Friday, July 19, 2024

Researchers track Roosevelt Elk on Vancouver Island to help them survive and thrive

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Roosevelt Elk are an enchantingly beautiful species that have existed and thrived on Vancouver Island since time immemorial thanks to its dynamic and secluded wooded landscape.

They are also frequently trophy hunted on Vancouver Island and beyond for their size and the bulls’ massive antlers. 

A team of researchers have been studying these creatures in order to glean what they look for and need in a habitat, especially during the winter months and how people on the island can become better stewards to aid their species. 

The Roosevelt Elk is the largest of its subspecies in North America, with males weighing in at between 700 and 1,100 pounds and often standing over six feet tall. 

They were named after Theodore Roosevelt in 1987, before he was president, by an acquaintance who worked with the species as a mammalogist. 

They live throughout the Pacific Northwest territory and have sometimes struggled with their numbers, but the Vancouver Island brood have always persisted and thrived in their habitats. 

Much of their habitat consists of old growth forests which Vancouver Island still retains some of, but with the forestry industry being so active on the island, their habitats could be at risk if protections are not put in place and people are not advocating for the animals. 

Because of this, Carl Morrison, Ecosystems Biologist and project lead with the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship told Victoria Buzz he and his team with the help of UBC students looked to study them.

Their goal was to figure out how they have been so successful, but also how to avoid industries such as forestry becoming a detriment to the majestic creatures. 

“Vancouver Island has maintained Roosevelt Elk through time,” Morrison said. “Which is why they are such an important resource for First Nations.”

“There’s also a long history of the species interacting with the forestry activities on the island as well, which has kind of been the catalyst for our study so we can better understand their habitat use.”

(Roosevelt Elk Range Management Plan – BC government)

“The study area is focused north of Campbell River and goes from there west to the Gold River and Tahsis area and then north toward Sayward and even a bit beyond to capture this area where elk  are traditionally stable,” he said. 

In the west coast region, which includes Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, there were approximately 5,500 of the animals in 2014. In 1989, that number was only 2,500. 

The study took place over five years, 2023 being its last, to take a good hard look at what the elk needed for their habitats.

“This is in essence a habitat selection study, so what we’re trying to do is understand the quality, quantity and distribution of habitats that the elk use throughout the year,” Morrison explained. 

“We did this so we can make effective habitat management decisions to support that.” 

The first few years, Morrison’s team mostly spent time in the field, tracking and tagging the Roosevelt Elk.

“We were using these GPS collars that can take an elk’s location multiple times throughout the day over multiple years to build that picture of habitat use across all seasons,” Morrison told Victoria Buzz.

After that came time to let the animals do their thing and let the data come in, analyzing it as it was received.

“The last two years and the year that we’re currently in are more focussed on turning that data into habitat models and supporting our research,” he continued.


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This data will make a pretty immediate difference for these elk because the government’s strategy at managing their populations is about to expire in 2025 so, everything that comes out of this study will inform the years to come as to how we can help their population continue to thrive. 

Next steps for Morrison and his compatriots will be to continue this ongoing research to further people’s understanding of the Roosevelt Elk on Vancouver Island.

“These questions aren’t going to go away and the landscape is always changing, so to kind of keep a pulse on this and the stewardship of this value, I suspect we’ll probably shift to more long-term monitoring,” Morrison explained as he looked ahead to the coming years. 

He suspects he and his team will shift gears to monitoring fewer of the Roosevelt Elk at a time, but for longer durations in the coming years to continue their hard work in protecting the animals habitats.

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Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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