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Elk spotters program aids wildlife management in Missoula

Elk herd spends winter on Mount Jumbo every year
Elk during rut in September
Mount Jumbo winter wildlife closure in effect
Mount Jumbo Winter
Jeff Gicklhorn, Missoula Parks & Recreation Conservation Lands Program Manager, explains Mt. Jumbo closure
Sarah Capdeville, Elk Spotters Citizen Scientist, speaks with MTN News.
Posted at 3:55 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 17:55:26-05

MISSOULA — Much of Mount Jumbo is closed to recreation during the winter because elk use it as a part of their winter range.

The animals can be spotted from the valley floor — and with the help of citizen science, the herd is tracked for better management.

“The Elk Spotters program has been going on for just shy of 20 years," Missoula Parks & Recreation Conservation Lands Program manager Jeff Gicklhorn told MTN News.

He added citizen scientists have been a recent addition to the program.

Jeff Gicklhorn, Missoula Parks & Recreation Conservation Lands Program Manager, explains Mt. Jumbo closure

"The city purchased Mount Jumbo in 1995 and in 1997 the city adopted a management plan for Mount Jumbo," Gicklhorn said.

That plan prioritized the traditional elk habitat of the mountain.

When winter snow depletes forage at higher elevations, a herd of about 75 to 100 moves to the lower elevation right next to the heart of Missoula to feed.

Just five permanent staff manage over 5,000 acres of conservation lands around the city, so with the help of a citizen science program, closer tabs are kept on these elk.

Sarah Capdeville has a prime view of the mountain from her house in the Rattlesnake, making participation in the elk spotting program easy.

“I usually go out in the late afternoon, early evening," Capdeville said. "The back porch is a perfect view from here and then I just get out my binoculars and count them."

Sarah Capdeville, Elk Spotters Citizen Scientist, speaks with MTN News.

Capdeville added that she also makes additional observations, like if the elk are bulls, calves, or cows.

The observations happen on a daily basis at around the same time - for consistency.

Elk living on Mount Jumbo can be spotted with the naked eye, binoculars, or a spotting scope.

“I love citizen science. I think it's just an amazing thing to do, and anyone can do it," Capdeville said.

Mount Jumbo winter wildlife closure in effect

That's right; literally, anyone can do this elk spotting “Citizen Science.” You do not need to have any formal training in science.

Following any elk observation, this winter on Mount Jumbo people can go online, fill out the reporting form, and drop a pin where the sighting landed geographically.

The collected data is used by the city and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to determine the appropriate course of action for reopening Mount Jumbo - once all elk have exited.

Elk spotting continues through May 1. Click here for additional information on the closures and management of Mount Jumbo