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Influences on Release-Site Fidelity of Translocated Elk

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Abstract

Several eastern states are considering the restoration of free-ranging elk populations via translocation from western populations. Optimal habitat immediately surrounding release sites has been found to enhance elk reintroduction success in western states. Little information exists, however, to aid eastern managers in identifying release sites with the highest chance of restoration success. We monitored the movements of 415 translocated elk released at three sites in southeastern Kentucky to identify landscape characteristics that enhance release-site fidelity. The distance elk moved after release differed among sites (F2,322 = 4.63, p = 0.01), age classes (F2,322 = 4.37, p = 0.01), and time intervals (F2,322 = 40.74, p < 0.001). At 6 and 12 months post-release, adults (15.81 ± 17.32 and 16.38 ± 20.29) and yearlings (13.91 ± 16.44 and 14.61 ± 21.11) moved farther than calves (8.06 ± 14.03 and 9.37 ± 14.40). The release site with the highest fidelity was privately owned, 15% open, and had the highest amount of edge compared with the other release sites. The two remaining sites contained large amounts of expansive openland or forest cover with lower amounts of edge. Additionally, both sites were publicly owned and experienced a higher degree of human-generated disturbance compared with the site to which elk were most faithful. When selecting release sites, managers should avoid areas dominated by a single cover type with little interspersion of other habitats. Rather, areas with high levels of open-forest edge (approximately 5.0 km/km2) and limited-human disturbance will likely enhance release-site fidelity and promote restoration success.

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