Elk management strategies for sustainable beef cattle enterprises
Fuller, Wendy Lea
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Two computer models and five ranches in western Montana were used to determine the effects wild elk herds utilizing private ranges have on a ranch’s available AUM, potential cow herd size, gross margin, and cost of production ($/kg sold). An elk energy metabolism model was developed to mimic forage intake dependent on the animals age, sex, and physiological state, as well as quality of forage, and relate intake to a standard animal unit (AU= 360 kg DM/mo). A beef cow-calf model simulated the performance of the five ranches as they were currently managed with elk present and were simulated again with elk “removed” to quantify the impact of elk on private ranges. A11 ranches significantly (p<01) increased cattle herd size, gross margin (p<01), and available AUM (p<01) when all elk were removed from range; however, none were able to significantly change cost of production. Three alternative elk management strategies: block management, exchange of forage use, and outfitting, were evaluated for their potential to reduce numbers of elk utilizing ranches and recover costs associated with elk. Block management scenarios were simulated with the assumption that more efficient hunting through the program would reduce elk herds by 10,20, and 30%, with ranchers having the potential to earn up to $8,000. Exchange of forage use such as at Wall Creek wildlife management area was evaluated as a method of reducing impact of elk on private lands. Using the fair market value of an AUM ($15 + 3.00), some ranchers would be monetarily ahead accepting cash for AUM provided to elk while others would benefit more by exchanging AUM use. Dollar values for AUM on the ranches ranged from $8.42 to $14.63. Surveys were sent to 100 licensed outfitters in Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks outfitter regions 1,2, & 3, with descriptions of elk herds residing on ranches during hunting season. Outfitters were asked to provide a dollar value for a lease if the ranch were to be outfitted for elk. Mean values for leases ranged from $2,919 to $10,375. Elk do economically impact ranches in Southwestern Montana; however, through alternative management strategies, that impact can be reduced.