Grant to pay for tule elk relocation from refuge near Los Banos

The San Luis National Wildlife received a grant this week that will be used in herd relocation in mid-February, according to officials.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning the first relocation effort since 2005 – 30 or more of the more than 90 tule elk that live in an 800-acre reserve will be netted by helicopter and trucked to other state reserves, according to wildlife biologist Tim Keldsen.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a Missoula, Mont.-based conservation organization, supplied a $37,000 grant to the refuge for the relocation, as well as upkeep of the enclosure.

“When you manage for elk, you’re managing for most other wildlife as well,” Keldsen said.

The relocation effort is planned Feb. 11-12, according to officials.

Tule elk are found only in California. They were about 30 animals away from extinction before conservation efforts kicked in. The herd of 18 animals in 1974 at San Luis have increased to more than 90 today, and there are about 4,000 animals statewide.

Jack Sparks, an outdoor recreation planner for the refuge, said about $12,000 of the grant will pay for habitat maintenance inside the elk reserve. Crews will plant native seeds and grass plugs and kill invasive grasses.

Sparks said the refuge is waiting on approval for $8,000 that would pay for bus trips for Merced County elementary school children, who would take part in tours of the 27,000-acre refuge and its 5,000-square-foot visitors center.

The $9.8 million visitors center opened in 2011.

The refuge is at 7376 S. Wolfsen Road, off Highway 165, about six miles north of Highway 152.

The elk foundation’s grants in California total $285,595 for 6,591 acres in 14 counties, according to a news release. The funding is most often generated through banquet and membership drives from the roughly 12,000 members of the organization.