Estimating Elk Abundance Using the Lincoln-Petersen Method

Achieving a target population size is often the first goal of species restorations. From 2012 to 2014, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources released 75 elk (Cervus canadensis) originating from Kentucky into Buchanan County in southwestern Virginia. These individuals were ear tagged with unique numbers upon release with an additional 33 elk tagged within the Virginia Elk Management Zone (VEMZ) from 2019 through early 2022. To assess post-release population size, we conducted visual driving surveys throughout Buchanan County from January through mid-April, 2021 and January through March, 2022, counting elk and noting sex, age class, and tagged individuals when observed. We conducted four surveys an- nually, each consisting of pooled elk counts from eight driving routes, and calculated a Lincoln-Petersen population estimate with Chapman’s bias cor- rection for each survey, then averaged estimates for each year. The population estimate in Buchanan County was 250 (95% CI: 100–400) elk in 2021 and 303 (155–452) in 2022. Our elk population estimates indicate Virginia is on the trajectory of meeting the first goal in their 2019–2028 elk management plan of achieving a viable elk population.

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