Waterton Lakes National Park and Blood Reserve
Effects of Fire and Wolf Predation on Elk Utilization of Aspen and Ecological Restoration of Grassland Prior to Bison Reintroduction
Our goal is to restore fescue prairie cover that has become dominated by aspen to historical conditions pre-Euro-American settlement to improve ecological resiliency and habitat for wintering elk and the free-ranging wild bison (Bison bison) being reintroduced to this ecosystem. This work takes place in Waterton Lakes National Park, AB (WLNP), and on contiguous Kainai First Nation forest land, called the Blood Timber Limit. The PI is Dr. Cristina Eisenberg, affiliated with Oregon State University, Earthwatch Institute, and the Smithsonian Institute. Our objectives are to test the effects of repeated prescribed fire on aspen regeneration and recruitment; measure elk presence and feeding behavior in WLNP; investigate the effects of elk herbivory on post-fire aspen regeneration and recruitment; examine factors that may influence elk feeding decisions, including risk of predation by wolves, food availability and quality, and plant defense compounds; and investigate impacts of fire severity and prescribed fire vs. wildfire at both landscape and patch scales on native grasses and aspen, including soil health. We have a multi-trophic, multi-factorial, replicated landscape-scale research design, in which we are surveying soils, plants, and animal communities, using field data (traditional silvics, botany, soil science, and wildlife methods) and GPS collar and remotely sensed data.
This project directly improves the resiliency of this landscape, increases ecosystem services to human and non-human communities, and benefits the Kainai First Nation and local ranching communities. Outreach consists of many field trips involving community members, participation in community meetings, and speaking at multiple conferences per year. We have four peer-reviewed project publications to date, two published books, two books in preparation, and several published book chapters, and several peer-reviewed papers in progress. The project began in 2006 and we have secured funding through 2023. We plan to deepen this work by examining how wildfire interacts with prescribed fire in ecological restoration of a native grassland, taking a close look at soil function, and by implementing Traditional Ecological Knowledge more deeply and intensively.