Return to the main page - [LINK] US Forest Service - [LINK] Oregon Department Of Fish and Wildlife - [LINK] The Starkey Project
"Long-term studies of elk, deer, and cattle - examining the effects of ungulates on ecosystems"


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The Starkey Project a joint wildlife research project conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA Forest Service at the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, 28 miles southwest of La Grande, Oregon. The project is designed to measure the population response of deer and elk to the intensively managed forests and rangelands of the future. Research began in 1989 and continues for 10 years.

The Starkey Project involves four major studies that document deer, elk and cattle response to intensively managed National Forests. Research animal numbers within the Starkey enclosure include 550 cow-calf pairs, 450 elk and 250 deer.

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  • Breeding Bull Efficiency
      Examine the relationship between age of breeding bull elk, reproductive success of cow elk and survival of calves.
  • Roads and Traffic
      Measure response of cattle, deer, and elk to various types and rates of motorized traffic on forest roads.
  • Animal Units
      Determine how cattle, deer, and elk share forage, water, space and other habitat components.
  • Intensive Forest Management
      Test population response of cattle, deer, and elk to intensive forest practices and habitat conditions expected in managed forests of the 21st century.


Starkey Locator Map

In the heart of the Blue Mountains of N.E. Oregon, the project takes place at the USDA Forest Service Starkey Experimental Forest and Range on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Access to the Starkey enclosure is 28 miles southwest of La Grande on Highway 244.

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Research began in 1989 and continues for ten years. Total cost exceeds six million dollars, with funding provided by USDA Forest Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Additional support is provided by Oregon State University, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boise Cascade Corporation, and The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement.

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The largest research enclosure ever built to study wildlife -- about 40 square miles -- is enclosed by 27 miles of eight-foot-high fence. An additional 11 miles of the deer- and- elk-proof fence divides the study area into three parts: a main study area of 20,673 acres; an intensive timber management area of 3,587 acres; and a winter feeding and handling area of 805 acres.

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The Starkey facility creates a research environment that:

  • Provides the controls necessary to measure animal response directly to specific experiments, similar to a laboratory;
  • Encloses an area large enough to allow deer and elk to range freely, similar to other wild herds. High strength, flexible wire imported from New Zealand minimizes injury to animals, and reduces fence maintenance;
  • Contains habitats typical of many National Forests in the intermountain West, with results generally applicable throughout the region.
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All studies measure animal response to habitat change during spring, summer, and fall; winter range and migration are not part of the research. Deer and elk are kept at a low-elevation feed site each winter as a control factor. Spring, summer and fall activities within the enclosure include:

  • Intensive management activities, including timber harvest, silvicultural treatment, cattle grazing, and vehicle traffic, recreation, and other forest uses;
  • Collecting habitat information using satellite imagery, aerial photos, and field computers;
  • Operation of an automated tracking system, generating frequent, accurate, locations of all radio-collared animals;
  • Computer mapping of animal locations in relation to management activities and habitat information.
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A winter feeding and handling area allows biologists to maintain consistent, high quality condition of deer and elk during winter, and to collect reproductive, population and physiological information about animal response to summer range conditions. Activities within the winter feed site include:

  • Feeding to maintain deer and elk in a consistent marmer so animals re-enter the main study area each spring in the same physical condition as in previous years;
  • Equipping 60 cattle, 60 deer and 60 elk with radio collars;
  • Checking animals for disease, reproductive status and physical condition;
  • Documenting number of offspring and population status of herds.
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An automated Loran-C tracking system generates an animal location every 15 seconds with an accuracy to within 50 meters. Hardware, consists of a base station tower about 200 feet high, two base station computers linked to the Loran-C system, seven relay towers each about 150 feet high, and radio collars for 180 animals. During the 10 year study, more than four million locations will be generated-over 100 times the capability of conventional tracking systems. The cost per location is less than $ 1, compared to about $75 per location for previous systems.

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The study area is divided into a grid of square cells as small as 30 by 30 meters. Data for up to 80 habitat features is collected for each cell using hand-held microcomputers, aerial photographs and satellite imagery. Base station computers store and analyze field data, then generate computer habitat maps using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These maps display animal locations in relation to habitat features in any cell for any time period.

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"Long-term studies of elk, deer, and cattle in managed forests."
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