Date of Award
Master of Science (MS) in Biology
"Understanding factors underlying the distribution and abundance of wildlife species remains a central question of wildlife ecology and has become increasingly complex as humans continue to alter landscape conditions. During the past 50 years, elk in eastern Washington have expanded their year-long ranges into lower elevation areas of the Channeled Scablands. The persistence of this population is dependent upon core protected areas with surrounding low human density agriculture or rangeland. Over-reliance on core protected area leads to over-browsing, often resulting in management decisions designed to displace elk out of core areas. Use of human areas exposes elk to increasing land use practices that reduce habitat availability. Irrespective of land ownership, human-induced climate change threatens the distribution and abundance of habitats within both core protected areas and human use areas. I tracked elk on and around Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (TNWR) via radio telemetry from 2012-2013 and combined these elk locations with elk locations collected from 2010-2011 to examine elk response to anthropogenic disturbances such as hunting, land use practices, and climate change. I determined that elk are disrupted during hunting and movement behavior suggests they may be beginning to relocate off-refuge. I found that parturient elk have the highest probability of occurrence in forage habitats. There are no off refuge patches where parturient elk have a high probability of occurrence, and there are four off-refuge patches where parturient elk have a low probability of occurrence. Twenty times smaller than low probability occurrence patches located within TNWR, all off refuge patches are threatened by land use practices. Water availability will limit future land development and off-refuge elk will likely compete with humans for water. Human-induced climate change is predicted to result in warmer, wetter winters and drier summers. A compression of plant communities may restrict aspen to shrinking riparian areas, and ponderosa pine may become the dominant vegetation on this landscape. By 2030, many parturient elk occurrence patches within TNWR may be unavailable due to water loss and by 2060 through 2090 landscapes may no longer be capable of supporting elk. If elk are a management priority in this area conservation practices, such as establishing more protected areas, utilizing fire management to open additional habitats, protection of water resources , and maintenance of travel corridors is warranted"--Leaf iv.
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Farrell, Katherine S., "Elk (Cervus elaphus) response to anthropogenic disturbance: hunting, land use, and climate change" (2015). EWU Masters Thesis Collection. 286.