Technical Report

Elk Ecology and Management Perspectives at Mount Rainier National Park
William P, Bradley, Chas. H. Driver


Elk management in the western states has often been subject to heated and emotional controversies, both among different public agencies responsible for elk management and between these agencies and the public at large. The National Park Service (NPS) is extremely susceptible to adverse criticism and negative public opinion resulting from elk management decisions, because they do not have at their disposal the accepted managerial tool of sport hunting to control and regulate problem populations. The NPS's direct reduction-by-shooting program in Yellowstone Park has become a classic example of a managerial solution resulting in inflammatory inter-agency conflict and public relations problems. (See Pengelly 1963 and Woolf 1971 for excellent discussions of the Yellowstone situation.)

The intent of this paper is to summarize the elk management problems at Mount Rainier National Park in the State of Washington and the actions taken to mitigate them. The seat of this controversy revolves around a large summering elk population's impact on the sub-alpine meadow system contained within the park. This pristine meadow complex, renowned for its outstanding floral displays, is second only to the mountain itself as a major park attraction. Mount Rainier National Park, located in the south-central Cascades (Figure 1), has within a 100-mile radius of its boundaries such large metropolitan centers as Portland, Tacoma and Seattle. The close proximity of the park to this large urban-oriented user group ensures careful scrutiny by the general public of all NPS management policies pertinent to Mount Rainier National Park.

Figure 1. Location of Mount Rainier National Park in State of Washington.

While the NPS is tolerant to natural impacts on vegetation sustained by native herbivores, the present Mount Rainier elk herd stems from an introduced population which utilizes park habitats only on a seasonal basis. This fact necessitated the NPS to approach the management of the Mount Rainier elk herd from a cooperative inter-agency point of view. This paper provides a factual review of the Mount Rainier elk situation and an interesting perspective on the involved agencies' response to this management problem.

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Last Updated: Monday, 01-Dec-2003 20:10:54
Author: Natural & Cultural Resources Division

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