What about moose – or elk – in the Sierra?

Photo Credit: Courtesy of CDFW

by California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Question: I read the recent column about California’s lone wolverine, which is a very interesting tale. It got me wondering, why aren’t there any moose or elk in the Sierra? I know that there are elk elsewhere in the state, but at some point in history one would think that a herd of moose or elk would have migrated into the area. (Bill)

Answer: Moose evolved in much cooler climates in boreal forests and other subarctic habitats. Generally, habitats and climates in the Sierra and elsewhere in California are not well-suited for moose.

We do occasionally get reports of elk in the Sierra, primarily bull elk. You might be interested in the story of a single Rocky Mountain elk’s solo journey in the northern part of the state. This trailblazing elk traveled 40 miles in six weeks, ending up farther south in the Sierra than had previously been reported. He may have been in search of a mate or new territory.

Historical records don’t really tell us about much elk activity in the Sierra, so they may not have been present there historically. The western slope of the Sierra is close to historical range of tule elk, but they’re generally a valley species that use flat lands and tules. The eastern Sierra are quite rugged and elk are built more for moving quickly across plains, rather than traversing rough mountainous terrain. However, as elk populations continue to grow, and climate change alters suitability of valley habitats for elk, it is possible we may begin to see elk distributions change. CDFW is beginning a study to assess vulnerability of our elk populations to climate change, which will help us better conserve and manage elk populations throughout California.

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