The large-scale influence of livestock grazing in the western United States generates a need to integrate landscape management to incorporate both wildlife and livestock. The purpose of this project was to evaluate the effects of four different grazing cells (spring grazing, summer growing-season grazing, fall grazing, and resting) on wintering elk resource selection within the Wall Creek range in southwest Montana. We collected biweekly observations of elk (Cervus elaphus) numbers and distributions across the winter range from 1988 to 2007. Using a matched-case control logistic regression model to estimate selection coefficients, we evaluated the effects of annual green-up conditions, winter conditions, landscape features, and grazing treatment on elk group resource selection within the grazing system. We found that within the grazing system, elk groups preferentially selected for rested pastures over pastures that were grazed during the previous spring (1 May–1 June), summer (1 June–15 July), and fall (15 September–30 September). The strength of selection against the pasture grazed during the summer growing season was strongest, and pastures grazed during the spring and fall were selected for over the pasture grazed during the summer. The number of elk utilizing the grazing system increased in the 19 yr following implementation of the grazing system; however, total elk herd size also increased during this time. We found no evidence that the proportion of the elk herd utilizing the grazing system changed following implementation of the rest–rotation grazing system. Wintering elk group preference for rested pastures suggests rested pastures play an important role in rotation grazing systems by conserving forage for wintering elk. Additionally, rested pastures provide important cover for a host of other wildlife species. We recommend wildlife managers maintain rested pastures within rotation grazing systems existing on ungulate winter range.
Rangeland Ecology and Management
Vol. 65 • No. 2
Vol. 65 • No. 2
ungulate winter range
Wall Creek Wildlife Management Area