Elk response to the La Mesa Fire and current status in the Jemez Mountains
Document Type: Conference Proceedings
Author(s): Craig D. Allen
Editor(s): Craig D. Allen
Publication Year: 1996

Cataloging Information

  • archeological sites
  • Bandelier National Monument
  • Canis lupus
  • Ceanothus fendleri
  • Cervus elaphus
  • coniferous forests
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • elk
  • erosion
  • Felis concolor
  • forest management
  • grasslands
  • herbivory
  • hunting
  • Jemez Mountains
  • La Mesa Fire
  • Los Alamos
  • mortality
  • mountains
  • Native Americans
  • New Mexico
  • population density
  • population ecology
  • Populus tremuloides
  • post-fire recovery
  • predators
  • Quercus
  • range management
  • Robinia
  • species abundance
  • statistical analysis
  • wildfires
  • wildlife habitat management
  • winter range
  • Yucca baccata
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 16033
Tall Timbers Record Number: 20092
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: A13.88:RM-286
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Faunal remains in local archeological sites and historic information suggest that elk populations in the Jemez Mountains were low from ca. 1200 A.D. through ca. 1900 A.D., when they were extirpated from this region. Elk were reintroduced to the Jemez country in 1948 and 1964-1965, and their population apparently grew exponentially, reaching 1000 animals in the 1970's and about 7000 by 1991. Elk populations in Bandelier National Monument and adjoining areas increased rapidly after the 1977 La Mesa Fire. Winter use by elk in the La Mesa Fire area, centered on Bandelier, grew from about 100 animals in 1978 to around 1500 elk by 1992. The dramatic increase in the Bandelier elk herd (an annual growth rate of 21.3% and a 3.6 year population doubling time) was due in part to the creation of about 6000 hectares of grassy winter range in and around the park by the La Mesa Fire. Some of this local population increase reflects concentration of elk into this favorable wintering habitat from surrounding portions of the Jemez Mountains. Existing data are inadequate to determine whether elk populations are still growing rapidly in the Jemez Mountains. While annual aerial surveys since 1990 in Bandelier reveal no clear population trend, a variety of observations demonstrate increasing elk use of lower elevation areas. Negative resource impacts from today's high elk populations are beginning to be widely noted across the Jemez Mountains, especially in high-use portions of the Bandelier National Monument area. Affected resources range from plant communities to soils and even archeological sites. Given the large uncertainties associated with the current data on elk populations, care should be taken to avoid further population increases until the resource impacts of this new phenomenon (large numbers of elk) can be identified, desirable population levels identified (based to a significant degree upon ecological information and resource carrying capacities, as well as social considerations), and appropriate cooperative management strategies implemented.

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (1.6 MB; pdf)
Allen, Craig D. 1996. Elk response to the La Mesa Fire and current status in the Jemez Mountains. Pages 179-195. In: Allen, Craig D. (technical editor). Fire effects in southwestern forests: Proceedings of the second La Mesa Fire symposium; 1994 March 29-31; Los Alamos, New Mexico. General Technical Report RM-GTR-286. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.