Abstract - Evaluation of Movements and Habitat Use of Elk in the Southern Black Hills, South Dakota, 1980-1986

Rice, Leslie A. 1988. Evaluation of Movements and Habitat Use of Elk in the Southern Black Hills, South Dakota, 1980-1986. Completion Report, Pittman-Robertson Project W-75-R-28, Study Number 7524. 57 p.


Transplanted elk (Cervus elaphus) from Wind Cave National Park were used to determine movements and habitat use of native elk populations in the Black Hills, South Dakota. Total elk transplanted was 89 head. All were ear tagged and adults neck collared. Additionally, six adult cows were equiped with radioed neck collars. Transplanted elk joined native herds which allowed study objective determination.

All elk herds in this study were nonmigratory. Home range for seven hunted populations ranged from 23 to 77 square kilometers. Home range for one nonhunted populaton was 16 square kilometers. Daily movement for hunted populations was twice that of the nonhunted herd. Greater home range and daily movements was due to hunting, interspecific competition with domestic livestock, and disturbancee created by logging, firewood cutters, and other miscellaneous human activity.

Elk habitat use was divided into four activities: 1) feeding, 20 loafing/resting, 3) escape from distrubance, and 4) calving. Feeding habitats utilized were meadows and small areas where deciduous trees were dominate canopy. Meadows where prescribed fire and natural wildfire had occurred were heavily utilized. When disturbance factors occurred feeding areas shifted to small openings less than 2 hectares in size. Agricultural cropland was utilized as feeding areas primarily in early spring and late summer. With onset of grazing on the Black Hills National Forest in late spring, space competition between elk and cattle caused radical change in elk habitats used. Elk sought areas with little or no cattle occurance.
Loafing/resting habitats used varied from zero to complete ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) canopy closure. Disturbance factors determined areas utilized. Due to lack of weather related stress, thermal cover needs were not considered to be of importance.

Elk utilized vegetative and topographic escape cover to avoid human disturbance. Flight response was generally at least 1.6 kilometers during daylight and 0.4 kilometers at night with line-of-sight barriers between elk and disturbance in both cases. If disturbance was repetitive or long in duration, greater flight distance occurred and topographic barriers no longer sufficed for escape cover needs. Under these conditions only ponderosa pine with virtually 100 percent crown closure provided needed escape cover.

Calving areas were small forest openings less than 0.4 hectares in size. Overstory was less than 5 feet tall but ground cover was present in the form of shrub or downed timbers. Dense escape cover was always adjacent to openings utilized for calving.

Two external factors greatly influenced elk movements and habitat use: 1) human activity and 2) domestic livestock. No matter what form of human activity occurred, elk behavior was adversely affected. Vehicle access to elk populations compounded the problem. Feeding areas, loafing/resting habitats, and escape cover security needs were all influenced by degree of human activity. Presence of domestic livestock (cattle) created "space competition" and alerted elk feeding and loafing/resting habitats utilized. Recommendations to minimize these conflicts were presented.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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