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Monday, January 28 • 4:20pm - 4:40pm
(WILDLIFE: CERVIDS) Elk Habitat Suitability and Potential of Public and Private Lands in Michigan

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AUTHORS: Chad R. Williamson, Henry Campa III, Scott R. Winterstein – Michigan State University; Alexandra B. Locher, Grand Valley State University; Dean E. Beyer, Jr., Michigan Department of Natural Resources

ABSTRACT: To determine current habitat suitability for elk (Cervus elaphus) in Michigan, we developed a stand-level (fine-scale) habitat suitability index (HSI) model for public lands, and a landscape-level (coarse-scale) HSI model for public and private lands. For our stand-level HSI model, we used forest compartment inventory data to identify cover types important to elk, and assigned suitability values (0=low, 1=high) to each cover type for elk life requisites (spring food, winter food, winter thermal cover). Additionally, we modified suitability values based on stand conditions (e.g., stand size, age of aspen [Populus spp.], % canopy closure). For our landscape-level HSI model, we used satellite imagery to classify cover types and assigned suitability values to cover types for each life requisite. Our HSI models indicate a heterogeneous arrangement of high suitability for spring food (openings, aspen) and winter food (aspen, hardwoods, conifers) throughout our study area, and several large areas of high suitability for winter thermal cover (conifers) in the southern edge of our study area. Our landscape-level model provided suitability for private lands, but overestimated areas of high suitability in comparison to our stand-level model. Habitat potential was modeled by delineating habitat types by overlaying digital spatial data layers (soils, land-type associations, vegetation) and identifying successional trajectories using habitat classification guides and literature. We assigned suitability values to each habitat type for life requisites at early to late successional stages. Comparisons between current elk habitat suitability and habitat potential identify key areas where managers can maximize management efforts for elk in Michigan. Areas determined to have higher habitat potential may become focus areas if they are not currently being managed or have low suitability. Conversely, areas with low habitat potential may be avoided for continued or future elk habitat management.

Monday January 28, 2019 4:20pm - 4:40pm EST