize in areas they were traditionally in so that plays a partial role in that.”

The study has been going on for 15 years now and could go on much longer if it keeps receiving grants.