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Assessment of habitat for the potential reintroduction of tule elk to the San Joaquin Valley, California

  • Author(s): Huber, PR
  • Greco, SE
  • Hobbs, J
  • et al.

Reintroductions of wildlife populations to their former range in California are often undertaken without systematic, spatially-explicit habitat analyses as part of feasibility studies. This has been true for the tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes), a California endemic subspecies brought to the brink of extinction a century ago. We evaluated the Grasslands Ecological Area of Merced County as potential habitat for a future free-ranging herd. The study area was modeled using three variables: cover/forage, habitat diversity, and human impacts. Within 11,650 ha of likely usable habitat, we found two large areas of very high quality habitat (totaling 4,638 ha). These areas contained forage and cover in close proximity, low levels of human disturbance, and a variety of habitats for use by elk. Carrying capacity of these areas was estimated at 180-320 individuals. We suggest that this type of systematic evaluation should be a component of future reintroduction efforts for tule elk and other native species of California wildlife.

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