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National parks in the United States offer one the world's premier examples of preserving natural states and processes by limiting human uses of landscapes. In so doing, these parks play a crucial role in the nation's efforts to conserve biological diversity. However, few parks are sufficiently large to include fully intact ecosystems, and in particular, many lack large, native predators. As a result of this disruption of predator-prey relationships, native ungulates have become excessively abundant, causing harm to plant communities and opposing efforts to preserve a biologically diverse flora and fauna. Moreover, diseases in native ungulates, notably brucellosis and chronic wasting disease, threaten human economies, and these threats have amplified concerns about ungulate population density and its impacts on disease transmission. It follows that coping with overabundant ungulates has emerged as one of the most difficult challenges facing managers of national parks in the U.S.

This challenge is composed of two decisions. The first decision requires choosing the appropriate size for populations of ungulates in a park -- that is, estimating its carrying capacity. The second decision requires choosing among alternative tactics for maintaining populations near that carrying capacity. Making these decisions in a way that can be explained and justified to a diverse pubic requires informing these decisions with the best science available -- science that combines local, park-specific data with state of the art analysis and modeling.

The Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University offers the world's premier team providing scientific support for decisions on ungulate overabundance in national parks. The team has an established track record of working closely with managers of parks and other public lands to solve these problems. In addition, our group has published widely in the scientific literature on modeling and analytical approaches to estimating carrying capacity and prescribing management for regulating ungulate abundance.

Elk grazing photo


Page Last Modified: November 19, 2004

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