A bull elk surveys his surroundings in the elk management area in Elk County.

HARRISBURG (TNS) — While the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been studying and monitoring the Pennsylvania elk seriously for nearly a half-century, much of the draft elk management plan for 2020-2025 runs through a shopping list of new research and monitoring methods the commission’s elk managers want.

Learning more about the impact of poor genetic diversity on the health of the elk in Pennsylvania’s isolated, but growing herd and options for improving the herd’s genetic diversity are among the items on that list.

“Poor genetic diversity has been linked to harmful effects in wildlife populations, including declines in survival and population and increased susceptibility to disease,” elk biologist Jeremy Banfield wrote in the draft plan. He also noted that “Pennsylvania’s elk population has some of the lowest genetic diversity in North America.”

A response plan for the day that chronic wasting disease, an always fatal brain disease of deer, elk and related species, is discovered in the elk herd; new methods of monitoring the size of the state’s elk population over an expanding range; and elk-oriented habitat improvement projects are among the other items on the list.

Overall, the plan proposes elk management goals from 2020-25 as:

— To manage elk for health and sustainability,

— To apply our understanding of elk habitat to influence populations and distribution,

— To manage elk to provide recreational opportunity,

— To manage elk-human conflicts at acceptable levels, and

— To improve the public‘s knowledge and understanding of elk and the elk management program.

According to the commission, the plan focuses on maintaining a healthy and sustainable elk population, creating quality habitat and employing strategies for mitigating elk-human conflicts.

In addition, there are goals related to educating and informing an interested public about elk and elk management. The new plan also highlights several research needs including methods of estimating populations and surveying hunter opinions about elk management.

“Wildlife management is an adaptive science and this new plan builds on strategies and information gathered over the past 30 years to direct us in managing Pennsylvania’s elk population for the next five years,” said Banfield.

The full plan can be viewed through the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.

The commission will accept comments from the public on the draft plan through Feb. 21 by email to elkmanagementplancomments@pa.gov or by mail to Elk Management Plan, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg PA 17110-9797.

A summary of public comments, and any changes made in response to the comments, will be included in the final version of the plan, which will be presented to the Board of Game Commissioners for approval at the April meeting.