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Contact: Dave Reynolds, 360-565-2985
Contact: Barb Maynes, 360-565-3005
Olympic National Park biologists will conduct a Roosevelt elk population census beginning Sept. 20. Park staff will count elk from a low-flying helicopter between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. each day of the census, which is expected to last through Sept. 24 depending on weather conditions. The aerial counts will occur within Olympic National Park boundaries in high-elevation areas including the Bailey Range, Mount Olympus and the High Divide.
"The annual elk survey is an important tool for wildlife managers and park staff to learn as much as possible about the park's resources, and will provide valuable information about the status of Roosevelt elk in the park," said Olympic National Park Deputy Superintendent Todd Suess.
One goal of the survey will be to determine how group size and vegetation influence elk "sightability," or the likelihood of detecting elk groups during the survey. To better accomplish this goal, park and U.S. Geological Survey biologists will employ helicopter-based live capture methods to attach GPS-satellite collars to approximately 15 elk. Live capture flights will be conducted Sept. 20-24 between 7 a.m. and sunset in high elevation areas throughout the park, as well as low-elevation areas in the upper Hoh, South Fork Hoh, and Queets valleys.
The park had previously used radio transmitter collars to track the animals' movement throughout the park and to plan population surveys. If an elk was not sighted during an aerial census, the transmitter allowed biologists to identify the animal's location—whether it was inside the survey area and simply missed, or if it had ventured outside of the area.
New-generation GPS technology, acquired with support from Washington's National Park Fund, will provide detailed animal location data without the need for flying. The upgrade will reduce impact to wilderness resources and increase safety, both for wildlife and park staff.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe is also contributing additional GPS collars to the effort. Park and tribal staff are also working together to gather data on elk use of the lower Elwha River and the Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills reservoirs prior to dam removal.
Protection of Roosevelt elk herds was a primary reason for the establishment of the national park in 1938. In fact, Olympic was almost named "Elk National Park," and protection and monitoring of the largest unmanaged herd of coastal Roosevelt elk remains a major priority for Olympic NP staff.
The last elk census was conducted in March 2010, when over 300 elk were counted in selected low-elevation winter ranges. Fall elk censuses were conducted during September of 2007 and 2008. During those flights, biologists identified 47-52 bulls and 33-36 calves per 100 cows. Forty percent of bulls were branch-antlered. Data analysis on population trends is still under development.
Information gathered during the upcoming census will be available by the end of this month.