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1 May 2011 Elk Survival and Mortality Causes in the Blue Mountains of Washington
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Abstract

We studied survival of elk (Cervus elaphus) ≥ 1 yr old and quantified mortality sources in the Blue Mountains of Washington, 2003–2006, following a period of extensive poaching. The population was managed under a spike-only general hunting season, with limited permits for larger males and for females. We radiomarked 190 elk (82 males and 39 females >1 yr old and 65 males 11 months old), most with rumen transmitters and neck radiocollars; 60 elk only received rumen transmitters. We estimated annual survival using known fate models and explored survival differences among sex and age classes and in 2 potentially different vulnerability zones for males. We found little support for differences in survival between younger (2–3-yr old) and older (≥4-yr old) branch-antlered males or zone differences for yearling males. A model with zone differences for branch-antlered males was the second ranked model and accounted for 14% of the available model weight. From the best-supported models, we estimated annual survival for yearling males at 0.41 (95% CI: 0.29–0.53). We estimated pooled adult female survival at 0.80 (95% CI: 0.64–0.93); when an age-class effect was included, point estimates were higher for prime-aged females (2–11 yr: S = 0.81 [0.70–0.88]) than for older females (≥12 yr: S = 0.72 [0.56–0.83]), but confidence intervals broadly overlapped. Only 1 of 7 models with a female age effect on survival was among the competitive models. For branch-antlered males, survival ranged 0.80–0.85, depending on whether zone variation was modeled. We recorded 78 deaths of radiomarked elk. Human-caused deaths (n = 55) predominated among causes and most were of yearling males killed during state-sanctioned hunts (n = 28). Most subadult male deaths were from tribal hunting (n = 5), and most mature males died from natural causes (n = 6) and tribal hunting (n = 5). We detected few illegal kills (n = 4). Our results suggest that increased enforcement effectively reduced poaching, that unreported tribal harvest was not a trivial source of mortality, and that spike-only general seasons were effective in recruiting branch-antlered males.

©2011 The Wildlife Society.
Scott M. McCorquodale, Paul A. Wik, and Pat E. Fowler "Elk Survival and Mortality Causes in the Blue Mountains of Washington," Journal of Wildlife Management 75(4), 897-904, (1 May 2011). https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.121
Received: 10 February 2010; Accepted: 1 November 2010; Published: 1 May 2011
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