Reproductive Success of Elk Following Disturbance by Humans during Calving Season

  • Phillips G
  • Alldredge A
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Abstract

Restricting human activity in elk (Cervus elaphus) calving areas during calving season can be controversial because of increasing human uses of elk habitat, and little evidence exists to evaluate impacts of these activities on elk populations. We evaluated effects of human-induced disturbance on reproductive success of radiocollared adult female elk using a control-treatment study in central Colorado. Data were collected during 1 pretreatment year and 2 treatment years. Treatment elk were repeatedly approached and displaced by study personnel throughout a 3-4-week period of peak calving during both treatment years, while control elk did not receive treatment. We observed elk on alpine summer ranges in July and August on both areas to estimate the proportion of marked cows maintaining a calf. Calf/cow proportions for the control area remained stable, but those for the treatment area declined each year. Average number of disturbances/elk/year modeled variation in calf/cow proportions, supporting treatment as the cause of declining calf/cow proportions. effectively Average decrease in calf/cow proportion in the treatment group was 0.225. Modeling indicated that estimated annual population growth on both study areas was 7% without treatment application, given that existing human activities cause some unknown level of calving-season disturbance. With an average of 10 disturbances/cow above ambient levels, our model projected no growth. Our results support maintaining disturbance-free areas for elk during parturitional periods.

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Authors

  • Gregory E. Phillips

  • A. William Alldredge

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