Idaho elk, deer survival rate high despite growing wolf population. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

The survival rate for radio collared deer and elk females was over 85% and it increased in 2007 over 2006 despite the growing wolf population.

Update:

The same piece, with some editing and anecdote the day after.

Elk, deer survival high despite prowling wolves. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman. Edition 01/01/08

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

25 Responses to Idaho elk, deer survival rate high despite growing wolf population

  1. avatar skyrim says:

    How ’bout it BW. Got any spin for us on this piece?

  2. avatar Chuck says:

    Now how are the anti wolf people going to handle this bit of information????

  3. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    how will IDF&G ? funny how these results aren’t as normative as the anecdotal contrary ~ and how the figures hit the MSM the last morning comments are to be accepted.

  4. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    These numbers will be helpful in demolishing the claims of the various wildlife agencies when wolf delisting goes to court this spring.

    We have the same situation in Wyoming; elk numbers are still over objective in many areas and for the 2008 hunting season the G&F Department is planning to issue late season cow-calf tags in most of the hunt areas in northwestern Wyoming, where the wolves (those damn wild things) are. Not a good advertisement for the claim that wolves are eating all the elk.

  5. avatar Layton says:

    Weeeelll,

    Somebody has to make a comment or two in rebuttal — might as well be me.

    First of all — these radio collared elk are ADULT cows — their survival can be anything from well planned on their part to just plain lucky!! The only thing that is proven so far is how many of them made it through the year.

    Before you crow to loud, how about the quote from Brad Compton that says wolves may be affecting big game in some areas. He also says “averages can be misleading because there is no such thing as an average elk”.

    The article also says that areas like Lolo and Selway might have female elk survival rates as low as 70% — other areas (maybe without wolves?) survival might be as high as 90%.

    Of course the low survival rates are all “habitat related”, right??

    Then there is the low calf recruitment rates in more than one area and the rising average age of the herd, no these were not mentioned in the article, but what happens when the “oldtimers” die and there are no calves to take their place??

    I know, I know, since these things aren’t purely in favor of the wolves — it’s strictly “anecdotal” and “spin”. As long as the wolf population is growing at 20% per year and nobody can PROVE that elk populations are decreasing dramatically, all is well and it’s just alarmists and red necks that see problems — right??

    Happy New Year.

    Layton

  6. avatar Jay says:

    OK Layton, I’ll bite on one of your comments: “Then there is the low calf recruitment rates in more than one area and the rising average age of the herd, no these were not mentioned in the article, but what happens when the “oldtimers” die and there are no calves to take their place??”
    Grab a copy of Elk of North America, and look up senescence in cow elk–you’ll find that calf production takes a nose dive for old cows; the numbers vary depending on the population, but it’s safe to say that by 13-14 years old, calf production drops markedly. Now consider that wolves prey highly disproportionately on old cows, typically in the senescent age category (also extremely well documented, take a look at the data coming out of Yellowstone if you don’t believe me). So, the “oldtimers”, as you phrase it, are EXACTLY the elk you want removed from the population if you want a productive herd, which the wolves are happy to oblige. This situation is primarily important for populations near carrying capacity, because if resources aren’t limited, than who cares if there’s a bunch of old gummers out there eating grass–there’s plenty to go around. However, for overstocked areas–which I’d argue is much of the 3 “wolf” states, as evidenced by the fact all three states can be generalized as over objectives for elk–old cows are eating food that could be going to younger cows that are still reproductive…in essence, taking food right out of babies mouths. So, getting back to your comment–the fact that some of these populations are getting senescent, in combination with density dependent drops in production, is likely a strong influence on the calf production. Think about it…
    Oh yeah–when human hunters kill cow elk, what age class do you think shows up in the kill? Yep, you guessed it–average age is 6-8 years old, which is exactly the age class you want to preserve, since this is the peak of production.

  7. avatar Layton says:

    C’mon Jay,

    You said

    “Grab a copy of Elk of North America, and look up senescence in cow elk–you’ll find that calf production takes a nose dive for old cows; the numbers vary depending on the population, but it’s safe to say that by 13-14 years old, calf production drops markedly.”

    So far, so good, I think that is exactly what I was trying to say. Then

    ” Now consider that wolves prey highly disproportionately on old cows, typically in the senescent age category (also extremely well documented, take a look at the data coming out of Yellowstone if you don’t believe me).”

    The last survey (or data or whatever it was) that I saw on this blog quoted a bunch of numbers from Yellowstone that, in fact, showed the largest % of elk taken by wolves were adult bulls.

    My point (again) is this —- you can’t have less than optimum calf recruitment (< 30% as I recall) and have a sustainable elk herd. Add that to the aging of the females (decreased production) and sooner or later the population is going to crash!

    Where are these “younger cows” going to come from??

    Layton

  8. avatar Monte says:

    I think Layton makes a good point about calf recruitment. It seems almost sure that elk populations will be reduced in wolf range. The question is, is that a bad thing? You hardcore wolf people would be better off answering that question than claiming that elk populations will not be affected by wolves. How about a more balanced and disease resistant elk herd that is less likely to face starvation in harsh winters? Yeah, there will be less elk for human hunters, but what is best for the elk long term? I don’t have all the anwers, but I don’t think denying the obvious is a very good way to look at anything.

  9. avatar Jay says:

    Bulls become a larger component in late winter when they become susceptible due to malnourishment, but by and large cows and calves comprise the greatest proportion of the annual diet. I was referring specifically to the cow component of wolf predation, not a specific time frame. And you’re wrong about calf recruitment–in a population that’s at capacity/food limited, reproduction is going to be low due to the fact that pregnancy rates drop, adults survive much better than young of the year, etc. That’s what called density dependent survival. There will always be calves that survive to adulthood, however–the wolves don’t get them all, nor do the rest of the predators.

  10. avatar JB says:

    Layton said: “…you can’t have less than optimum calf recruitment (< 30% as I recall) and have a sustainable elk herd….sooner or later the population is going to crash!”

    You’re correct–assuming that calf recruitment is static; however, it’s not. We’re talking about dynamic systems where a host of variables will affect recruitment and overall populations (e.g. snow depth, rainfall, available forage, competition with livestock, disease, fire, predators [of which wolves are only one], etc., etc).

    Specifically, to say that an elk population will crash at some future time because of low recruitment assumes that all of the various factors currently affecting recruitment (of which wolves are but one) will remain fixed. However, populations fluctuate because these factors are NOT fixed. In one year a population could get hammered by hard winters, drought, and predation, with the result that recruitment is poor and populations decrease. However, a few years later these conditions may favor high recruitment, promoting increases in elk numbers. The point is, fluctuation in recruitment and overall populations is the norm, and should not be a cause for alarm.

  11. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    Monte,

    “It seems almost sure that elk populations will be reduced in wolf range. The question is, is that a bad thing? You hardcore wolf people would be better off answering that question than claiming that elk populations will not be affected by wolves.”

    i agree whole-heartedly. IMO – it would be wiser with time to develop/illustrate/frame the positive ecological role of wolves – the tone of conversation would be ‘wolves good’ and that dialogue, the fulcrum of debate, would inevitably rub off into broader awareness rather than “wolves bad” rubbing off as a function of being the central point of contention regardless of the particularities. so long as the question is “are wolves bad or not ?” – people will absorb the idea of wolves being bad.

    Unfortunately, given the absurd fragmentation of management responsibilities and jurisdiction — these restorative values don’t seem to have a relevant home. IDF&G & FWS both at this point, reject their responsibility to acknowledge this broader question. federal jurisdiction ? state ? inter-state ? where’s the place to codify this positive attribute ?

    this is why the decision needs to be pushed into the next administration.

  12. avatar Jay says:

    Monty,

    Not my intent to paint wolves as completely benign–in fact, I’ve stated on here that wolves do limit elk–the extent of that limitation is going to depend on the state, the herd, the habitat, the weather, human harvest, other predators, and on and on and on. However, it’s also pretty unrealistic to say the the elk population will crash because calf ratios are low as a blanket statement, for all the reasons mentioned above. I agree that there’s a lot of pro-wolf folks that portray wolves as having no negative effects on their prey. However, I’ll throw your challenge right back at you and make the comment that perhaps the anti-wolf folks could accept the fact that predation isn’t the end of deer and elk populations as we know it, and that there are some positive aspects of predation. For every pro-wolfer making ridiculous claims, there’s an equally ridiculous claim from the other side, so you anti-wolf folks aren’t always in the right.

  13. Millions of acres of forest and steppe burned in Idaho last summer. No one has mentioned the effect of that for survival or regeneration.

  14. avatar JB says:

    Brian:

    I understand where you’re coming from, but submit that wolves should not be labeled as bad OR good. The process of assigning value to specific species implies that some species have greater value than others. If this is the case, it follows that the role of management should be to maximize the benefits to constituents by eliminating less valuable species in favor of those that are more valuable (e.g. Gifford Pinchot’s “greatest good, for the greatest number”. In my view, this type of thinking (i.e. elk>wolves, cows>prairie dogs) is one of the sources of our current predicament with respect to wolves.

    Rather than focus on the positive value of any particular species we should be promoting the value of intact ecosystems and fostering the recognition that this value may be greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

  15. avatar JEFF E says:

    The latest elk report is up on Idaho Fish & Game site. one would be best served by reading the ENTIRE report so that the facts are taken in proper context. Then we might be able to have an informed discussion.

  16. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    JB –

    “wolves should not be labeled as bad OR good.”

    wolves are good for ecosystems. i’m sorry if i implied that wolves are better than other species – i am not sorry about any implication that there ought be recognition of intrinsic value associated with wolves’ persistence – some of which in a wild thus un”managed” state, i do not believe that this is mutually exclusive with a more teleological approach to ecosystem integrity. i don’t believe i made a statement as to the relative importance of wolves over other species, there is no hierarchy of value/worth implicit in the statement, nor is there a values projection which i can see that alienates wolves from the greater ecosystem. in fact, i believe that the frame that my statement advocated for is more in line with an advocacy of greater ecosystem health.

    so i’m pretty certain that i agree with your indictment of the following:

    “If this is the case, it follows that the role of management should be to maximize the benefits to constituents by eliminating less valuable species in favor of those that are more valuable “

    no. in fact, this is what i believe ought be pulled out of – but so long as it’s strictly about ungulate numbers (that IDF&G’s relatively arbitrary “objectives” are desirable and below is undesirable, all other constituents of the ecosystem be damned !) – we remain in the very quagmire you suggest. in advocating for a recognition of the desirable attributes of wolves w/ re: to the greater ecosystem – by demonstrating their restorative – beneficial characteristics in concert/context with wildlife communities & ecosystems, by answering Monte’s question of dynamic elk numbers : “The question is, is that a bad thing?” is an apt way of introducing all other constituents into this otherwise myopic debate of which there is no good answer.

    “Rather than focus on the positive value of any particular species we should be promoting the value of intact ecosystems and fostering the recognition that this value may be greater than the sum of its constituent parts.”

    I agree, however, the normative values projection is already present in the codification of big game & livestock supremacy. so – how to respond ? i say introduce “values” considerations into the conversation that are not strictly anthropocentric – that give regard to the greater ecosystem. the wolf’s niche is a particularly apt vehicle for this introduction given the key role this predator plays throughout the systems. there is virtually ZERO threat of elimination of “less valuable” species by promoting and illustrating ~ enfranchising ~ the desirable contributions of wolves – given the implied “less valuable” species that you suggest would follow such an assignment are the species at present that have the supremacy – big game & livestock – or bear & lions. furthermore, framing wolves more holistically as having positive value to ecosystems in this context is prescriptive of a humility not present in current management as the answer is revocation of anthropogenic “controls”. there is no other avenue which garners comparable public salience for such an introduction. currently the debate is engaged in the absurd idea that we actually have control of big game numbers – and the struggle with any number of variables – to hell with the greater ecosystem – to make it so… at the top of the list is the “control” of wolves… many people have recognized that mentality of domination, or the visceral urge to manage – some use the word ‘anthropocentrism’ to describe the compulsion.

    the terms “good” and “bad” i used are a reflection of public perception – values charged public perception – and the process of public participation and contribution is just when practiced in good faith – this is also a relevant forum for debate. to ignore or filter the input of the public – to ‘objectify’ it is not possible nor does it uphold the public interest of which public contribution is an essential component of the regulatory process – for any number of reasons. good luck sterilizing that realm. again, the public salience garnered by wolves forces the association w/ ecosystem.

    i can see where the use of the term “good” and “bad” might chafe the perception of objectivity – but as is probably evident by now – i do not advocate for objectivity ~ nor do i believe it is a possible pursuit even if i thought it to be wise – which i do not – not in this world, not in this politicized context as my relatively naive observations have been witness to. the bureaucracies and operational definitions are stacked against wildlife & ecosystems alike – and thus my advocacy stands firmly behind a robust normative agitation of which the ‘objective values-free’ approach does not afford – in fact, it quells it. we need values struggles, and if anything, being honest about their prevalence and shrewd in their framing – then, allowing the light of day to hash out merit rather than the enforced gag of positivism forcing the actionable questions and concerns underground – is wise, IMO. wolves are good in this and into the foreseeable context. let them try to debate how wolves are not good for some standard that is inclusive of the natural/holistic ecosystem, rather than wolf advocates’ defensive posture with regard to their agricultural production of “wild”-life/ungulates. when that’s a prevalent fulcrum of contention, there will be much cause for celebration.

    codifying standards into these plans that illustrate regard for ecosystems and wolves as “good” is paramount to cultivating opportunity into the future of forcing constructive confrontations between these critically different postures – via externally – media, internally – covert conflict within the bureaucracy, etc.

    so, i think we agree JB, with the slight hesitation regarding values assignment.

  17. avatar IdahoConservationist says:

    This kills me…

    what were the original recovery goals: 10 breeding pairs for 3 succesive years in each recovery area – DONE
    when was the original recovery goal met: 2002 – going on 6 YEARS AGO!!!

    Management plans have been developed, its time to de-list and manage, period.

    You “dictionary professionals” sit here puking out your word art trying to mislead others that are not willing or able to see for themselves the negative impact the wolf population is having on our elk herds in many areas. The impacts are real, and the data supports it.

    If you want to know the facts, this is not the place(not the Idaho Statesman either) to be getting your information from people that specialize in word manipulation and memorizing the dictionary in their spare time. Get out and see it…

  18. IdahoConservationist,

    Those were not the original recovery goals. There was more than that.

    You have never commented before, so I expect you to read enough to find the details. They have been gone over many times.

    The management plans of 2 of the states are defective. Read the critique by the Western Watersheds Project for a starter to find out why. If you disagree with their reasoning tell us why.

    Labeling people odd names like “dictionary professionals” isn’t an argument, nor is saying people are “puking out words.”

    Improve your manner presenting comments, or this is your only post.

  19. avatar catbestland says:

    IdahoConVerSationalist,
    So elk numbers are down. So what? Could there possibly be other reasons that this is the case. Like drought, loss of habitat, disease etc. It’s a natural cycle. What is the harm?. Hunters will be eligable for a few less tags? The vast majority of the population of this country are NOT hunters but their taxes DID pay for those wolves. Do you infer that wolves will wipe out the entire elk population? Not likely. Do you think that wolves will eat themselves into oblivion and threaten their own existence? Humans are the only species capable of that. I trust that if given the chance, nature will step in and balance the situation. I don’t however, trust anything from someone who thinks that puke in any form is art.

  20. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    arguments aren’t these folks’ forte …

    American Heritage Dictionary –
    for·te 1 (fôr’tā’, fôrt, fōrt) Pronunciation Key
    n.
    1. Something in which a person excels.
    2. The strong part of a sword blade, between the middle and the hilt.

  21. avatar Jay says:

    I crack up when I hear comments like that: “I’ve been out in the woods, I’ve seen it!” So, you were out hunting for a week, maybe two–heck, you might even spend longer than that out there on foot, ATV, horse, what have you, and that qualifies you as an expert on the elk and deer population, IDFG statistics be damned? So let me boil this down: your limited time seeing a fraction of a fraction of the landscape from foot gives you greater command of population numbers over F&G’s aerial helicopter surveys over entire elk zones? Am I getting that right, Mr. Conservationsist? So, despite the department, the agency responsible for surveying the entire state, says elk numbers are higher than they’ve ever been, we’re to believe that you somehow know better? Hmmmm, I think I’ll go with helicopter surveys over a guy sitting on his ATV running roads.

  22. avatar robert says:

    Hello. Does anyone have any imformation on the wolf sighting in Colorado? I heard about it on the TV news on a colorado station last thursday nite while I was at a motel. I didn’t see anything in the colorado news paper the next morning. It was sighted in a national park so it will be protected by law. Let me know, Thanks, Robert

  23. avatar robert says:

    Hello. Can anyone tell me if there are any wolves in the Driggs area. My girlfriend and I saw what we thought was a lone black wolf in a snow filled gullie getting ready to cross the highway that goes up to west yellowstone. We couldn’t stop suddenly to get a picture the roads were to slick, and there was trafic behind us, byt he time we turned around and went back it had already crossed over and gone into the tree lines. Thanks, let me know.

  24. avatar Jay says:

    Robert,

    If you go to Idaho Fish and Game’s web page, they have a section for wolves and wolf management. I’m pretty certain there’s a map of known or suspected packs on there that might give you an idea. That said, if there are no known packs, wolves can show up just about anywhere, any time, so you very easily could have seen one.

  25. avatar Chuck says:

    Looks like the only pack I see on the map is the Bechler pack, but that North of Driggs, but they can show up anywhere.

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