Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

Northwest elk: They are where they eat

Ecotrope | Oct. 21, 2010 9:51 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:45 p.m.

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New modeling predicting the location of elk will help wildlife officials with habitat and management decisions.

New modeling predicting the location of elk will help wildlife officials with habitat and management decisions.

New modeling by the Pacific Northwest Research Station is helping managers predict where elk will thrive in western Oregon and Washington.

Guess what the models show: You’ll find the elk near the most nutritious food.

That’s one of the top four factors linked to elk location. The other three are:

  • distance to roads open to public access

  • percent slope
  • distance to the edge of forage cover

This news is important for wildlife officials who are trying to update elk management plans to sustain their economic and ecological value.

“Habitat models like the one we developed are critical to managing elk populations, particularly since current management practices are based on decades-old research and are in the process of being updated to reflect new science,” said Mary Rowland, a wildlife biologist at the station’s La Grande Forestry and Range Sciences Laboratory and one of the study’s principal investigators. “Findings from our modeling go a long way in explaining where in western Oregon and Washington elk populations are most likely to thrive.”

Rowland and her colleagues used a model that can generate maps of the areas with the most nutritional resources and the effects of forest management on plant nutrition levels.

The scientists compared the maps of nutritious plants with the actual patterns of elk habitat use (taken from radiotelemetry studies in three areas) to find the top four determining factors of elk location.

“Our results were extremely encouraging, with close matches seen between predicted elk use from the model and locations of elk in the study areas,” said Mike Wisdom, a research station wildlife biologist, also in La Grande, who initiated the project. “This information can help set goals for changing elk use in certain areas and guiding management prescriptions for elk habitat.”

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