Elk-effects vegetation monitoring program for Tomales Point Elk Range, Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Open-File Report 2000-487

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The monitoring program for elk effects on Tomales Point vegetation is designed to provide information on how tule elk grazing affects plant communities and rare species. The basic objective of the program is to show whether the elk are driving the vegetation into an unacceptable state by their grazing. The expectation is that as elk numbers increase, grazing pressure will increase too, resulting in unacceptable levels of any or all of the following: low vegetation ground cover, poor nutritional quality for the elk, undesirable increases in weedy species, unacceptable loss of native plant biodiversity, population declines in rare plants, population declines in plants used for food and nectar by the endangered silverspot butterfly, and increased erosion.

The monitoring program has 3 basic components designed to provide complementary information on different aspects of the elk-vegetation system. Long-term plant community monitoring along permanent transects will show how plant species composition and cover are changing since cattle removal in 1979, and it will show whether any of he undesirable traits listed above are developing in the vegetation. However, monitoring these transects alone will not tell us what the effects of continued grazing by elk are apart from changes the vegetation would be undergoing anyway. In order to tease apart the elk effects from change that is happening because of cattle removal, elk exclosures are needed. By sampling inside and outside exclosures, we will be able to see how elk are modifying the rates and directions of change in the vegetation that would be happening in their absence. In a sense, the exclosures serve as a “check” on elk effects. They will allow us to interpret how much of the change is due to elk and how much can be attributed to other processes such as natural succession or weather patterns. This information will allow us to analyze whether changing elk management will have a desirable effect on the vegetation. Finally, periodic mapping and counting of plants in rare plant populations will show whether plant population ranges are expanding and populations are stable or growing. If not, then management actions can be taken to improve habitat conditions for the plants.

A general summary of the rationale and sample design for each of the 3 components of the elk-effects monitoring program follows. Field sampling for the entire program should require about 15 weeks for a 2 to 3- person team, and data processing, analysis, and report writing should require about 9 weeks. Time and labor estimates for this program are given in Table A-1. In addition to elk-effects monitoring, Point Reyes staff periodically monitor fire transects and residual dry matter plots on Tomales Point. They are not included as part of the elk-effects monitoring program and they are described elsewhere. Protocols for fire and residual dry matter sampling are not included in the time estimate for the elk- effects monitoring program.

Suggested Citation

McEachern, K, M. Semenoff-Irving, P. van der Leeden. 2001. Elk-Effects Vegetation Monitoring Program for Tomales Point Elk Range, Point Reyes National Seashore, California. USGS Open-File Report, USGS/BRD/WERC, Sacramento, California. 53pps.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Contents
  • Program Summary
  • Monitoring Methods
  • Shrub Density Sample Methods
  • Literature Cited
  • Appendixes A–E

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Elk-effects vegetation monitoring program for Tomales Point Elk Range, Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Western Ecological Research Center
v, 53 p.