LANSING (WWJ/AP) – A century after elk were returned to northern Michigan, the species is flourishing.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently completed its winter survey of elk in the northeastern Lower Peninsula.

Based on aerial observations and calculations, the DNR estimates the population at 1,173 animals, although it could be as low as 834 or as high as 1,512. The numbers are imprecise because it’s unknown how many elk wander out of sight.

DNR specialist Chad Stewart says the ideal herd size for the area is 500 to 900.

elkrange A Century After Elks Return To Michigan, Population Booming

Elk Range Boundaries (Photo: Michigan DNR)

Most of Michigan’s elk population can be found within or adjacent to the elk range in the northeast Lower Peninsula. The Pigeon River Country State Forest makes up a large area of the elk range, and fields are planted and mowed to attract elk from the surrounding private land.

An aerial elk survey occurs in January, with a DNR airplane flying predetermined routes to locate elk. Once elk are found, the plane circles and observers count how many are present and determine the number of males and females in the group.

elkfromplane A Century After Elks Return To Michigan, Population Booming

Michigan’s estimated population of elk, and where they are found in the northern Lower Peninsula, is determined by an aerial survey (Photo: Michigan DNR)

“Based on this survey, past surveys, damage concerns and disease issues, our recommendation to the Natural Resources Commission is to continue reducing the elk population slowly over the coming years,” Stewart  said in a statement.

The Natural Resources Commission has exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game. Hunters killed 158 elk during two regulated seasons last summer and fall.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of elk being reintroduced into Michigan. Michigan’s native elk died out in the 1800s. Reintroduction began in 1918, when seven from the western U.S. were released near Wolverine, Michigan.

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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