Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tule elk at Tomales Point

Studying the effects of reintroduced herbivores on the coastal prairie grasslands
SSU's ENSP Restoration Ecology class and BIOL Ecology class got together last Friday for a field trip out to Tomales Point, the northernmost tip of Point Reyes National Seashore, to learn about the Tule Elk reintroduction program, issues related to population biology, and associated community effects of the reintroduction. Wildlife ecologist Dave Press spoke of the extirpation and near-extinction of this subspecies of American Elk, and the successful reintroduction of these native herbivores to Point Reyes National Seashore. 
Professors Dr. Caroline Christian and Dr. Hall Cushman, with Dave Press, NPS wildlife ecologist, speak at Pierce Point Ranch.
The day began at Pierce Point Ranch, where students learned about the history of land use and mammalian occupants over time, as well as techniques for surveying the populations of elk and some of their life history characteristics.
Pierce Point Ranch was a dairy and also had steer prior to the reintroduction of the native Tule elk.

An elk antler found recently.
After the introduction, the group hiked cross-country to visit the research sites, 36x36 meter plots with 8 foot-high elk-proof fencing and matching control plots. This is a paired block experiment that was established in 1998 by the National Park Service. Four pairs of plots are in lupine-dominated grasslands, four are in coyote bush-dominated grasslands, and four are in open grasslands. Dr. Hall Cushman and his research team have been doing community sampling to determine the long-term effects of the reintroduced elk.

The elk exclosure serves to keep the humans out as well. But not the deer--as we were surprised to see one inside an exclosure as we approached.

Gorgeous views make this a coveted research spot.
Tomales Point makes an excellent reintroduction site due to its topography--it is a long pennisula surrounded on three sides by the ocean, with a narrow stretch of land that was fenced to form the southern boundary. A cattle guard on the road is sufficient to keep the elk from crossing over to the cow fields. This boundary is visually stunning in the difference in vegetation.

The "elk guard" keeps the elk in. (But not the humans.)

No comments:

Post a Comment