What does an elk eat?
With footage captured by a tiny video camera placed on a Pennsylvania elk this week, researchers soon will find out.
The research initiative is a product of a partnership between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization headquartered at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette.
The Game Commission actively manages wildlife habitat throughout Pennsylvania, and within the state’s 3,500-square-mile elk-management area. Habitat quality directly influences elk pregnancy rates, survival, calf recruitment and the distribution of elk.
Projects to improve or create a high-quality habitat also are used to mitigate elk-human conflicts and hunter-related elk mortality. By making lands more inviting to elk, elk aren’t as likely to turn up in less ideal areas.
Traditional studies on the types of habitat elk prefer have provided both biologists and land managers with information needed to create high-quality elk habitat. However, a complete understanding of the elk’s habitat selection requires an examination at the finest scale.
Previously, the Game Commission wasn’t able to collect that information.
But on Tuesday, researchers placed a collar on an adult cow elk that will not only record her locations through GPS technology, but will also compile video shot by a camera housed within the collar.
A short video of the collar being placed on the elk is available to view at the Game Commission’s YouTube page, www.youtube.com/pagamecommission.
The camera is programmed to collect video and audio during specific times of the day.
The collar will fall off the elk in about 75 days, at which time the Game Commission will send the collar back to the manufacturer so the recordings can be retrieved. By providing never-before-collected information at the micro-scale, the recordings and readings from the collar will assist biologists and land managers, and will help in the planning and development of habitat-management programs.
The Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA) purchased the collar and will use the information collected for educational programming, as well as habitat management.
“High-quality habitat is vitally important to elk, to the Game Commission and to KECA,” said KECA President and CEO Rawley Cogan. “We are pleased to fund this pilot habitat study and we look forward to cooperating with the biologists to refine the habitat-management plan for Pennsylvania’s elk range.”
Duck numbers up
The US Fish and Wildlife Service today released its report on 2014 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June. Total populations were estimated at 49.2 million breeding ducks in the surveyed area. This estimate represents an 8-percent increase from last year’s estimate of 45.6 million birds, and is 43 percent higher than the 1955-2013 long-term average. This continues a three-year trend of exceptional water conditions and population numbers for many species.
“It looks like another good waterfowl breeding year for a good portion of the prairies and the boreal forest,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “Precipitation in the form of snow and rain has provided sufficient water to fill important wetlands in key breeding habitats. We hope this will result in good production and another great flight of birds migrating in the fall. DU and its partners continue to work hard to protect and restore habitat to provide for the needs of these birds and so much more. While we still have much work to do in delivering habitat and securing key conservation policies for sustaining these populations, we are heartened by the good results we have seen in the past few years.”
The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and the boreal forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2014 breeding population survey were improved or similar to last year. Total pond counts for the U.S. and Canada combined showed 7.2 million ponds, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 40 percent above the long-term average.
“Reports from DU biologists indicate a strong breeding effort across the prairies,” said DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt. “This is despite late winter conditions that delayed nesting activity in some areas by one to two weeks. We need more moisture in the Western Boreal Forest and in parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and higher-than-usual water levels have posed some challenges for nesters in the Eastern Region. But overall this is a good breeding season, and depending on local conditions hunters across North America should look forward to another strong fall flight.”
“This spring, as has been the case for the past several years, saw abundant moisture across much of North America’s most important duck breeding areas,” said DU Chief Biologist Scott Yaich. “That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and, we hope, for hunting this fall. But we remain concerned with the continuing and escalating loss of nesting habitat in these areas. Because ducks need water, wetlands to hold the water and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of grasslands and wetlands across the Prairie Pothole Region will increasingly impact the number of ducks in the fall flight in the long-term.”
The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting season dates and bag limits. The four flyway councils and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations Committee will meet in late July to recommend the season structure and bag limits for 2014-15. Individual states will make their specific selections within a federal framework of season length, bag limit and dates. Hunters should check the rules in their states for final dates.
Species estimates are:
Mallards: 10.9 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 42% above the long-term average.
Gadwall: 3.8 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 102% above the long-term average.
American wigeon: 3.1 million, which is 18% above the 2013 estimate and 20% above the long-term average.
Green-winged teal: 3.4 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 69% above the long-term average.
Blue-winged teal: 8.5 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 75% above the long-term average.
Northern shovelers: 5.3 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 114% above the long-term average.
Northern pintails: 3.2 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimates and 20% below the long-term average.
Redheads: 1.3 million, which is similar to their 2013 estimates and 85% above the long-term average.
Canvasbacks: 0.7 million, which is similar to their 2013 estimates and 18% above the long-term average.
Scaup: 4.6 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and similar to the long-term average.
Black ducks (Eastern Survey Area): 619,000, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and similar to the long-term average.
View all the data and get a species-by-species breakdown at www.ducks.org/DuckNumbers .