Visitor Counter

hitwebcounter web counter
Visitors Since Blog Created in March 2010

Click Below to:

Add Blog to Favorites

Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

Subscribe via email to get updates

Enter your email address:

Receive New Posting Alerts

(A Maximum of One Alert Per Day)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The third and final year of the Southern Bitterroot Elk study is in progress with the U of Montana and Montana Fish wildlife and Parks assessing elk migration routes and pregnancy rates..........While State Game Agencies "knee jerk" to declining Elk herds is to always blame Wolves, Grizzlies and Pumas, it turns out that a key criteria to Elk health is what they eat............Those that dine on fobs such as balsamroot and lupine during spring calving and late summer preparation for winter have higher chances for survival than those that find these foodstuffs hard to acquire............With Global warming shrinking the growing season of these forbs by as much as a month, recruitment of calves and the ability for adult Elk to survive tough winters might be significantly impacted................As Elk have thrived for millenia amongst even larger suites of wolves pumas and griz, it seems that the "bottom up" pressures of drought could change the "balance of power between predator and prey----unless the drought pressures also bring new survival pressures upon the carnivores---which is highly likely in the form of disease and parasites

Drought, shortened growing season, forbs, and elk

Ravalli Republic; Perry Backus

Forage research: Study looking at vegetation
consumed by Bitterroot Valley elk herds

DARBY - High above the valley floor, on a
relatively flat bench covered in cheatgrass, a
pair of young researchers are hunched down low
over the earth, searching for something more.

Their fingers slide over the tops of the tiny
green plants found inside the half-meter square
made of well-worn PVC pipe painted fluorescent

One after another, they rattle off the Latin
names for the grasses and forbs they find growing
there while carefully documenting each in writing.

Once they complete that chore, the PVC pipe
square gets a little toss and the two carefully
shear off all the plant life that lands inside
and place the vegetation inside a paper bag to be
analyzed later this year.

Then they walk uphill another few steps and do it all over again and again.

All summer long, Nicole Hupp and Ellen Brandell
will repeat that process at 30 different sites in
the east and west forks of the Bitterroot River
as part of a major effort to learn more about the
natural history of the valley's elk herd.

Now in its third and final year, an ambitious and
comprehensive study co-sponsored by the
University of Montana and Montana Fish, Wildlife
and Parks has been assessing elk calf mortality,
cow elk migration routes and pregnancy rates of
southern Bitterroot elk.

That study began following a precipitous drop in
elk numbers, especially in the West Fork of the

Many initially blamed predators for the decline.

In the first two years, researchers have started
to gain a better picture of the predator/prey
relationship, but they know there's more to the

"When you think about it, what would a natural
history book on elk be if it didn't consider what
an elk eats," Hupp said. "There's so much more to

Mark Hebblewhite is leading this portion of the
study. The UM associate professor has done
similar research in Canada's Banff National Park.

In his mind, it's really a story about the classic food web.

Elk are in the middle. So to really understand
the full picture, researchers need to know what
eats them and what it is that they eat.

When they put that all together, researchers will
have a better understanding of the relative
importance of forage and predation for Bitterroot

The research so far has provided a peek into the
differences for elk living in the east and west
forks of the Bitterroot.

In the east fork, a good portion of that elk herd
follows the melting snow up over the mountains
and into the Big Hole Valley for the summer
months in search of succulent new growth.

It could be part of what makes the east fork herd
more resilient than those elk living a little
further west.

While many people believe that an elk's diet
focuses primarily on grasses, Hebblewhite said
that's not what the research shows so far.

Last year, Hupp and others collected elk scat
from both the east and west fork areas. This past
winter, it was painstakingly analyzed to see what
elk really do eat.

As it turns out, the most important component was
forbs during the vital spring and summer grazing
period. Elk also graze on grasses and shrubs.

Those flowering plants like balsamroot and lupine
provide that flush of protein that's both
important during spring when cow elk are nursing
their calves and that time just afterward when
they are desperately trying to put on weight in
preparation for winter.

"Elk spend up to 12 to 14 hours a day foraging,"
Hebblewhite said. "If they can select areas where
they don't have to hunt and peck, it can have a
huge impact for them later on in the year."

It's the reason that elk migrate. They are
searching for plants with the highest levels of
digestible energy, which are young forbs.

"We've seen where elk have eaten 30 to 40 percent
of the new lupine," Hebblewhite said. "Those
kinds of forbs are really important to their

It's still too early in the study to say with
certainty how the difference in soil conditions
and amount of forested lands in the east and west
forks of the Bitterroot impact the production of
the young forbs so necessary to elk.

Researchers do know that a high percentage of the
elk in the East Fork's French Basin are migratory.

While there have been other studies in the past
that look at elk forage, Hebblewhite said this
study will be able to tie information that they
uncover about forage quality with body condition
of cow elk and their newborn calves gathered by
researchers through the winter, spring and fall.

That portion of the study is supported
financially by the U.S. Forest Service, which is
interested in learning more about how its land
management efforts impact elk habitat.

A second portion of funding comes from an agency
that's never had much of a reason to spend money

NASA helped fund the purchase of a series of
time-lapse cameras that will help integrate
information gathered by this vegetation study
with other similar efforts occurring from Idaho
to Greenland.

Those close-up images will be integrated into
much larger-scale satellite photographs that
could help document changes in growing seasons
across that large swath.

Hebblewhite said researchers studying the Clarks
Fork elk herd near Cody, Wyo., have already
documented that the growing season has declined
by up to 40 percent due to drought and higher

"It used to last 12 weeks and now it's eight
weeks," he said. "The growing season is ending in
mid-July instead of mid-August. That's a huge
phytological change to have the browning-up occur
that much earlier."

For a cow elk, that change in timing can be critical.

During spring and early summer when forbs are
plentiful, Hebblewhite said cow elk use most of
the energy they consume to produce milk for their

"They are not actually gaining weight," he said.
"You can count their ribs. It's the most
nutritionally stressful time of the year for
them. When their calves start to wean in July,
that's when it matters most for them as they
prepare for winter."

That fact could spell trouble for the Bitterroot
herd if the rains suddenly stop.

No comments: