Colorado participation led by Heather Johnson, Chad Bishop and Andy Holland in collaboration with personnel from numerous other agencies (see list below)
The challenges facing elk management in western landscapes are increasing at a rapid pace as modifications to habitat, climate, and predator communities influence the demography and behavior of elk populations. Uncertainty about the influence of these factors on elk populations initiated communication among wildlife researchers across the west about shared management challenges and research needs. While individual states are conducting their own research projects on how these factors influence elk, the collaborators recognized the benefits of a region-wide analysis with a broad scale of inference. Such an analysis allows collaborators to assess greater spatial and temporal variation in these demographic drivers than could be achieved within any single study site or state, increasing the value of pre-existing local data sets for guiding elk and carnivore management. Therefore, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is collaborating with state and federal wildlife agencies in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Utah to investigate large-scale temporal and spatial patterns in adult female elk survival and cause-specific mortality. This collaborative effort is developing one of the largest survival datasets for any mammal species in the wildlife literature, and will provide key information about the relative influence of different factors driving elk populations so wildlife managers can better respond to changing environmental conditions in the future.
This project is being done in collaboration with personnel from the USGS Montana Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit, USGS Wyoming Coooperative Research Unit, Idaho Fish and Game, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. and Yellowstone National Park.
Led by Heather Johnson, Matt Hammond, Patt Dorsey, Chad Bishop, Kurt VerCauteren (USDA National Wildlife Research Center) and Justin Fischer (USDA National Wildlife Research Center)
Elk and mule deer provide important recreational, ecological, and economic benefits, but they can also cause substantial damage to agricultural resources in rural environments. This situation has generated significant challenges for wildlife agencies that are responsible for maintaining viable ungulate populations while also minimizing crop damage. One of the most significant areas of ungulate damage in Colorado has been the sunflower fields around Dove Creek. In this region, roughly a quarter of million dollars were annually paid to farmers between 2007 and 2009, and kill permits, distribution hunts and private-land-only doe hunts have been routinely distributed to farmers. Pressure from local growers over damage, and frustration from the general public over kill permits, generated the need for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife to evaluate other management options for reducing elk and deer crop depredation. As a result, CPW has partnered with wildlife damage researchers from the National Wildlife Research Center to find science-based solutions for reducing crop damage. Collaboratively, our goals are to 1) examine elk and mule deer distribution patterns to design public hunting opportunities to reduce crop damage, 2) experimentally test a suite of non-lethal techniques to minimize crop depredation, and 3) map and model landscape characteristics associated with damage to specify more effective site-specific management practices. Results from this study should ultimately enable CPW and local growers to reduce ungulate crop depredation, leading to a decrease in compensation payments and kill permits/distribution hunts, and an increase in public hunting opportunities and support from farmers and sportsmen.
This management project was a combined effort between Research and Field management biologists and staff. A major effort to estimate population size, using techniques assessed during the Grand Mesa research, occurred in elk Data Analysis Unit E2 (DAU E2) during winter 2007. DAU E-2 covers a large geographic area east, north, and west of Craig, CO in the northwestern part of the state with elk winter ranges encompassing 1,754 square miles. Conflicts over elk numbers and appropriate management alternatives stimulated the need to obtain an estimate of population size. Estimates of elk numbers were obtained using multiple helicopter crews to survey and count elk over 4 days in February 2007. Elk were counted on quadrats 2-square miles in size in predominately open sagebrush habitats and on quadrats 1-square mile in size in habitats of mixed sagebrush-oakbrush, oakbrush-aspen, and aspen-conifer. Quadrats were selected at random from a stratified sampling frame of all potential quadrats in the geographic winter range area of interest. Estimated population size was 32,205 + 9,214 elk (95% confidence interval). Elk densities per square mile ranged from 2.2 to 28.0 among sampling strata.