Paleozoological Data Suggest Euroamerican Settlement Did Not Displace Ursids and North American Elk from Lowlands to Highlands
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- Lee Lyman, R. Environmental Management (2011) 47: 899. doi:10.1007/s00267-011-9667-7
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The hypothesis that Euroamerican settlement displaced some populations of large mammal taxa from lowland plains habitats to previously unoccupied highland mountain habitats was commonly believed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the middle twentieth century biologists had come to favor the hypothesis that Euroamerican colonization resulted in the extirpation of populations of large mammal in lowland habitats and those taxa survived in pre-existing relict populations in the highlands. Why modern biologists changed their minds is unclear. There is no historical evidence that unequivocally favors one hypothesis over the other. The low-elevation Columbia Basin of eastern Washington state in the northwestern United States is surrounded by forested mountains. The majority of historical records (1850 AD or younger) of black bear (Ursus americanus), brown bear (Ursus arctos), and North American elk (Cervus elaphus) occur in mountainous, coniferous forest habitats. Paleozoological records of these taxa ≤ 10,000 year old and >160 year old in both highland and lowland habitats suggest the displacement hypothesis does not apply to ursids and elk in this area. These taxa seem to have been more or less ubiquitous in the area prior to Euroamerican colonization (ca. 1850 AD), and were extirpated from lowland habitats after colonization. Recent colonization of lowland shrub-steppe habitats by elk in particular, although historically unprecedented, must be categorized as recolonization rather than an invasion. Whether a species is classified as indigenous or nonindigenous may influence management activities focused on that species. The paleozoological record indicates ursids and elk are indigenous to the highland forest habitats of eastern Washington.