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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #338474

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Optimal wildlife management in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem: A spatiotemporal model of disease risk

item AADLAND, DAVID - University Of Wyoming
item MALONEY, MATT - University Of Wyoming
item Peck, Dannele
item SCHUMAKER, BRANT - University Of Wyoming
item MERKLE, JEROD - University Of Wyoming
item MONTEITH, KEVIN - University Of Wyoming
item FINNOFF, DAVID - University Of Wyoming
item HORAN, RICHARD - Michigan State University

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/24/2017
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: South of Yellowstone National Park there are twenty-three sites where elk herds are provided supplementary feeding during the winter and spring months. Supplementary feeding of elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) has been practiced since the early twentieth century, but the practice has been shown to increase the prevalence of costly diseases by concentrating elk populations at feed sites [1]. In recent years this concern has increased as a new disease, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), has spread across Wyoming and will soon be introduced into the GYE. Western Wyoming’s economy is highly dependent on industries that are directly and indirectly impacted by elk populations, including hunting, tourism, and ranching, and a CWD outbreak could be extremely costly. Our research asks what feeding and harvesting policies are optimal in this region in light of this new disease threat. Wildlife researchers are unsure about the extent to which supplementary feeding will exacerbate the spread of CWD. The primary mechanism by which feeding increases disease transmission is through increasing population densities to artificially high levels. One of our research objectives is to determine whether feeding should be stopped prior to CWD entering the GYE, or if the decision should be postponed until more is known about how feeding affects CWD transmission. The question of whether to cease supplementary feeding of elk is further complicated by the fact that elk are primary carriers of brucellosis, which can spread to livestock if elk migrate to private land in search of feed. The two policy levers considered in our research are harvesting (i.e., hunting) and feeding. Another objective of our research is to develop a methodology to use spatially explicit information on elk migratory behavior to improve harvesting and feeding rules. By explicitly modeling elk movement, it is not necessary to make assumptions about the relationship between feedgrounds and average elk population densities as is the case with aspatial wildlife disease models. By emphasizing ecological accuracy, we can obtain improved welfare estimates to inform local policymakers. Our methodology is as follows: First, we have developed an aspatial dynamic model of optimal elk harvest under different disease and feeding scenarios, where harvesting acts as an indirect control on disease by reducing population densities. Prior literature on the economics of wildlife disease has employed similar models [2,3]. Our research builds on the previous literature by considering a new disease and by incorporating uncertainty about how the disease will behave when introduced to GYE. Using GPS data on elk movement and land characteristics, we, along with a team of interdisciplinary researchers, have developed a spatial model to realistically predict how elk migrate in the GYE with and without feedgrounds. The second stage of our research is to adapt the management results from the aspatial model to this spatial model of elk behavior. Specifically, relationships between feeding, elk densities, and elk-cattle contacts are determined by fixed parameter values in aspatial models. Our approach is to improve harvesting and feeding rules by substituting the information given by simulated elk movement patterns for these parameter values. Our aspatial and spatial models will provide welfare measures and clear policy recommendations under various disease scenarios.