Protocol Title: Elk Monitoring
Parks where protocol will be implemented
- Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (LEWI)
- Mount Rainier National Park (MORA)
- Olympic National Park (OLYM)
Importance / Issues
Within the NCCN, elk were selected for monitoring over several other potential wildlife species or groups of species because of their potentially large influence on ecosystems where they occur and the many agents of change that are expected to influence future elk populations (Weber et al. 2009. NCCN vital signs monitoring report. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.). Because elk are important agents of ecological change within park ecosystems, reliable information on trends is needed to interpret changes in the health of park ecosystems. Over several decades, there has been recurrent controversy regarding potential ecological effects of overabundant elk on ecological integrity of subalpine meadows in MORA and of lowland rainforest communities in OLYM.Within the NCCN, elk at Lewis and Clark NHP were selected for monitoring over several other potential wildlife species or groups of species (Weber et al. 2009. NCCN vital signs monitoring report. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado) because of their inherent importance to interpreting the Lewis and Clark story, their popularity with the visiting public, their potentially large influence on ecosystems where they occur and the many agents of change that are expected to influence future populations of elk.
- Monitor trends in elk abundance, distribution, and composition in selected subalpine summer ranges in MORA and OLYM.
- Monitor trends in elk abundance and distribution in selected low-elevation winter ranges in OLYM.
- Monitor trends in relative use by elk in the LEWI Fort Clatsop unit.
- Monitor trends in the proportion of the area occupied by elk within the Fort Clatsop unit.
- Monitor trends in elk viewing opportunities, available from roads near the Fort Clatsop unit.
- Monitor the number of elk observations that members of the public, and park staff report.
Summer trend count areas correspond with major summer ranges of elk in each park, and include open subalpine vegetation; they have been defined by a combination of elevation and forest canopy cover. To adjust for detection biases, raw counts of elk will be converted to abundance estimates through the use of group-specific weighting. The expected value of the weighting factor for each group will come from a sightability model parameterized to account for variation in detection probability due to covariates such as group size, vegetative cover, or other covariates.For spring surveys, we will monitor trends in the abundance and spatial distribution of elk using three primary winter range areas of elk in the western rainforest valleys of OLYM: Hoh valley, South Fork Hoh valley, and Queets valley. The floodplains and associated terraces of these three rivers have been the primary survey units for elk monitoring in OLYM for over 25 years, so monitoring here will continue and add to historic data. The spring surveys will be conducted during the last weeks of winter / first weeks of spring, when forest understory plants on floodplain habitats have begun spring growth, but before leaves on overstory deciduous trees obscure visibility to ground level. The survey window is in March; April surveys are precluded by endangered species restrictions of the marbled murrelet nesting season. As with summer surveys group-specific sightability correction factors will account for variation in detection probability that arises from modeled covariates, such as group size, the presence of snow on the ground, and forest vegetation cover.
Basic Approach - LEWIRelative use and proportion of area occupied (PAO) are two measures from which we will infer trends in elk use within the Fort Clatsop unit of Lewis and Clark NHP. Relative use in this protocol refers to the estimated abundance of elk fecal pellet groups at survey points that are distributed systematically throughout the Fort Clatsop Unit. PAO is estimated based on the pattern of survey points where elk 'sign' is detected by either or both of two independent observers. Estimates of relative use and PAO in the Fort Clatsop unit will both draw on data coming from elk fecal pellet group surveys at survey points. Monitoring is limited to the winter season because of funding constraints.
Ungulate pellet group density can be a reliable index of relative use so long as decay rates and probabilities of detecting pellet groups are comparable across the sampled space, or can be estimated. To control for potentially variable decay rates, we will clear any elk pellets from surveyed plots in the fall. To estimate pellet group detection probability, we will collect double-observer data that will lead to a statistical model for pellet detection probability, as a function of pellet group covariates such as pellet group size. We will monitor the rate at which elk are sighted in roadside surveys on specified routes. The road survey sighting rate is a direct index to the rate that park visitors driving the selected set of roads would be expected to see elk. Although road surveys will be standardized, the road survey sighting rate is not a direct measure of elk abundance. Incidental elk observations reported by the public can contribute to the park's general understanding of elk distribution in the region; also, having NPS maintain a system for those observations can foster public appreciation for the fact that elk are an important park resource. The number of incidental observations per year is not a measure intended for monitoring trends in elk use, distribution, or abundance. Rather, it was requested by the Park's management as an indication of public interest and engagement in park resources.
Land use, hunting, and predator management programs on lands adjacent to MORA and OLYM have the potential to influence elk population trends and ecosystem properties within the Parks. Also, the increased prevalence of wildlife diseases (e.g., chronic wasting disease, paratuberculosis, brucellosis) is a growing potential concern.The superintendant and staff at Lewis and Clark NHP specifically selected elk monitoring as a useful tool for building community partnerships, highlighting regional habitat and land use planning effects on park resources, and providing leverage in regional discussions of policies that may influence the park’s elk population.
Protocol Development and Status
MORA, OLYM - With the exception of a final sightability model, all elements of the protocol are to be drafted by September 30, 2010. A draft protocol is due December 31, 2010. A relational database will be developed in 2010.LEWI - The P.I.’s went through an internal (USGS) review of the study plan in summer 2009. A relational database was developed in 2009. The protocol will be submitted for external peer review by June 21, 2010. After peer review, revision and approval, the protocol will be implemented in Fall 2010.
Status and Trends
Not available yet
Patti Happe, Olympic National Park, Patti Happe
Mason Reid, Mount Rainier National Park, Mason Reid
Carla Cole, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Carla Cole