Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: New Mexico
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

New Mexico Project

Elk demography, movements and habitat selection in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico

August 2018 - June 2023


Participating Agencies

  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation-NM Chapter
  • New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
  • Arizona Elk Society
  • Houston Safari Club Foundation
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation-AZ Chapter
  • Arizona Game and Fish Department

Elk population declines have been observed following wolf reintroduction or recolonization events. These declines were attributed to the combined effects of hunter harvest, predation and interactions with stochastic climatic events resulting lowered adult survival and recruitment. In addition, changes in the predator community composition has led to other non-lethal effects with the potential to influence elk demographic rates. Baseline data on elk survival rates, cause-specific mortality and habitat selection is limited for periods prior to the reintroduction of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona (e.g., Ballard et al. 2000). Consequently it is unknown whether Mexican wolves are reducing elk population growth or if wolf predation is compensatory, additive, or partially compensatory due to a lack of appropriate data. The lack of data impedes the development of the most informed management plans for elk in the Mexican wolf recovery area. Therefore the goal of this study is to assess variability in survival, cause-specific mortality, movements and habitat selection of elk across the Mexican wolf recovery area in Arizona and New Mexico. Our specific objectives are to: 1) estimate seasonal and annual cause-specific mortality rates for elk neonates and adult female elk; 2) estimate seasonal and annual survival rates for neonates and adult female elk; 3) estimate seasonal kill rates and prey composition of Mexican wolves; 4) assess effects of wolf activity on seasonal habitat selection and movements of elk; and 5) model the likely population trajectories of elk populations subjected to varying cause-specific mortality rates from predators (e.g., Mexican wolves, black bears, mountain lions, coyotes) and other causes of mortality (e.g., harvest, illegal harvest, vehicle collision). This study is a collaboration between the New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.