Previous research from 2001 to 2006 on an experimentally released elk (Cervus elaphus) population at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP or Park) indicated that calf recruitment (i.e., calves reaching 1 yr of age per adult female elk) was low (0.306, total SE = 0.090) resulting in low or negative population growth (γ = 0.996, 95% CI = 0.945–1.047). Black bear (Ursus americanus) predation was the primary calf mortality factor. From 2006 to 2008, we trapped and relocated 49 bears (30 of which were radiocollared) from the primary calving areas in the Park and radiomonitored 67 (28 M:39 F) adult elk and 42 calves to compare vital rates and population growth with the earlier study. A model with annual calf recruitment rate correlating with the number of bears relocated each year was supported (ΔAICC = 0.000; β = 0.070, 95% CI = 0.028–0.112) and a model with annual calf recruitment differing from before to during bear relocation revealed an increase to 0.544 (total SE = 0.098; β = -1.092, 95% CI = -1.180 to -0.375). Using vital rates and estimates of process standard errors observed during our study, 25-yr simulations maintained a mean positive growth rate in 100% of the stochastic trials with γ averaging 1.118 (95% CI = 1.096–1.140), an increase compared with rates before bear relocation. A life table response experiment revealed that increases in population growth were mostly (67.1%) due to changes in calf recruitment. We speculate that behavioral adaptation of the elk since release also contributed to the observed increases in recruitment and population growth. Our results suggest that managers interested in elk reintroduction within bear range should consider bear relocation as a temporary means of increasing calf recruitment.
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Vol. 75 • No. 5