Three Takeaways from the Draft California Elk Management Plan

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Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Rosevelt Elk photo by Rob Diperna

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife have released their Draft Elk Conservation and Management Plan. For us elk fanatics—we have a couple of them in the office, including the author—we have been anxiously awaiting this report. (Read it yourself here!) Here are four quick takeaways from the report and how they can affect our wildlife and land management decisions.

Elk Need Fire!

Elk like to graze on young brush and shrubs. Before European colonization, fire helped keep a steady supply of young, tender and nutritious browse available. The history of fire suppression has reduced the habitat quality of our lands. With fire suppression, forests have become more dense with trees and our shrubs have become more mature. Helping to reestablish fire on the landscape will benefit elk by improving their habitat. (As if we needed another reason to end the war on fire!)

Wolves Will Need More Elk!

Wolves are back in California! This is GREAT news, but to sustain wolf packs (and to reduce incidents of livestock predation), we need more elk. Wolves preferentially prey on elk over deer, when present, but will eat deer when elk are not present. Here’s the rub: we don’t have elk like we used to. California was once home to an estimated 500,000 elk; today, there are ~12,900. California’s elk populations are also significantly smaller and patchier compared to other western states where wolves have become reestablished. Wolves’ backup food option, deer, are suffering a long-term statewide decline. To help our wolves (and our elk), we need to get serious

The Elk Management Plan calls for increasing elk populations by 10% by 2028 (in areas where human-elk conflicts are expected to be minimal). The Elk Management Plan also calls for the careful monitoring of individual “Elk Management Units” to watch out for thresholds indicating a serious impact to localized elk populations, such as if a population decline greater than 25% over three years.

Connected Landscapes are Important!

Long-term viability of California’s elk requires a well-connected landscape. Large mammals, such as elk, require interconnected habitats and populations. Absent these connections, we run the risk of genetically isolated populations, increasing the susceptibility to disease and the development of genetic defects. (Think of the problems that royal families have had when inbreeding goes too far….)

The Elk Management Plan highlights that the identification of current elk movement corridors—plus envisioning what corridors the elk might need in a changing future landscape. This is key and something that EPIC has been working on for a LONG time. (Anyone out there remember EPIC’s MAP RAP project from the early 1990s?)