In Idaho wilderness, researchers say wolves aren't decimating elk

University of Idaho researchers Jim and Holly Akenson have been living at Taylor Ranch Field Station, deep in the Frank Church Wilderness, since at least 2000. It was in 2001 that I heard them present their first research results at our annual North American wolf conference.

While this article does not cover all of their research, it tells how they found wolves have changed elk behavior in the vast central Idaho Wilderness. Wolves have not decimated the elk. The elk are more wary now, and they don’t come out on the meadows as much.

With all of the recent burns in central Idaho, I would expect that the place to find elk is in the partial burns where, as in Yellowstone, the elk can see out but the progress of wolves is noisier and impeded by all the burned, deadfallen logs.

Hunters need to use new tactics and maybe move to another place in the wilderness. For example, a drainage that has a near total burn (no hiding cover for elk) may seem too dangerous for the elk to hang out in unless there is really a lot of new forage.

Here is the AP article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.



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  1. Dana Avatar

    wonderful story, hope you follow these two and keep us informed of what they are doing!

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Here’s a piece on their research about wolves and cougars in the Frank Church.

    Winter Predation and Interactions of Wolves and Cougars in the Central Idaho Wilderness

    The introduction of wolves seemed to destabilize the resident cougar population. This study was conducted in the winter after the vast year 2000 fires, when there had been scant fall range for elk, and a huge elk “harvest” due the sudden lack of hiding cover (it had burned).

    It’s important to note that the species composition has varied greatly in remote Big Creek over the last 100 years. Elk did not recolonize the area until the 1940s.  The population of elk peaked in 1995, and then plunged rapidly with much of the herd consisting of barren cows.
    Since then the rains returned and the the elk population has benefited greatly. There is a lot of new forage (at least that’s what they presented in 2004). So their continuing research might give as the complete cycle from few elk, and few cougars, to a growing number of elk and cougar, but no wolves, a growing population of wolves, fire, regrowth and further changes in predators and prey.

  3. Matt Bullard Avatar
    Matt Bullard

    My wife and I had the great pleasure of spending 5 days with Holly and Jim last winter at Big Creek. We were simply stunned by the amount and diversity of wildlife in that area – we had never seen bighorn sheep before and we saw more of them than elk or deer! We never saw any wolves or cougars, but certainly saw plenty of evidence of both. Jim and Holly not only do excellent work, but are simply two of the finest people we’ve met. It is good to see that their lives’ work is getting some much deserved publicity…


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Ralph Maughan