Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in north-central Colorado supports numerous species of wildlife, including several large ungulate species among which Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus) are the most abundant. Elk are native to RMNP but were extirpated from the area by the late 1800s. They were reintroduced to the area in 1913-1914, and the elk herd grew to the point that it was actively managed from 1944 until 1968. In 1969, the active control of elk was discontinued and since then the herd has increased to a high point ranging from 2,800 to 3,500 between 1997 and 2001. In recent years, there has been growing concern over the condition of vegetation in the park and conflicts between elk and humans, both inside and outside the park. In response to these concerns, RMNP implemented an Elk and Vegetation Management Plan (EVMP) in 2009 to guide management actions in the park over a 20-year time period with the goal of reducing the impacts of elk on vegetation and restoring the natural range of variability in the elk population and affected plant and animal communities. The EVMP outlines the desired future condition for three vegetation communities where the majority of elk herbivory impacts are being observed: aspen, montane riparian willow, and upland herbaceous communities. The EVMP incorporates the principle of adaptive management whereby the effectiveness of management actions is assessed and adjusted as needed to successfully achieve objectives. Determination of whether vegetation objectives are being achieved requires monitoring and evaluation of target vegetation communities. The current report describes the design and implementation of a vegetation-monitoring program to help RMNP managers assess the effectiveness of their management actions and determine when and where to alter actions to achieve the EVMP's vegetation objectives. This monitoring plan details the process of selecting variables to be monitored, overall sampling design and structure, site selection, data collection methods, and statistical analyses to be used to conduct this monitoring program in conjunction with the EVMP. We report the baseline conditions observed at the time of the establishment of monitoring sites. We include detailed field protocols for site establishment and data collection, as well as timetables for sampling, so that RMNP staff will be able to continue monitoring the sites established during this implementation stage, and continue to add new sites when necessary, as the execution of the EVMP proceeds over the next 20 years.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Monitoring plan for vegetation responses to elk management in Rocky Mountain National Park
Originally posted February 28, 2011; Revised July 24, 2013