Changing weather patterns drive dramatic changes in Yellowstone Park wolf predation

‘ “I’m not looking at whether this is connected to global warming,” said Doug Smith, lead biologist and team leader of the Yellowstone wolf project. Yet wolf and prey behavior is different from what it was at the beginning of wolf reintroduction to the park in 1994, because the weather is different,” he said.’

Brodie Farquhar has really put together what Doug Smith has been saying for a number of winters about the plight of the bull elk, something totally different than back in 1995-6-7-8.

Read Farquhar’s article in the Jackson Hole Star Tribune.

This is important stuff, and not discussed widely in the wildlife management literature I have read. Wildlife managers, especially those in key positions, don’t consider all the variables. Often politics prevents them from doing so.

For example when you don’t consider these likely future changes, the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear looks plenty ready to be delisted as a threatened species. When you consider global warming and the spread of diseases like whirling disease and whitebark pine blister rust, the future of the Yellowstone Country bear looks grim.

When you look at many politicians, with their narrow focus of hanging onto power, and compare them to the wildlife managers I just criticized, it is all of us for whom the future looks grim.




  1. Dave Collins Avatar
    Dave Collins

    Has the weather ever been this way in the past? I wonder if this is just a cycle or are the animals really doomed? In my 37 years on this planet, it seems that the summers are getting hotter and lasting longer.

  2. Alan Gregory Avatar

    Dave, you’re not alone. I agree with your anecdote. It’s certainly my gut feeling looking back over the past 18 years here in eastern Pennsylvania. But there is also evidence coming to light: neotropical migratory songbirds arriving earlier and departing their breeding ranges later.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Here in SE Idaho the winters are clearly shorter and not as cold.

    The mean date of first frost in Pocatello is Sept. 12-15. This year it froze and just barely on Oct. 15. Since then, it got down to 22 F.

    When I started backpacking in Idaho in the 1970s, it was hard to get up into the mountains (unless you had winter gear) until late May or even July for the higher ones. Now it’s April or in the highest the 3 rd week of June.

    Of course, this doesn’t prove global warming.

    What global warming would do, at a minimum is make the warm cycles more frequent and the cold ones less so. Lots of other changes are likely. None of them would every come with “global warming” written on them, and there will always be skeptics.

    There is a great blog written by climatic scientists, not political talking heads, or think tank whores (guess I have an opinion there!). The blog is

  4. Dave Collins Avatar
    Dave Collins

    I have to believe that this is just a pattern were going through. Just like the hundred year storm, the ice age and so on. Im sure global warming has some part in the whole scheme of things but you just have to look back at prior weather patterns.

  5. Dave Collins Avatar
    Dave Collins

    Hey Ralph,
    How did E l Nino effect Id.a few years back. They say that it returning this year.

  6. Matt Bullard Avatar
    Matt Bullard is a great web site. Lots of fantastic info on there. There is another climate blog I read regularly that has some great posts filed under the “How to talk to a climate skeptic” heading located here:

    We are certainly going through a cycle, but I believe it is a long, warm cycle associated with global warming. It is hard to discount all the evidence, such as what Ralph notes about average date of first frost and songbird arrival and departure means. This stuff is happening all over the place – it is not just localized. This is very real…

  7. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    How soon do we estimate Florida will be under water? There will be a vast amount of property lost. But what happens when you build in a swamp? You pay your money and take your chances.

  8. red Avatar

    Is an alternative explanation for more bull elk being taken now than in 1995 is the fact less vulnerable elk (i.e. old cows, calves, etc.) are available now? When wolves were reintroduced there were many easy targets to choose after decades of litte predation pressure.

  9. dcookie Avatar

    The ice mass loss in this study is less than half that reported in other recent research, NASA said in a statement, but it still shows that Greenland is losing 20 percent more mass than it gets in new snowfall each year.

    The Greenland ice sheet is considered an early indicator of the consequences of global warming, so even a slower ice melt there raises concerns.

    “This is a very large change in a very short time,” said Jay Zwally, a co-author of the study. “In the 1990s, the ice sheet was growing inland and shrinking significantly at the edges, which is what climate models predicted as a result of global warming.

    “Now the processes of mass loss are clearly beginning to dominate the inland growth, and we are only in the early stages of the climate warming predicted for this century,” Zwally said.

    Here is another story on it. “Greenland Ice Sheet On A Downward Slide”

    Ralph Maughan

  10. DavidD Avatar

    Eventually Yellowstone will once more be the supervolcano that it has been for millions of years:

    So what is the goal of wildlife management? Is it to keep things the same during our lifetime? Or a couple of more generations? Or however many thousands of years are left before all the wildlife of Yellowstone is wiped out? Keeping things the same indefinitely is not an option.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yes, explosion of the supervolcano would require management changes 😉

    The management goals in Yellowstone have changed a number of times since the Park was founded, these in response to politics and also to changing understanding of natural processes.

    I would say now that it is “ecosystem process management,” which I think means letting internal natural processes rule as much as possible, but intervening to protect the ecosystem from outside changes such as invasion by alien species like spotted knapweed or New Zealand mud snails.

    Because a process by definition involves change, freezing things at any one point in time, is as you say, not an option. So Park managers allow changes generated within the ecosystem itself, but try to reduce those that are external to it.

    The huge fires of 1988 were natural events, and the Park was much criticized at the time for not extinguishing these fires (which was really not an option, given their size).

    It should be recognized that Yellowstone Park itself is not an ecosystem, but the Park and a large area around it, called “Greater Yellowstone,” may be. Therefore, recent efforts by conservation groups like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have focused on the entire area.

    It is very difficult to fight human caused global climate change.

  12. Lance Olsen Avatar
    Lance Olsen

    I was born in Montana in 1943, and my anecdotal evidence of climate change is a good match for what others here have said.

    And the scientific evidence is a good match. But the science has gone past mere confirmation of warming, now including good evidence that plant and animal species are already responding to a new climate.

    The core climate story for plants and animals can be boiled down to two words : dieoff and redistribution. The short explanation is that species are already attempting to redistribute themselves, in response to climate change, and that some will simply die trying.

    This year, U of Texas climate expert Camille Parmesan did an excellent, state-of-the-science review of the literature (866 peer-reviewed papers) on plant/animal response. Among other things, she says that some species have already gone extinct due just to climate shifts.

    Also this year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an an article by NASA/NOAA scientist James Hansen. Hansen said that an alternative to the business-as-usual scenario of fossil fuel consumption could cut extinctions to just 10 percent of plant/animal species — that’s the best-case scenario I’ve seen, and my expectation is that we’ll sail past that rate before we get an energy policy worth supporting.

    To get a picture of what lies ahead for terrestrial species, we need to learn to look offshore. For example, U of Alberta researchers have found evidence that the timing of spring greenup in the Rockies and the size of elk populations in the Rockies are driven ENSO/PDO (the El Nino Southern Oscillation/Pacific Decadal Oscillation) in the nearby Pacific Ocean.f


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