OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Biologists are counting Roosevelt elk in high places from low-flying helicopters beginning today if weather permits.
Staff from Olympic National Park and the U.S. Geological Survey will conduct the aerial survey today through Thursday. Two shifts are planned each day from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Biologists will look only for trends, said Patti Happe, lead wildlife biologist for the park.
“We’re not doing a total count of the park,” she said. “There’s so much habitat, it’s cost-prohibitive.”
Instead, only key areas in subalpine and alpine meadows will be counted, with an aerial census of the elk in high-elevations areas of the Elwha, Hoh, South Fork Hoh, Queets and Quinault valleys within park boundaries.
“Part of the herd is migratory; part isn’t,” Happe said.
“We mainly are keeping count of migratory elk,” those that move with the seasons between higher elevations and lower within the park.
The surveys will provide estimates of abundance, sex and age composition, and distribution of migratory elk in their summer feeding grounds.
Every four years, a full analysis of the Olympic herd is done. The next will be after the 2015 count.
Elk censuses have been conducted in the park annually since 2011.
Numbers have been stable the past few years, Happe said.
In 2013, 243 elk were counted in the core area around Mount Olympus, while 90 were found in the southeast part of the park in the Dosewallips and Duckabush river drainages.
In the core area, 52 bulls per 100 cows were found. In the southeast, the ratio was higher: 60 bulls per 100 cows.
“That’s a high bull-cow ratio compared to other places,” Happe said.
What a high ratio means is that the Olympic herd has enough bulls to ensure competition for cows — and that means their rut will be well-announced by the haunting sound of bugling in the park in the fall.
Roosevelt elk are one of the reasons President Franklin Roosevelt established the national park in 1938.
In the 922,651 acres of the park is the largest unmanaged herd in its native range in the world, Happe said.
Roosevelt elks are a coastal species of elk, differentiated from the Rocky Mountain elk by their darker coloring, heavier build and antlers that aren’t as wide and spreading as their cousins.
Remnant populations live on the coasts of Oregon and California, but not in the numbers seen in the park.
“The elk survey is part of our ongoing effort to monitor and understand the condition of our park resources and ecosystems,” said Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.
Information gathered during the census will be available next spring.
Monitoring is conducted in partnership with Mount Rainier National Park and USGS and in cooperation with the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, Point-No-Point Treaty tribes, Quinault Nation and state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
This project, along with several others, is made possible through a $21,000 grant from Washington’s National Park Fund.
Information about Washington’s National Park Fund and how to contribute is available at www.wnpf.org.
The elk monitoring program is a component of the North Coast and Cascades Network Inventory and Monitoring Program.
Information about the program, elk monitoring and annual reports is available at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-elkmonitoring.
Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.