Previous research suggests facilitative grazing by cattle during the preceding summer-fall can enhance spring foraging habitat of Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni). However, previous studies were limited to 1 year or conducted within relatively small experimental pastures. We evaluated elk foraging site selection during spring across 4 years and 59 040 ha of foothill and mountain rangeland in northwestern Wyoming and west-central Montana. Elk in spring avoided foraging in nonforested portions of cattle-grazed pastures where cattle had not grazed during the previous summer — early fall. In contrast, elk selected foraging sites where cattle had grazed lightly (11 – 30% forage use) or moderately (31 –60% forage use), and selection by elk was stronger for moderately grazed sites. Neither moderate nor light cattle grazing intensity were correlated with any other elk habitat attribute that we sampled, and both moderate and light cattle grazing intensity exerted more influence on elk foraging site selection than any other variables, including distance to security cover, distance to primitive roads, distance to improved roads, aspect, or slope. We developed and validated a resource selection model that correctly classified 80 – 89% of elk foraging observations across five study sites and 4 years. Resource managers can use our model to map predicted changes in elk grazing distribution when considering potential habitat adjustments in security cover, roads, or cattle grazing intensities and distribution. Our results indicate that resource managers can use targeted cattle grazing in summer — early fall to purposely modify elk forage conditions to 1) increase elk foraging efficiency in spring, 2) lure elk away from places needing rest or deferment from spring elk grazing, or 3) lure elk away from places where elk in spring are experiencing conflicts with humans, predators, or other wildlife.
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Vol. 69 • No. 4