Elk are an iconic species in the Pacific Northwest. The animals are valued as a cultural resource by American Indian tribes, and elk viewing and hunting bring economic and social benefits to many rural communities. Elk forage on grasses, shrubs, and other early-seral vegetation. As timber harvests have declined on federal land in the region over the past 30 years, so has the availability of quality elk forage. At the same time, recreation and other public uses of federal land have increased. As a result, elk are turning to private lands for forage and refuge from human disturbance. This leads to conflicts and reduced hunting opportunities.
Consequently, state and federal agencies, tribes, and hunting organizations are working to increase elk habitat on public and tribal lands where elk are a priority. In 2007, Mary Rowland and Michael Wisdom, research wildlife biologists with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, were charged with developing new elk habitat and nutrition models for western Oregon and Washington. They enlisted the expertise of numerous scientists, and American Indian tribes provided telemetry data.
These summer range regional models of elk nutrition and habitat use incorporate the latest research on elk nutrition, elk response to disturbance, and other spatial landscape data to predict elk use of landscapes. National forests and tribes are using these models to identify areas where active management can improve elk habitat and the quality of their diets.