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Elk survival and mortality causes in the Blue Mountains of Washington


  • Associate Editor: Steeve Côté.


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.