Date of this Version
We conducted a comprehensive research project on elk in the Pine Ridge region of northwestern Nebraska from 1995 to 2002 to determine ecological factors that could be used to improve management and reduce damage. The population ranged from 120 to 150 animals, with an average calf:cow ratio of 0.5:1 and bull:cow ratio of 0.4:1. We located 21 radio-collared female elk 6,311 times during 1995 to 1997. Seasonal home ranges of 2 herds were 10 and 44 km2, while average annual home ranges of the herds were much larger (483 and 440 km2, respectively). All wintering areas (n = 21) and 80% of the calving areas (n = 22) were located on privately-owned land. Active timber harvest temporarily displaced elk, most notably during the calving season. Elk shifted home ranges in association with the seasonal availability of agricultural crops, in particular, alfalfa, oats, and winter wheat. Population models indicated that static levels of hunting mortality would lead to a stable population of about 130 elk over 10 years. Most landowners in the Pine Ridge (57%) favored free-ranging elk, but 26% were concerned about damage to agricultural crops and competition with livestock. Habitat suitability models and estimates of social carrying capacity indicate that up to 600 elk could be sustained in the Pine Ridge without significant impacts to landowners. We recommended an integrated management program used to enhance elk habitat on publicly-owned land and redistribute elk from privately-owned land.