Crater Lake National Park: Ecology Of Elk Inhabiting Crater Lake National Park And Vicinity
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Study Area


Results and Discussion

Management Implications

Literature Cited

Appendix A

Ecology Of Elk Inhabiting Crater Lake National Park And Vicinity
by Kurt Jenkins, Kevin Cooper, Edward Starkey

National Park Service
Cooperative Park Studies Unit
College of Forestry
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331

Crater Lake


Historically, Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti) inhabited western Oregon from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascade Crest, including the area presently contained within Crater Lake National Park (CRLA). Early settlers in the western foothills and valleys of the Cascades were confronted with a seemingly endless supply of elk which they hunted excessively for hides, meat and teeth. By the late 1880's the effects of unrestricted harvest were evident; elk populations were depleted in many areas throughout western Oregon and were reported to have disappeared altogether from the Crater Lake area (Harper 1985). In an effort to restore elk to the Oregon Cascades, they were completely protected from hunting at the turn of the century, and populations were later supplemented with Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park. In 1917, 15 such elk were transferred to CRLA, and together with residual populations of native Roosevelt elk, they formed the nucleus for elk herds that presently summer within the park.

Records of the reestablishment of elk to CRLA are incomplete. Elk herds were reported in the high Cascades within and adjacent to CRLA in 1929, specifically on Mount Scott, Mount McLoughlin, and in Red Blanket Canyon (Anon., 1929). By the late 1960's, CRLA was believed to be visited each summer by a stable population of 50-75 elk. The first systematic surveys of elk during the 1970's suggested that a minimum of 140-160 elk summered within the park (Manning 1974, Hill 1976). Landowners in the Fort Klamath area south of CRLA reported seeing 40-60 elk feeding in their pastures each spring in the 1950's and 1960's. However, 150 elk are now commonly counted during spring (John Toman, Pers. Comm.). Such information, though not well documented, suggests that the Crater Lake elk herd may have increased in the last decade.

Potential elk management problems in CRLA are common to relatively small parks that contain only a small fraction of the available annual range. Elk of CRLA cross several ownership boundaries in their annual movements. Consequently, they are exposed to diverse management practices which may influence population levels and distribution patterns. Forests on the west slope of the Cascades are managed intensively for wood-fiber production. Such management practices could have both beneficial and adverse effects on elk numbers, depending on cutting prescriptions, timing and spacing of cutting units, and factors relating to human disturbance (Witmer et al. 1985). Additionally, elk are subject to intensive sport hunting outside CRLA, which also could have variable influences on park elk depending on elk movement patterns in response to hunting seasons.

The first step to enable park managers and scientists to interpret the effect of land management and hunting on elk is to determine population characteristics, seasonal movements, and habitat use patterns of park elk herds. Initially, the greatest need is for descriptive information as a basis for identifying important management areas for park elk, and for formulating and testing specific hypotheses for future research. The objectives of this research in CRLA were:

  1. to determine indices of herd sizes and composition,
  2. to describe elk seasonal movements, migratory routes, and seasonal ranges,
  3. to determine habitat use patterns of elk within and adjacent to the park.


This research was conducted cooperatively by the National Park Service (NPS), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the Klamath Indian Tribe, and the United States Forest Service (USFS), each of which shared a common interest in Crater Lake elk and their habitats. The National Park Service provided funding and personnel for this study through the Cooperative Park Studies Unit at Oregon State University. ODFW provided personnel, planning and materials for the construction of elk traps and the ensuing elk trapping efforts. Oregon State Police (OSP) provided pilots and aircraft for aerial radio-telemetry studies, the Klamath Indian Tribe provided radio-telemetry equipment, and the USFS and NPS provided housing. Individuals from each agency provided logistical support, as well as the benefits of their individual experiences in elk research and management. We would particularly like to thank Jon Jarvis, Bob Benton, George Phillips, and Roger Andrasik of CRLA, John Toman, Ralph Opp, Rick Werner, and Steve Hutchinson of ODFW, Larry Throop and Jack Inman of USFS, Craig Bienz of the Klamath Tribe, John Rizzo of OSP, and Carl Scheeler and Patricia Happe of the Oregon State University Cooperative Park Studies Unit for all their generous assistance.

Last Updated: 11-Aug-2016