...is 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.
Test population response of cattle, deer, and elk to intensive
forest practices and habitat conditions expected in managed
forests of the 21st century.
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.
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
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.
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
Contains habitats typical of many National Forests in the intermountain
West, with results generally applicable throughout the region.
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.
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
Documenting number of offspring and population status of herds.
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.
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.