The Gunnison Basin is an elk hotspot. Approximately 15,000 elk roam the area located in southwestern Colorado, making it the perfect place for tracking elk movement and habitat use. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and SCI Foundation are collaborating on a new project that will use GPS data to create habitat utilization maps. These maps will chart elk movement and habitat usage throughout the entire Gunnison Basin, all five Game Management Units (GMUs) and the area outside of the Gunnison Basin in an effort to plan management strategies, evaluate elk habitat and identify migration corridors.
In particular, researchers hope to determine “elk occupancy patterns” to create more accurate harvest management strategies. This way, GMU harvest quotas complement one another rather than having an elk herd harvest in one GMU negatively impact herds in a neighboring GMU. It will also help researchers identify summer and winter ranges within GMUs so that elk herds can be managed effectively for habitat sustainability.
The maps will be created using data collected during 2015-2016 GPS surveys as well as additional data collected from an additional 25 to 50 cow elk that still need to be captured via helicopter and collared for tracking purposes. According to the SCI Foundation, the goal of the project is three-fold: 1) to develop maps of elk habitat utilization patterns, 2) measure elk occupancy patterns, and 3) predict resource selections within all of GMUs. To do this, researchers will identify elk habitat patterns on “private land, roads, recreation areas, and forests affected by the spruce beetle epidemic,” SCI Foundation reports.
Because the Gunnison Basin is home to such a large population of elk, the project will also identify whether different management strategies (that are also cost-effective) need to be adopted to support key habitat. However, these cannot be determined until there is a better understanding of how elk use this region.
Stay tuned to GOHUNT for further updates.