Elk research underway at Lewis and Clark park in Oregon

ASTORIA, Ore. — The members of the Corps of Discovery killed about 130 elk during a four-month stay at Fort Clatsop more than 200 years ago. That fed more than 30 people, and provided tallow for candles and hides for 300 pairs of moccasins.

Today, elk are still roaming on about 1,000 acres around Fort Clatsop, and research is underway at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park to understand how the animals are using the parkland, the Daily Astorian reported.

“There’s this realization parkwide just how important these elk herds are, both for ecological reasons and for the broader story of Lewis and Clark,” said Chris Clatterbuck, the park’s chief of resource management.

There are an estimated 80 to 100 of the animals. Counting them is difficult because the forest is too thick for helicopter surveillance, so the researchers rely on roadside inspections and information they glean from elk feces, or as wildlife biologists prefer to call it, fecal pellet groups.

The evidence from four years of work suggests there may be a slight decline in numbers, but there’s not enough data yet to determine whether there’s a trend.

At more than 60 plots throughout the park, two observers check for pellets and the level of their decay, giving an indication of how often elk were present.

In the fall and after observation in the spring, all the pellets are cleared out so that the researchers can start over and measure another winter period.

The process doesn’t determine the exact number of elk in the park; it is more about what areas of the park the elk are roaming most frequently.

The elk roam widely, and face pressure outside the park — commercial development, traffic on U.S. 101, hunting on bordering private lands. But the park service has been thinning newly acquired private acreage to restore shrubby habitat for the elk.

The park will use the research to determine the impact of restoring the natural estuary, trail building, forest thinning and other work.

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