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Elk monitoring in Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks: 2008-2011 synthesis report

January 15, 2015

In 2008, the USGS collaborated with the NPS, the Muckleshoot and Puyallup Indian Tribes, and WDFW to develop a protocol tor monitor changes in abundance, population composition, and spatial distribution of elk on summer ranges in MORA and OLYM and winter ranges in OLYM. We developed double-observer sightability (DO-S) models that adjusted raw counts of elk as a function of factors influencing detection probabilities from the air, e.g. vegetation, elk group size, light, elk activity, and pilot experience. We plan to develop DO-S models for both MORA and OLYM summer ranges, but due to radiotelemetry collar failures in OLYM, we do not yet have enough data to model detection probabilities in OLYM.

We analyzed results of the first 4 years of elk monitoring conducted under the new protocol from 2008-2011. Objectives of this first synthetic analysis are to:
• update the DO-S model for MORA aerial survey results
• examine abundance, composition, and distribution of elk trends in MORA summer ranges
• establish a baseline of counts, population composition, and distribution of elk in OLYM  summer ranges
• examine trends in counts and distribution of elk in OLYM low-elevation winter ranges during early spring
• determine environmental factors influencing abundance and composition of elk in selected MORA summer ranges and unadjusted counts of elk on selected OLYM winter ranges
• review progress in developing a DO-S model for OLYM elk surveys
• examine aerial survey operations and provide suggestions for future surveys.

There was no trend in elk numbers in the N. Rainier TCA from 2008-2011; the trend in the S. Rainier TCA was not statistically significant but increased 3.3%/year. Maximum counts increased in the N. Rainier TCA ~6%/year. Maximum counts in the S. Rainier TCA increased at a rate of 17% annually. Due to failed radiocollars, weather, and other problems, we completed surveys in 2 of 5 OLYM summer range TCAs; no trend data are available. In OLYM winter ranges, we surveyed the Hoh TCA during early spring 2008-10 and of the S. Fork Hoh and Queets in 2008 and 2010. No surveys were done for early-spring counts in 2011 and 2012 due to high snowfall and lack of funding. Legacy early-spring surveys in OLYM since 1985 allowed us to assess trends in counts in the early-spring TCAs from 1985-2010. Counts of elk in the early-spring TCAs declined: 63% in the S. Fork Hoh, 18% in the Hoh, and 22% in the Queets Valley. We continue to develop and improve the DO-S model for application to OLYM summer surveys. In the next synthesis report, we will update findings with additional data following the 2015 field season, based on 8 years of survey results; it will be a more complete analysis of elk population trends.
Publication Year 2015
Title Elk monitoring in Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks: 2008-2011 synthesis report
Authors Kurt J. Jenkins, Paul C. Griffin, Patricia J. Happe, Mason E. Reid, David J. Vales, Barbara J. Moeller, Michelle Tirhe, Scott McCorquodale, Katherine Beirne, John Boetsch, William Baccus, Bruce C. Lubow
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Natural Resource Report
Series Number NPS/NCCN/NRR - 2015/904
Index ID 70138290
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center