Elk count shows population stable

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An annual count shows Banff’s elk population is relatively stable.

Parks Canada has an elk population target of between 150 and 300, to be relatively well dispersed throughout the Bow Valley. In the area around the townsite, they ideally want no more than 100 elk in winter and less than 50 in summer.

During a fall elk ground classification survey at the end of November, 229 elk were counted in the valley from Lake Louise to the national park’s east gate, compared to 172 elk counted in fall 2016, 210 in 2015 and 214 in 2014.

“We found 229 elk, which is kind of right in the norm for us,” said Blair Fyten, a human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.

“It’s not like a true population count because we can’t see everything, but it gives us an indication as to what’s happening in the Bow Valley and what our herd makeup is.”

The count estimated there are 26 calves per 100 cow elk.

“That cow-calf ratio indicates the herd has potential to grow,” said Fyten.

“It indicates there is some predation happening on those cows. If you didn’t have much predation that rate night be up in higher 30s.”

Elk numbers appear to be within the range of what Parks Canada wants for both public safety and ecological reasons, though larger numbers of elk continue to concentrate around the Banff townsite.

This year, Parks Canada responded to 22 reports of aggressive elk. In addition, there were three incidents in which elk attacked people.

On Aug. 23, a bull elk charged a jogger at the Banff recreation grounds. The jogger grabbed the elk by the antlers and tried to push it away, but the elk pursued him from behind until he escaped to cover.

In another incident, an adult female was found crouched in the Middle Springs playground with an elk hitting her backpack from behind with its antlers. It happened on Aug. 25 at 5:15 p.m., and lasted a few moments before she could run away.

Earlier this spring, a cow elk protecting her newborn calf charged and kicked a Banff man in the head when he inadvertently got too close in a wooded area in the Middle Springs neighbourhood.

“There’s been quite a few years where there were no contact charges,” said Fyten.

Parks Canada killed four bull elk that had shown aggression in and around the townsite this fall.

“We do have a few more bull elk that are frequenting the townsite than we’ve noticed over the last three years,” said Fyten.

“Those are a concern to us, and we’re continually trying to haze them out of town, but they circle back and come in at night quite frequently.”

Parks Canada asks people to call dispatch at 403-762-1470 to report any sightings of elk within the townsite.

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