Do supporters of wolf recovery hate elk?
This should be so obvious, but I has finally dawned on me that many elk hunters think that those who have supported the wolf restoration, hate elk, or at best are indifferent to elk.
Because wolves eat elk, deer, moose, etc. it should be obvious that wolf supporters have a great interest in the health and vitality of ungulate herds, but apparently not!
As for myself, I became interested in wolves after many years of concern how the livestock industry and timber industry made it so we had to exist with a poverty of elk, antelope, moose, and bighorn sheep. I, or groups I was an officer with, had signed onto many appeals and lawsuits against timber sales and range “improvement” projects.
It may be plain to most of us, but we would do well to pointedly to speak favorably about elk and other ungulates, and publicize it when you do something to help them and send the news release to hunting organizations.
Of course, much of the opposition to wolves is based on other matters and the misinformation is stirred up with malice, but this disinformation is picked up in routine conversation.
One again I want to remind folks of this website which is a good summary to what is know about wolves and elk, livestock, etc.
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.
25 Responses to Do supporters of wolf recovery hate elk?
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Aldo Leopold wrote something to the effect: “how can one love the prey & hate the predator”? Humans love scapegoats. I have supported the “Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation” with my labor and have, also, supported the reintroduction of wolves with my letters. However, the larger more philosophical point, is that in our increasingly “shopping mall & theme park world” much of the romance of life is gone to be replaced by predictability & sameness. To those of us who still love the “wild”, the predator is an interal part of the landscape. The vast majority of lands, in the “lower 48”, are going to be urbanzied, paved over or converted to agriculture & energy production. It seems so incredability selfish that the predator haters would exclude wolves from every acre of land in the lower 48. They would convert the remaining wild lands into German hunting preserves.
I have always been a supporter of all wildlife and wilderness, and have never quite got the idea of why humans feel they have to control them all.
The only animals I truly have problems with are skunks and the racoons.
Why don’t we try to control them more and the big game a little less.
Ralph-In response to your initial comments:
As an elk hunter who supports wolf restoration in the Northern Rockies, I’ve had several delicate conversations with other hunters who oppose the wolf program. In these conversations, two themes appear. First, many hunters see wolves as competition for elk and thus a threat to reduce hunting opportunity. This leads to the (erroneous in my view) conclusion that the wolf program is a vehicle to end hunting in the west. One sees this argument a lot in the hook and bullet mags. Second, many hunters and other wolf opponents are simply not comfortable walking in places where they are not the “top dog”. This fear takes away from the enjoyment of hunting or hiking or whatever.
I’ve never heard any hunters express the belief that wolf supporters hate or are indifferent to elk, but maybe I’m not talking to the right people.
The problem here is one that has always plagued “wildife managment” i. e. single species management for something big and meaty. And the idea that we always have to try to “produce” more of a common huntable species, which is what elk are, for the hunting industry.
The RMEF Stewardship Contract business is particularly troubling, because it affects public lands that belong to all of us, and the projects under it will have an overwhelming elk forage (and thus cows, too) bias. And thinning and killing the trees to try to proudce more huntable elk will adversely affect habitats for species that don’t particularly like a thin open landscape.
Plus, they are likely going to shoot themselves in the feet with too much thinning, even for elk, cause then the cows will increase, or weeds move in, and elk security cover will be gone. Basically, it’s the endless manipulation endlessly applied to the landscape mindset that I hate. Not the elk.
WHAT happened to the goold old days when RMEF bought key habitat parcels so they could become public lands, or focused on rehab of burned winter range, and wasn’t “Stewardship Contracting” – essentially becoming part of the logging industry? And also not taking over the function (contracting) of a government agency?
“kt” obviously has not studied the RMEF Stewardship Contract business in detail and has a poor if any understanding of what the elk means to habitat. His/her analysis is flawed and fails to understand that in the forest, the elk is a bell weather species much like the salmon is for our rivers and streams. When habitat is managed for elk then a host of other creatures benefit from birds to amphibians. Why this comment even appears re a wolf article is beyond me.
RMEF recently published a position on wolves. See their latest BUGLE magazine or their web site at http://www.rmef.org . Bottom line, when wolves are reintroduced and reach sustainable populations, they support management of wolves thru hunting, just like they do elk. Personally, as an elk hunter and conservationist, I can’t wait to have my first wolf interaction in the wild. I think they are a part of our historic landscape and I welcome those howls, and even a few less elk, in exchange for the full wilderness experience.
Hi Mike Post,
I have some understanding of elk, but they are not the great big tent “umbrella” species for Everything.
My understanding is that elk were once a more Open Country species, and that grasses, not “browse”/woody material form the basis of their diet. They were driven into the trees by —especially — WhiteMan weaponry and persecution.
Now, in order to try to make there be more elk, in country with a lot of trees, and/or where development and amenity ranchettes have encroached on their habitat, or where ranchers are whining a bunch about elk in their haystacks or on “their” grazing allotments, we are now all supposed to embark on logging projects to try to make more elk.
WHY doesn’t RMEF focus on buying key private winter range or other lands – beofre they get built up? That might help alleviate some of the need for endless manipulation?
The whole “bellwether” or “umbrella” species concept – only applies to species that fit under the same umbrella – i. e. eat grass and like some other things that elk like.
If I am a songbird that relies on dense woody tree growth for nesting habitat, I am NOT going to like the logging/thinning to grow elk.
Do you know if RMEF is going to receive any “administrative” fee for contracting oversight?
If I were to do a FOIA to RMEF, would they openly provide me with all records from their Chapter Meetings related to the logging projects? I would never know, because RMEF is not bound by the same rules that the Forest or BLM are.
We have a federal government structure that provides citizens with access to information, and still a relatively even playing field.
When we start handing some of this off to others – be it RMEF or Blackwater, or Halliburton – things can start going awry and alevel of transparency goes away …
Do wolf supporters (automatically) hate elk? I think the question is a little far-fetched. It never dawned on me that just for the reason of being a supporter of carnivore conservation I could hate their prey. Never ever! Maybe one just does not spend much thinking about elk and deer because they are everywhere, abundant and really nowhere in danger. They are accepted and liked “per default”. But look around on this globe and you see who´s in real danger, who is indeed deeply hated, who´s on the brink of extinction, who is pursued. It´s the Tiger, the Wolf, the Leopard, the Lynx, the Bear, the Cougar, the Jaguar…. You can take for granted that everybody loves Bambi. And I have to admit, the only creature that I do have problems with (still no hate) when hiking in their territory are the nasty smaller ones, the rattlesnakes, the mambas and the like.
Was just reading ScienceDaily. There is an article about the return of wild elk to Ontario, Canada which had disappeared do to over hunting by humans in the 19th century. What caught my eye was the line about how the elk holding their own and adapting to their new surroundings in spite of all the “Canadian Wolves.”
Mike, I think KT has a classic textbook case of her views by what is happening in the Lamar Valley YNP. The science is there, whether we choose to believe it or not.
OH yes, those darn rattlesnakes and viemous species scare me plenty. Excellent analogy Peter.
Denise, I’m not tuned in too much to Yellowstone. Those lodgepoles give we more deserty country folks sort of a case of the claustrophobia heeby jeebies. What is happening with the Lamar Valley?
The most fearsome creature I have encountered? Rifle deer hunters. TWICE I have been shot very close to in a rifle hunting season, and BOTH times I was standing ON a dirt road ON purpose because I knew hunters were about. Have seen, I don’t know, way over a hundred rattlesnakes by now (our relatively mild-venomed western rattlesnake certainly not in the same league as a mamba), and always get that innate jolt of fear. It’s interesting how they slow you down, change your gait, make you suddenly MUCH more aware of your surroundings. And if you’re out with dogs, NOT go places that look “snakey” certain times of the year. Oh, and the sound of a cicada at knee level, I’m conditioned to jump back a foot as it’s very close to a rattlesnake buzz. But hey, I’m intruding in their space.
But here is what will make any caring person really bond with snakes: An encounter with a local Good Old Boy intent on killing a snake. Will never forget driving down a gravel road, minding my own business in a gov’t truck, and being flagged down by one such person whose vehicle was blocking the road. He was sure he needed an audience to persecute a hapless rattler by the roadside that he had stopped to persecute. The wife in the pickup, evidently, wasn’t quite enough of an audience for the manly act about to be staged. Drama With Shovel unfolded … other folks have had similar experiences, or “Idaho Moments” as we’ve come to call them.
KT, Glad you asked… What isn’t happening in the Lamar Valley?? Hah! PUN No offense.
Since the reintroduction of the wolves to the Yellowstone Ecosystem the talking heads are seeing groundbreaking science. I am a great supporter of education/science and contribute to the Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone Science. That serves as a forum for publishing their data in their fields of science. You probably no all that.
Anywho, In reading the Yellowstone Science Publication Vol 13 Number 1 (13.1) Winter 2005 Titled Ten Years of Yellowstone Wolves. On Page 6, A GOOD START by Dr. Rolf Peterson wrote of the indirect effects of an ecosystem involving plants and smaller carnivores and how his visit in 2001 overlapped that of a veteran elk researcher Doug Houston visiting the park. He wrote and anticdot about how Doug Smith recommended he look at the Willows up Blacktail Creek. The researcher was so overcome on measuring the impressive resurgence of willows he missed the “Bear Closure” sign. He managed to backdate enough willows to prove that the willows had escaped the elk about the time the wolves arrived.
However, his measuring was cut short upon the arrival of a ranger who pointed out the sign. Then stating. No, you can’t just let scientists run wild! He continued on about a winter-killed bison and the hoard of scavengers among them were two red foxes. Foxes squeezing in on coyote country.
I thought you’d enjoy this tidbit as it goes along with your “Idaho Moments”, which I got a laugh out of.
Basically, I wanted to point out the need for all spieces whether it be plant or animals. And their impacts on the habitat. Which seems to be disappearing at such an alarming rate in this great country of ours. It is our greatest resource. Lets protect it by all working together. This blog serves a greater purpose. I enjoy your particpation and contributions as well as many other.
I’m from Minnesota, we have 4000 wolves & nearly 2 million deer & even a few elk. I’m always amused by the frantic bleatings of the hunters in Wyoming & Montana over the expected losses of elk from predation by wolves. Yes, their going to eat some but you have much more to fear from habitat loss & drought than wolves. We are up to our armpits in wolves & have so many deer we have to expanding out hunting seasons to control them. Your leaders in the enviro & hunting comunities need to get in 1 room and honestly explore what it takes to have wolves & elk & come up with a sensible plan. We did.
Thanks for your post. I have tried to talk about Minnesota for ten years, and it’s like I said nothing.
If it didn’t happen in Idaho, then it didn’t happen. . . the same with Wyoming and Montana.
Ralph, Your comment “As for myself, I became interested in wolves after many years of concern how the livestock industry and timber industry made it so we had to exist with a poverty of elk, antelope, moose, and bighorn sheep.”
Guess what? Since these wolves were brought in elk and moose have become an increasingly rare commodity. I have lived in Idaho for 33 years and have never witnessed such a dearth of Elk and Moose in the areas where I hike and fish. I know you say that Wolves don’t kill that many elk and only make herds stronger and “less like cattle”. But everyplace where I used to see lots of elk and lots of sign they have now mysteriously become absent. I am certain that you are a man of great integrity and would never mislead the American people about what impact these carnivores are having on our nations wildlife population. However, I am very concerned about what I have observed and what everyone is saying concerning Canadian Wolf impacts on Native ungulate herds.
Talk to the locals in any wolf infested region in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming and ask them how the wolves have “helped” the big game herds. Seriously, go to Cascade or Lowman or Council or Stanley or Bozeman. Listen to what the people who actually live there are saying. Or just pay attention to the only herds that are actually counted, “Yellowstone”. 19000 to what 5000, 4000, 3000?
I know it all makes sense while logged into Sinapu.com, but in this multipredator ecosytem of non-migrating ungulates that we have been given stewardship over, it is nothing short of an ecological disaster. No one was complaining about wildlife management or lack of animals in the tri-state region prior to this introduction but they sure are now.
Talk about taking something priceless and throwing it to the wolves.
I hope that Defenders is taking good care of you for being “Idaho’s one man wolf band”. But wether you realize it or not, few locals are celebrating with you. Also Id, Montana and Wy were fabulous unspoiled places prior to all this lets fix the ecosystem stuff. Really, I mean we all loved our ecosytems just the way they were. We all used to have nothing but praise and admiration for the way wildlife management was handled, but that’s not what people say anymore. I know you propably had good intentions with all this, it’s just that sometimes as men, we need to admit it and try to correct it when we really screw something up. Or I guess you can just keep taking Defenders money and continue telling everyone how great this wolf thing is working out.
No disrespect intended, just sorry to see such a great wildlife management success story slandered and trashed the way it was. And call me crazy or whatever you want to do but I like affordable beef, I live in a wooden house, I think mining is an important industry and I love protecting the environment.
Take care, Curtis
In Idaho, elk populations are 20 percent above management objectives, and, according to Idaho Fish and Game’s 2006 progress report, “Overall elk populations statewide are near all time highs.”
Sometimes it is hard to see the elk and moose because of all the cattle, but they are doing well and would do much better if some of the excess cattle were removed from the public lands. If the cattle were removed that state could raise its elk objective numbers. You must know that the Fish and Game objectives for almost all big game in Idaho and Wyoming are held below what they could be because of pressure from some farmers and public land ranchers who don’t want to let the game have the forage.
Defenders of Wildlife provides me with no money. I am neither part of their staff or a volunteer for them.
I am a conservative and not a left wing kook. I happen to like wolves and they belong here just as much as anyone or anything for that matter. Hunters are just pissed off that they can’t “hunt” down the weak, because the wolf got them first. You the hunters, do not like competition. Think about this. Competition is what brings out the best in everyone, not only in business but also the environment. With out it life would be dull, boring and mundane. You will be a better hunter and will appreciate the HARD WORK Native American’s went through to feed their families.
Well said Phillip.
I have been shocked how often unapologetic mediocrity is used to justify some hunting practices as well as many other outdoor activities which the participants certainly should not be proud of.
Phillip, are you a hunter? I am curious to know, because all the people that talk like that about hunters, how lazy we all are, have never been hunting. If you think hunting is easy, as if we just drive our ATV’s a couple of miles then pull over and shoot an elk. Then mud-bog across a field to get the elk, and then shoot the sign on our way out. And we dont hunt down the weak, when I see an elk or deer, I dont go for the weakest one, I go for the one with the biggest horns. Go hunting once or twice and see how easy it is, in fact come down here to UT where we have no wolves, and game that act like “cattle” and see how easy it really is, I would enjoy watching you experience these easy “hunts” that all us hunters go on.
I’m a hunter. I think most hunters are lazy. They blame wolves for their inability to hunt..and they’ll tell you this from their ATVs. I can’t speak for all hunters, or the majority of hunters in Utah; but I can speak for my experience with hunters in this area. They are lazy, they are lawless, and they are just plain dumb…generally speaking. Illegal tree stands, poaching, including cutting the horns off of roadkill (I witnessed that, three times so far.)
For me, I think hunting presents a challenge. A multi-day horse-back adventure finding, tracking, and pursuing a herd. I will target a non-dominant bull if I go after a bull, and take him down with a double lung shot. If I go after a cow, I’ll shoot for the head. I don’t trophey hunt, I hunt for meat. The bull’s antlers would likely be given to a guide.
Oh, and when I hunt, I’ll listen for wolves…they know where the food is after all.
Although this isn’t a hunting methods blog, I have to state some misgivings about head shots on big game. Stick with those heart-lung shots.
Unless you’re a precision sniper, there’s too much risk there for a less-than-immediately fatal shot. I’ve seen deer and elk with jaws and noses shot away. They can go quite a ways like that, but will eventually die a miserable death from starvation or infection.
There’s also potential for a non-fatal neck shot if you’re off a little. These shots can be really tricky because they have a huge stun effect, knocking the elk flat and maybe unconscious. Then, as you get closer, the animal recovers and the race is on.
You can also nick the esophagus — another long, miserable death, and, if low enough, a good way to get a bunch of rumen in the body cavity.
your hunting experience must be limited, I have never heard a veteran hunter say they would aim for the head, pretty small target. Your lung cavity shot would be better, if you only hunt for meat, why all the trouble to pack in and chase a herd around to shoot a cow? Why not just shoot one close to the road, thats what I would do. I go for the dominate bull, more of a challenge, I also only hunt with a bow, more of a challenge. You must hunt in some horrible areas if you are running into hunters like that. I rarely run into the things you do it seems. And I would not listen to wolves, you know elk dont like them, so I would probably listen to the elk, cause thats where they will be. You might also look for the habitat that attracts elk, south facing slopes, wallows, deep timber and things of that nature, of course I hunt during the rut, so it might be different for you, but ya I would not chase wolves to find elk, elk dont really like them.
I live in Bozeman, hunt, and actually spent time in ’02 tracking with the wolf project as a volunteer in YNP. I was also a Park Ranger there from ’02 through ’06. I agree with you that I do happen to hear some of the things that you mentioned in your post from some people. About what the wolves are doing to the elk and moose. Unfortunately in my experience most of that talk is from people that don’t really know what they’re talking about.
If you look at the elk populations in Montana, Idaho, & Wyoming, they’re actually pretty healthy. In fact, many in areas of high wolf population are above their management levels. There are some areas of concern however, the northern Yellowstone Elk herd has been on the decline since several years before the wolves were reintroduced. In your post, you mentioned that herd once numbered 19,000, which is correct. 19,000 was that herd’s historic high in 1992. There was a reason that during that time period, the state of Montana held the Gardiner Late Hunt (which was a bonus hunt after the regular hunting season) and issued 3,000 or more tags for it. That large a number doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy elk herd, large doesn’t equal healthy. Here’s a little known fact, look into YNP history, park management originally wanted to manage that one herd at 5,000 animals, because of overgrazing concerns. However that herd is only one of the no less than 7 elk herds that use YNP as summer range, and they number 25-30,000 during the summer months.
When talking about the northern yellowstone elk herd however it’s important to not forget that we are in a long drought here, and that there are other predators that prey on that herd. Bears take a large percentage of the calves, and cougars are actually more efficient than wolves at hunting elk. These are all factors that affect an elk herd, and although wolves definitely make an impact, they are not the only one.
I would encourage you to contact the Wolf Project in the Yellowstone Center for Resources and see if you can get a copy of their annual report. That way you can see the data that’s being taken for yourself, it’s enlightening.
As for moose being taken by wolves, in the seven years between 1995 up until March of 2002 (which is the winter that I worked for the wolf project), wolves in YNP had taken about 7-10 moose. Is that all the moose they took? Definitely not. Is that enough to account for the recent decline of the moose population in YNP? Probably not.
Think about this however, the park moose population was on the decline since the late 1980s, and it’s been documented that the moose in that area do their winter browsing in old growth forests (spruce/fir). Now you may remember in 1988 there was a little fire event that you could say “impacted” old growth forests in YNP. This is what Park biologists believe is the real reason behind the moose decline. Once again, it would be silly to think that wolves don’t make an impact… but can you honestly say it’s a decisive one?
Here’s something else to think about, regardless of what your take is on global warming, the fact is we’ve had warmer and drier seasons in this area over the last few years. Historically we are in the absolute southernmost tip of moose habitat by quite a distance. So if the climate shifts even a little, wouldn’t it make sense that we would see an impact here, first?
Anyway, I ultimately probably didn’t change your mind, but hopefully I gave you something at least to think about.
Oh and the head shot thing? …Bad idea.
Dan, you cut it out with all those facts to confuse them there folks! I know a guy who knows a guy in Stanley, Idaho that says the wolves kill elk and therefore they’re to blame. Not the hunters, who kill primarily the prime-aged bulls and cows.
Ok, I’ll lay off the sarcasm now. I read a quote from Carter Niemeyer (ex WS wolf trapper and retired USFWS wolf coordinator for Idaho) basically saying that the anti-wolfers aren’t going to “let the facts get in their way”, which is what you touched on in your post. Very poignant statement, I think. My last comment is, we as a species need to learn to share. Didn’t we all learn that in kindergarten? Seriously, the elk don’t belong to the hunters (although they’ll sure lead you to believe they do), and we all have a say on how our natural resources are stewarded.
When I say I would take a head shot; I mean with my precision 7mmRM overkill sniper-type rifle. I would only take a shot if I knew for certain I could make it.
I personally don’t believe in bow hunting because making a shot isn’t the real challenge. It’s finding the animal, and finding the right one. I think making a shot with a rifle at 700+ yards is challenging enough.
If I were into hunting for the sport of it, and with consideration of the animal, I’d get a group of friends and hunt an elk down with knives…but since I am human, and can operate high-powered rifles, I prefer to take my time and find a good animal (non-dominant make, or a cow for better meat) and mercy-kill it…one shot, one kill and no suffering.
Or maybe I should just stick to soybean hunting…the season is almost here!
This is been a good thread. It has gone on for months.
I am now closing it to further comment.