To address and reduce the increasing elk population within the park, roundups and translocation of live elk were conducted in 1993 and 2000. For these roundups, helicopters were used to direct animals to a handling facility, and corralled elk were then transferred off site to other federal entities, American Indian tribes and states for elk reintroduction programs in North Dakota, South Dakota and Kentucky.
Because the park was concerned about how an overabundance of elk might affect plant communities and other wildlife species, the staff initiated research in 1985 to provide insight into the ecology and population dynamics of elk in the South Unit.
In 1993, a model was developed for the allocation of forage resources to the four most numerous and wide-ranging ungulate species in TRNP: mule deer, bison, elk and feral horses. Park managers used this model to assist in managing ungulates to maintain a healthy native plant community, part of the overall health and well-being of the park.
Starting in 2000, the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began studying the elk population at the park to learn more about the population, including its movements and diet.
Elk Movement and Distribution
The park initiated a comprehensive diet study in 2003 of ungulates, which included bison, feral horses, elk, pronghorn, and mule and white-tailed deer. This study continues to examine the diets of a subset of the elk population (targeted collections outside the park using radio-collared elk) that seasonally migrate outside the South Unit of the park from April through November, and it describes and quantifies dietary overlap of managed ungulates, which are primarily elk, bison and feral horses. The data collected in this study may be used to update the forage-allocation model.