HELENA- The mountain pine beetle infestation in the Elkhorn Mountains south of Helena is changing the habitat for the elk living there. A new study finds that there has been a decline in forest cover since a study last done in the 1980s.
The study looked into the impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation and how the elk living in the mountain range used land compared to the 1980s.
Scientists say the pine beetle infestation resulted in a small, short-term decrease in canopy cover during Fall, affecting elk who use the forest to hide during the hunting season.
Tracked elk during the hunting season chose areas with a minimum canopy cover of 23 percent and were at least 1.1 miles from any roads. The new study is hoping to provide new recommendations for defining a secure habitat on public lands to prevent elk and cows from moving onto private land.
The Elkhorn Mountains are unique in that the mountains are entirely contained within Hunting District 380, and have the most difficult elk permit to draw in all of Montana.
There is also a limited opportunity for antlerless elk, and hunters have the ability to hunt spike elk with a regular elk license.
HD 380 was the first hunting district in Montana with these kinds of regulation structures, and its location to three of Montana’s larger cities makes it the most heavily hunted area in the state.