Management of damage by elk (Cervus elaphus) in North America: A review

W. David Walter, Michael J. Lavelle, Justin W. Fischer, Therese L. Johnson, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Kurt C. VerCauteren

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Abundant populations of elk (Cervus elaphus) are cherished game in many regions of the world and also cause considerable human-wildlife conflicts through depredation on agriculture and speciality crops, lack of regeneration to native ecosystems, collisions with vehicles and transmission of disease between free-ranging and farmed hoofstock. Management of elk varies, depending on current and historical agency objectives, configuration of the landscapes elk occupy, public perception, population density and behaviour of elk. Selection of the method to manage elk often requires knowledge of timing of impacts, duration relief from elk damage is desired, cost-effectiveness of management activities, tolerance of impacts, public perception of management strategies and motivation or habituation of elk to determine the likelihood of success for a proposed management action. We reviewed methods that are available to control abundant populations of elk that include lethal (e.g. hunting, sharpshooting) and non-lethal (e.g. fertility control, frightening) options. We promote an integrated approach that incorporates the timely use of a variety of cost-effective methods to reduce impacts to tolerable levels. Lethal options that include regulated hunting, sharpshooting and aerial gunning vary by likelihood of success, duration needed for population reduction, cost to implement reduction and public perceptions. Several non-lethal options are available to affect population dynamics directly (e.g. fertility control, translocation), protect resources from damage (e.g. fences, repellents) or influence space use of elk on a regular basis (e.g. harassment, frightening, herding dogs, humans). Public perception should be considered by agencies that are looking for feasible methods to control populations of elk. Disturbance to residents or visitors of public property may influence methods of management employed. Future research should explore the duration of harassment needed to avert elk from sensitive areas and costs to implement such programs. Several methods in our review were implemented on deer and additional research on elk and other cervids in conflict with human interests would provide a much needed component to our understanding of management methods available for ungulate species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)630-646
Number of pages17
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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