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Some factors affecting the winter range of Jasper National Park Pfeiffer, Egbert Wheeler

Abstract

Recent studies by Dr. I. McT. Cowan in Jasper National Park have revealed that many of the winter game ranges of the Park are heavily over-utilized by grazing and browsing animals. In order to correct this situation, it was first necessary to obtain accurate information on existing range conditions. Therefore, study of certain key areas of the Athabaska Valley was undertaken in the summer of 1946 and 1947 by Dr, Cowan and the author, for the purpose of describing existing plant growth, investigating factors affecting this plant growth, and recommending measures for improving range conditions. In carrying out the project, standard range survey methods were used on nine representative areas. Point sampling revealed the composition of the ground vegetation while cover estimates and numerical counts gave the status of trees and shrubs. Analyses of soil samples indicated the fertility of the soil of the various ranges. The relative utilization of the ranges by herbivores was estimated by defecation counts. In order to determine the productivity of the ranges equal amounts of ground vegetation were clipped, air-dried, and weighed. Exclosure plots, established in 1942, served as a type of control as productivity within the plots was compared to that outside. The Jasper cemetery was used as a relict area. As a result of the investigations it was concluded that the winter ranges of the Athabaska Valley vary greatly in their capacity to produce vegetation, and that all the ranges are over-utilized to a greater or lesser degree, principally by elk and horses. This over-utilization is producing a retrogressive succession of the ground vegetation which is rendering the ranges increasingly unproductive. Destruction of browse species and strict fire protection are hastening development of climax spruce forests on certain range areas. In order to correct present trends in the ecology of the Athabaska Valley it was recommended that the numbers of elk be greatly reduced, that annual censuses of game populations be made, that a cover map of the area be prepared and new exclosure plots set up, that periodic range studies be made, that horse grazing be prohibited, and that conifers be controlled on certain game ranges.

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