Idaho let elk breeder off the hook in 2002

“[Idaho State Senator Laird] Noh wasn’t surprised. Rammell is a familiar name, a man Noh described in 2002 as a ‘bad actor’ who shouldn’t have been ‘legislated off the books’ when state lawmakers forgave some $750,000 in fines that the elk breeder owed to the state for numerous violations.”
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The newspapers are still writing about the escaped domestic “elk” which are being described as “elk/red deer hybirds.” Oh great!

The Casper Star Tribune tells more about how the Idaho Legislature let Rex Rammell off the hook back in 2002. Read Article.







  1. Ben Avatar

    Are they really Elk/Deer hybrids or is that some reporters mistake?

  2. Erin Miller Avatar
    Erin Miller

    It’s hard telling because there were so many wrong “facts” published. The governor screwed up big time too by permitting the death of “over 160 trophy elk,” making people think they were bull elk. The truth is this: they were cows and only about 70 were escaped as of Friday the 8th. So basically there are going to be a lot of wild elk shot being mistaken for domestic- thanks, ID fish and game, for misinforming everyone and therefore playing part in the harm that will be done because of this. If our state government had shut this guy down for breaking laws regarding domestic elk, this never would have happened!

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I’m not quite sure what you are asking? So maybe this is the wrong answer. If so, excuse me.

    Red deer are not deer like mule deer or white-tailed deer. Red deer are a European animal very closed related to Rocky Mountain Elk.

    Mule deer and white-tailed deer are from Subfamily Capreolinae of family Cervidae.

    Rocky Mountain elk and red deer, are of Subfamily Cervinae of family Cervidae. In fact both elk and red deer are Cervus elaphus. They are sub-species.

    Rocky Mountain elk are Cervus elaphus nelsoni

    There are 5 other native sub-species of elk in North America. One of them is extinct — Eastern elk — but red deer are from Europe. Being sub-species, they all can are mate and produce fertile off-spring.

  4. Ben Avatar

    Thanks Ralph. I have seen red deer when I was stationed in the UK during my USAF days. I saw a news report yesterday on KIFI tv where a family member of the elk farm was interviewed. Nothing was said about cross breeding of the farm elk. Maybe thats what the governor is all upset about. Messing up the gene pool. But who knows. In the rush to get the news story first, reporters often get the facts wrong.

  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    To elaborate on the differences between red deer and elk–the latter, the “wapiti,” is an evolutionary adaptation to the colder climates and more open terrain of northeast Asia and North America from the more forested, temperate climates of Europe where the red deer originated. As the red deer began to occupy habitats to the east, it began to adapt to those differing habitats away from the European prototype. Most biologists have concluded that the wapiti evolved to its present form in Berengia, the land bridge between Siberia and North America, then moved west into Siberia and east into North America at the end of the Pleistocene. Wapiti are found in Mongolia, Siberia, and northern China, for example, as well as throughout North America.

    Based upon genetic studies, the wapiti represents about 1 million years of evolutionary adaptation away from the European red deer. By comparison, cattle and bison began to differentiate genetically about 4 million years ago.

    Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two sub-species is that the wapiti bugles while the red deer roars; these differences in sound relate to the environments to which they have adapted. The red deer’s roar, which is low frequency, carries better in the forested or densely vegetated environments of Europe, whereas the wapiti’s bugle, which is high frequency, carries better over long, open distances, such as are found in the North American western states and provinces. The two sounds are shaped differently in the animals’ mouths, with the red deer’s mouth held more open to create a more resonating sound chamber. The wapiti’s bugle is shaped by “pinching” the mouth, closing the nostrils, and “straining” the sound into the high-pitched bugle.

    While these two animals are essentially the same species, Cervus elaphus, they represent significant, different adaptations (sub-species) to their respective environments–differences that make hybrids less vigorous than their parents. The red deer and the wapiti are biologically legitimate sub-species. Unfortunately, for commercial, market-oriented, short-term reasons that have nothing to do with biological and ecological adaptation or long-term survivability, the two sub-species are being interbred by the game ranchers/farmers, which is one of the main concerns about the importation of domestic elk into the western states and provinces, where conditions are not conducive to red deer characteristics.

    Valerius Geist, in the below referenced work (p. 171), notes that “red deer and wapitis are morphologically, biochemically, ecologically, and behaviorially quite different.” Therefore, genetic pollution from escaped red deer or red deer/elk hybrids into the wild North American wapiti populations is a very legitimate concern, a concern for which the game farmers/ranchers have demonstrated no sympathy or interest, which is one reason why knowledgeable conservationists have settled on a policy of banning game farms/ranches outright. Unfortunately, agriculture is one of the most powerful industries in North America and the industry is charging hard on legitimizing the “alternative livestock” industry. One thing that happens is that regulatory authority for this industry is taken away from wildlife agencies and given to agriculture agencies, as is the case in Idaho. The industry, despite claims to the contrary, is poorly regulated, by design, to get the industry going. It is a serious threat to wildlife.

    I highly recommend Valerius Geist’s Deer of the World: Their Evolution, Behavior, and Ecology, published by Stackpole Books. Geist may be the premier ungulate biologist in the world.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for posting additional information, Robert.

  7. Erin Miller Avatar
    Erin Miller

    So it’s a good thing that there were NO red deer or red deer crosses in these animals.

  8. Erin Miller Avatar
    Erin Miller

    …Rex Rammell had wanted to bring Red Deer in to enhance antler size on his elk, but isn’t allowed by law; and thank goodness that’s one of few laws he hasn’t broken…

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It looks like there is consensus on Rex Rammell, despite other disagreements.

  10. Howard Avatar

    I realize that elk breeding and elk farms are a bit controversial… I have no comment about elk ranching per se, as I honestly don’t know enough about it… I will gather info on my own time…I really and truly do NOT want this to spark a renewed fight on this thread.

    Actually, as Ralph said, I think we’re all in agreement about Rex Rammell. I wanted to comment on the quote by state Rep. Dennis Lake, that he stands by his decision to cap penalties and to ABSOLVE Rammell, on the grounds that he is against “heavy-handed tactics” by state agencies. What is “heavy-handed” about requiring people to obey the law? Rammell wasn’t threatened with execution or immediate liquidation of his property… he was fined a sizeable sum, the express purpose of which is to dissuade people from ignoring the law! This fiasco with Rammell is a perfect example of what happens when there’s no real consequences for breaking the law. What else might be “heavy handed”? Would Lake favor reduced penalties for drug possession? Should folks have to actually pay their parking/traffic tickets? Is the state too rough on poachers who kill game animals out of season or without a tag?

    Lake’s statement is poignant, as it reflects an extraordinary amount of spinelessness in the face of somebody, anybody, accusing the government of being “intrusive” on any issue. How big government should be, where private rights and public good begin and end, etc., are all legitimate debates, but if government officials are too terrified to govern, they should step down. Lake’s comment that he does not want to ban elk breeding is a legitimate viewpoint.

    [ Again, I’m not saying that I AGREE or that I DISAGREE with this view, only that the ideology that private elk farming should be legal is an honest political stance with a coherent philosophy behind it. There are honest political stances with coherent philosophies for those who oppose elk farming. People disagree…and so, we have elections, and referendum ballots, and political demonstrations, and courts.]

    But Lake’s implication that the state should go easy on people who flagrantly violate the law, if said individuals don’t happen to agree with the law or find it too inconvenient, is spineless and serves anarchy. It is one thing to believe in small government, and quite another to kowtow to any and all individuals playing the “all laws are tyranny” card. It is has frightening implications for society, and should not be tolerated in elected officials.

    Once again, I currently don’t know enough to comment on the elk ranching industry as a whole, but one thing I will say: Law abiding elk ranchers, who obey state statutes, should be ( and are) mad as hell that this guy, who, apparently with state approval, does not have to obey laws he finds inconvenient. No matter what my opinion on elk ranching turns out to be in the future, I find this travesty a major affront to law-abiding elk breeders, and indeed, to all law abiding citizens of Idaho.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan