Cervus canadensis

Range and Distribution

The Rocky Mountain Elk is a subspecies of elk found in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent ranges of Western North America. The winter ranges are most common in open forests and open range in the lower elevations. In the summer it migrates to the subalpine forests and alpine basins. The total wild population is about 800,000 individuals, with Montana having the largest elk herds in the nation. Although this species is not imperiled, as other Montana species are, there are no guarantees. Continued vigilance is required to protect habitat, especially winter range, from continued encroachment by land development. Cattle grazing on public lands can remove forage that elk rely on in fall, winter, and spring, and can cause elk to migrate to private agricultural lands in search of food - often leading to conflict.


Brucellosis in Elk

Elk in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem have been found to carry Brucellosis. This includes the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that historically was a zoonotic threat. Meaning it had the potential to cause disease in humans. As such in 1934 a National eradication program was begun in cattle. With the advent of milk pasteurization it no longer poses a significant threat to humans. However because it is federally regulated in cattle, it is a significant issue in the livestock industry. Currently elk are under threat of mass testing and slaughter to try to eradicate the disease. Other issues include feeding grounds (a significant factor in disease spread) and transmission to livestock on private lands.


Feeding the Problem


Watch Feeding the Problem on PBS. See more from KUSM.


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