Evaluating potential overlap between pack stock and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Open-File Report 2015-1102
By: , and 

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Abstract

Pack stock (horses, mules, burros, llamas, and goats) are frequently assumed to have negative effects on public lands, but there is a general lack of data to be able to quantify the degree to which this is actually the case. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have received complaints that pack stock may affect Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae; SNBS), a federally endangered subspecies that occurs in largely disjunct herds in the Sierra Nevada Range of California. The potential effects are thought to be displacement of SNBS from meadows on their summer range (altered habitat use) or, more indirectly, through changes in SNBS habitat or forage quality. Our goals were to conduct an association analysis to quantify the degree of potential spatial overlap in meadow use between SNBS and pack stock and to compare differences in vegetation community composition, structure, and diversity among meadows with different levels of use by bighorn sheep and pack stock. For the association analysis, we used two approaches: (1) we quantified the proportion of meadows that were within the herd home ranges of bighorn sheep and were potentially open to pack stock, and, (2) we used Monte Carlo simulations and use-availability analyses to compare the proportion of meadows used by bighorn sheep relative to the proportional occurrence or area of meadows available to bighorn sheep that were used by pack stock. To evaluate potential effects of pack stock on meadow plant communities and SNBS forage, we sampled vegetation in 2011 and 2012 at 100 plots to generate data that allowed us to compare:

1. Herbaceous plant species composition, structure, and diversity in plots with different combinations of use by pack stock and SNBS;

2. Cover of bare ground in plots with different combinations of use by pack stock and SNBS; and,

3. Total cover, diversity, and species composition of SNBS forage species in plots with different combinations of use by pack stock and SNBS.

The association analyses indicated the potential for overlap between pack stock and SNBS was minimal; only 1 percent of the potential meadow area in the SNBS herd home ranges overlapped that of pack stock meadows. There were no systematic differences in overall vegetation structure or composition, or in diversity, cover, or composition of forage species, that indicated pack stock were altering SNBS habitat or affecting their nutrition. Variation in plant species composition was influenced primarily by random differences among meadows and environmental gradients, and there was little evidence that pack stock use contributed in meaningful ways to this variation. The few differences among meadows with different levels of use by bighorn sheep and pack stock either were minor or were not in a direction consistent with negative effects of pack stock on SNBS. We conclude that the current plan for managing pack stock grazing has been successful in minimizing significant negative effects on Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Evaluating potential overlap between pack stock and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1102
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151102
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description vi, 46 p.
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Kings Canyon National Parks, Sequoia National Park
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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