GCRCD is researching ways to increase the habitat and range for the Tule elk that live in Santa Clara County. The potential benefits of elk to the western SF Bay Region are:
1. Elk are charismatic megafauna that have aesthetic and tourism value.
- Oregon’s Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area feeds elk in winter for $200K, but draws $6.5 million in elk viewing tourism. (Donovan and Champ 2009. The Economic Benefits of Elk Viewing. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14:51-60)
2. Elk are California’s natural grazers and, like cattle, maintain low fuel loads after fires (pyric herbivory).
- Fires had lower spread rates and flames were 3x lower in areas maintained by large ungulates in previously burned southern plains. (Starns et al. 2019. Recoupling fire and grazing reduces wildland fuel loads on rangelands. Ecosphere 10(1):1-15)
3. Elk help to maintain open grasslands by decreasing shrub cover, and also significantly reduced the abundance and biomass of a highly invasive exotic grass, Holcus lanatus at Tomales Point at Pt. Reyes. (Johnson and Cushman. Impacts of Reintroduced Elk on Plant Communities. Conservation Biology 21(2): 515–526)
4. Elk are a preferred prey item for puma and wolves, coyotes and bears take their calves, and elk carcasses are important to the diet of scavengers, particularly California condors who rely today on supplemental feeding stations because of diminished megafauna populations. (Emslie. 1978, Age and Diet of Fossil California Condors in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Science 237:768-770)