Elk Distribution in New Mexico

Elk population density varies across New Mexico.

In their summer habitat, elk prefer higher-altitude forested areas that provide good cover, forage, and water. In winter, they frequent lower-altitude river valleys, pinyon-juniper forests, and riparian and agricultural areas.

The major elk herds in New Mexico are in the Primary and Special Management zones.

The state’s rural areas, where the major elk herds live, have high poverty rates.

The fraction of private land in the GMUs in these zones also varies.  This affects the relative amount of public land and private land elk hunting licenses in those GMUs.

Elk hunting provides significant economic inputs to these areas, especially from non-resident hunters, who frequently hunt on private lands, and hire outfitters.

Elk Herds in New Mexico

Within New Mexico, there are several contiguous tracts of suitable elk habitat where distinct elk populations live; NMDGF defines these as specific, named elk herd units. The designated elk herd units are in the Primary and Special Management Zone.

The NMDGF publishes population estimates of herds in their Primary Management Zones (PMZs) but does not publish elk populations in the Secondary Management Zones (SMZs).

The 2018 population estimates (upper bound) of elk are shown for the GMUs in the Primary Management Zone (PMZ).  NMDGF does not measure elk herd populations in the Secondary Management Zones (shown in white).  The different elk herds in the PMZ are shown.

Estimating Elk Populations at the GMU Level Based on NMDGF Herd Data

In some regions of the state, the population estimates are made at the herd level, which can span multiple GMUs (e.g., the Jemez Herd in GMUs 6A, 6B, 6C, and 7) — in these cases, we estimated the GMU population as the total herd population weighted by the area of each GMU to the total area the herd occupies,

\[ P_{GMU} \approx \left(\frac{A_{GMU}}{ \sum_{g = 1}^{N_{G,H}}A_{g}}\right) * P_{\textrm{herd}},\]

the denominator is the sum of the areas of all GMUs the herd occupies.  The elk density (number of elk per hectare) is likely higher at different times of the year since the elk herd may congregate in one area.

Distribution of Elk Herds in the Primary and Special Management Zones

The interactive map below is useful to see where the designated elk herds live relative to public and private lands.

Elk Herds in PMZ/SPZPrivate Land

Move the map slider to the right to see the fraction of private land in each GMU of the Primary (light blue) and Special (light green) Management Zone.  All areas in white are in the Secondary Management Zone.   Some GMUs contain both Primary and Secondary Management Zones.

Move the slider to the left to see the underlying general locations of dedicated elk herds in New Mexico.

In GMUs 6A,6B (Jemez Herd), GMUs 16A,16B,16C (Greater Gila Herd), and GMU 51a (North Central Herd), the majority of the land is public.

In contrast, in GMU 4( North Central Herd), GMU 5A (Lindrith Herd), GMU 9 (Mt Taylor Herd), GMU 12 (Fence Lake Herd), GMU 36 (Ruidoso Herd), GMU 46 (Pecos Herd), GMU 48 (White’s Peak Herd), and GMU 54 and 55A (North Central Herd) are predominantly private land.

GMU 54 and 55A are in the Special Management Zone. In 2022, GMU 46 was moved from the Special Management Zone to the Secondary Management Zone.

The land ownership in New Mexico webpage provides more details on the fraction of private land and other land ownership.

Footnotes and References