Wolves & Elk: The overriding issue in delisting

Rocky Barker has a major story in today’s Idaho Statesman. “Wolves and Elk: The overriding issue in delisting.

The wolves-killing-livestock-thing has never amounted to much despite efforts by some to make 30 to 50 dead cows (mostly calves) a year in a state look like a unparalleled catastrophe.

The real issue is the perception that wolves are reducing elk herds. Ace Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker looks at this and as most, finds it isn’t really true. However, wolves do change elk behavior, and human hunters have to adapt. That is something many don’t like to do because, in my view, they aren’t real hunters — for them the hunt is just the shot, not the planning, the stalking, the position, the waiting.

Barker’s quote of Nate Helm, Executive Director of the misnamed group “Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Idaho” is very telling:

“The reality is the wolves are competing with us,” said Nate Helm, executive director of Idaho’s chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. “Hunters’ visions are they can return to the same location year after year and have a positive experience with elk. Wolves threaten that.”

I don’t really have to explain the quote. Helm believes, probably correctly, that some (does he think all?) “hunters” don’t want to hunt very hard and don’t want to do anything new.

Helm is further quoted:

“But for hunters, the numbers are misleading,” Helm said. “Wolves have changed elk behavior. They have pushed elk out of traditional haunts and made them harder to find.”

He is right. That’s the main reason wolves were reintroduced, to change things. It wasn’t just to put an extinct animal on the ground. It was too make elk and deer more wild, and to shake-up the whole ecosystem which has been wolfless for about 80-90 years.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife did not join with other sportsmen groups to try to shut down the elk shooting farms growing all around Idaho. I think it’s significant. That’s the next step for the lazy shooter, just drive to a farm and shoot as big an elk as you can afford. Mount the rack on your wall, and the bigger the rack the richer you are. Elk antlers are just another symbol for having money.

Hunting is one of many outdoor experiences. A lazy elk hunter doesn’t want a real outdoor experience, and that why he or she doesn’t like wolves, and doesn’t care about other animals, and doesn’t know much about biology. This kind of hunter really doesn’t like the outdoors.

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  1. DV Avatar

    True dat. I was reading the original “Lewis and Clark Journals” this morning, and found this statement, written by Lewis on May 8, 1805 interesting:

    “We saw a great number of buffaloe, Elk, common and Black taled deer, goat beaver and wolves. Capt C. killed a beaver and a wolf, the party killed 3 beaver and a deer. we can send out at any time and obtain whatever species of meat the country affords in as large quantity as we wish.” (Original Journals of The Lewis and Clark Expedition. Volume II, Parts 1 & 2. Edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Published by DSI, 2001. Page 12, 2nd paragraph)

    The expedition was in between the Yellowstone and Musselshell Rivers.

    Here’s my point. Clearly there were lots of wolves in 1805, but there were also plenty of elk, deer, buffalo and a whole host of species that wolves in 2007 are supposedly “wiping out.” So why was balance there in 1805, but today wolves are hell bent on destroying elk populations?

    Seems like either Lewis and Clark were liars, or hunters and sportsmen’s groups using anecdotal evidence (and shunning scientific numbers) are liars. So who has more motivation to lie – L&C or 2007 hunters?

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I agree.

    I want to emphasize, however, that “Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife” is not a generic name. It is the name of a specific organized interest group in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and a couple other states.

    In Idaho and Wyoming much of their emphasis is on anti-wolf activities, and they did not join with a coalition of other sportsmen this spring to try to get the Idaho Legislature to ban the elk shooting farms springing up like knapweed all over Idaho.

  3. chris Avatar

    Elk and other game species were decimated by people prior to the advent of hunting bag limits and seasons. I suspect that some hunters are basing their concerns about wolves on the long process it took to bring these game species populations back up. And obviously the wildlife habitat available now is but a fraction of what was available when Lewis and Clark were around. It’s also hard to get around the idea that every elk a wolf kills is one less elk available for a hunter.

    Put all this together and even some reasonably minded people can get overly concerned about elk numbers. I don’t, ofcourse, consider the group
    “Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife” reasonably minded.

  4. elkhunter Avatar

    I am pretty familiar with SFW and as always no one on this blog will ever mention anything good that they do. If they loved wolves, it would be totally different, you would praise their every breath. Ralph you paint it out as if every hunter wants to participate in these “Elk Farms.”

    I went to great length in the post to separate out different kinds of hunters.

    Personally out of all the hunters that I know, which is quite a few, only 2 have ever been to a Elk Farm. Beyond that I have never spoke to a hunter that has a desire to even do that. I think its wrong to try and lump every hunter into your little description.

    Shut your mouth, and read what I said

    Just like in your post about the activist groups suing about the delisting in the great lakes region. You did not want to be associated with them. And rightly so, at the same every other hunter, that works for the animals he hunts, would probably appreciate the same level of respect. From the articles that I have read about Elk Farms the large majority of the people, (I dont call them hunters because its not hunting) are people that are from out of state.

    Do we know that they are from outside Idaho? I suspect they might be lazy rich slobs that come up from Utah.

    I hunt my butt off every year Ralph. Hike mile after mile.

    Good for you. That’s what a real hunter does.

    I dont like wolves, dont want them in UT. Does that mean that I am a lazy hunter? I hunt for the biggest buck/bull I can find. I do it for the challenge, of course I could kill the first young deer I see, but I would rather kill a big one.

    And as for the SPW I help them with a service project they do in Southern UT, they do an annual pheasant hunt to teach young kids about hunting, gun safety, and conservation.

    Do they really teach kids about conservation and about real hunting?

    I take my dogs down there each year to help out. This year there were over 700 kids over the course of 3 days during their spring break. They gave away prizes, and the kids absolutely love every minute of it. I would know because I took out about 50 of them myself. They ask question after question and are having the time of their lives with their parents out for a day of hunting. And you obviously know Ralph that the younger generation is the future. I feel that the SPW are doing an amazing job to encourage the outdoors. So just because they might not see the same way you do, or love wolves the way you do, does not mean that they are this stupid organization. I heard it said that if you are always looking for the negative you will always find it, everytime.

    I was writing about what Nate Helm said, and he seemed to hit the mark in that the dislike of wolves is that hunters don’t want to learn new tricks.

    Ralph Maughan

  5. DV Avatar

    Elkhunter said :”I dont like wolves”


    Not trying to start a fight or anything…but why? What did a wolf ever do to you, personally? Not what you have read or heard. What have they done to you personally.

    I’m not a huge fan of gnats – they fly up my nose when I bike – but I still think they should live in Colorado.

  6. skyrim Avatar


  7. Steve Avatar

    Is it just me or do hunters seem insecure? I am a supporter of the right to hunt (as long as you eat what you kill), but it seems like they do a lot of whining. You could list 99 good things about hunting and one bad thing and chances are at least one hunter will accuse you of being an anti hunting extremist for daring to question or criticize their sport…

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think there are a lot of kinds of hunters.

    I learned to hunt down in Utah, where I mostly grew up, but it was apparent to me that down there the deer hunt was a time for some of the local folks in that religious state to get out of the sight of their neighbors to drink and whore, more than to hunt.

    There are a lot of hunters to who post to this blog, but I’m impressed that the blog generally attracts the kind who see hunting as backcountry adventure, or as food, rather than trophy.

  9. elkhunter Avatar

    You dont have to read very many of your posts to know that if an organization does not follow pro-wolf you are very critical. I know for a fact that SFW generates thousands and thousands of dollars for conservation. How much has The Ralph Maughaun Fund generated for conservation? You host a blog page that lets people express their opinons. And everyone does alot of complaining about anyone who does not love a wolf.
    As for your distinction “I don’t really have to explain the quote. Helm believes, probably correctly, that some (does he think all?) “hunters” don’t want to hunt very hard and don’t want to do anything new. I think that I might sense a little sarcasm there, so your defence of going to great lenghts to seperate different hunters falls on deaf ears.
    And as far as rich slobs from UT coming to ID you and I have already had the discussion on the quality of elk in UT. A “Rich Slob” could just buy a tag for the same amount down here and kill just as big of a bull. You seem to have forgotten that UT is the #1 state in the country for record book bulls, so why would a “Rich Slob” travel to ID? As far as conservation, yes they do teach kids about that. I know that you cant think there is anyway an organization that does not love wolves could promote anything good. But I have been helping at the event for the last 3 years. And they do a very good job. They seem to do alot more action, and a little less talking than some people I know, gets more results. As for changing hunting tactics for wolves, I wonder if the people who write these articles actually hunt. Ralph, you keep quoting how success rates and harvest rates have remained stable. Hunting is hunting no matter where you are. I have never had a easy hunt, I am sure if you go out and shoot a 2-point on the side of the road that could be an easy hunt. Every year is a different year, and you have to learn new tricks every year, in drought conditions the hunting is different, if there is lots of water, then the hunting is harder. Early storms, late storms… Hard winters everything plays a part Ralph. So I have a hard time believing that line of thought. Each year is very different regardless of wolves. But of course I am just a hunter that does not love wolves, so my opinion is obviously not worth much.

  10. elkhunter Avatar

    And your right Ralph, mormons use the deer hunt to go drinking and whoreing around! You found us out! Good Job! Just like we all have horns, and have lots of wives!

  11. Layton Avatar


    Contrast what you quote from the May, 1895 timeframe of the expedition with another.

    From the book Undaunted Courage — page 293and thereabouts — Sept. 16,1805 –Clark’s journal — the captains ordered second colt killed “which we all Suped hartily on and thought it fine meat”

    The party next camped at a “Sinque hole full of water” the hunters had managed to kill only a few grouse, insufficient for supper. Then “compelled us to kill Something, a coalt being the most useless part of our Stock he fell prey to our appetites.”

    Then, a footnote on page 294 – they were in what is today prime big-game country; out of state hunters pay hundreds of dollars for a license and an outfitter to hunt elk and bear in these mountains —————–

    Sooooooo, as to your point “Clearly there were lots of wolves in 1805, but there were also plenty of elk, deer, buffalo and a whole host of species that wolves in 2007 are supposedly “wiping out.” So why was balance there in 1805, but today wolves are hell bent on destroying elk populations? ”

    All was NOT roses and lollipops — they damn near starved when they got to Montana and Idaho — where WERE this “host of species”???

    If you travel the Lolo Trail and just read the signs where the expedition camped it will give you a flavor of what they ate — Bear’s oil and roots is the name of one, it probably goes with this quote.

    From Sept. 18, 1805 (page 294)—Lewis made 18 miles that day and camped on the steep side of a mountain. He broke out “a skant proportion” of the portable soup, “a few canesters of which, a little bears oil and about 20 pounds of candles from our stock of provision”.

    They had nothing else to depend on but their packhorses and rifles. Lewis wrote “but a poor dependance where there is nothing on earth except ourselves and a few small pheasants (grouse), small grey Squirrels and a blue bird of the vulture kind (either the pinion jay or Stellar’s jay)”

    Maybe that was because in those days the wolves were uncontrolled —– as they are now???


  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    A lot of people like to quote how Lewis and Clark nearly starved traveling through central Idaho, and that’s because the area along what is now the Lolo Trail, which they traveled, was nearly a climax forest with few elk, few wolves, etc.

    It is returning to that condition again today, which is why the elk have dwindled in the area, but it will be renewed by fire. The number of fires in area has already begun to increase

  13. SAP Avatar

    Elkhunter: I’m trying to figure out why you even look at Ralph’s website. You sound like a busy guy, and it doesn’t sound like participating in this blog makes you very happy.

    Whatever your reasons, though, I hope you keep it up! I value your perspective.

    I don’t agree with you that “everyone” who posts here hates hunting and just LOOOOVVVVVES wolves.

    Like I’ve written before, I hunt (but not for trophies; if I can hunt for 40 more years and only kill cows, I’ll be proud of that), and I see both positive and negative aspects of having wolves around.

    I think hunting is changing due to wolves. The elk are going to move around a lot more — a good strategy for avoiding predation, because staying in a predictable location makes life really easy for the predator. They may also be a lot warier.

    And here’s another notion: elk will learn. They always are. I hypothesize that cow elk will learn or are learning better behavioral strategies for dealing with grizzlies hunting their calves. I think they’re learning where they CAN’T winter now that wolves are back (e.g., hanging out in deep snow on Specimen Ridge eating aspens is not going to work anymore). What we see today may not be the case three years from now.

    Anyway, keep it up. We all learn and grow from having our views challenged. Just maybe don’t be quite so sensitive and easily offended. I see posts on here that chap my hide, too, but I just reflect that some folks are coming from a vastly different background, so I can’t expect them to understand my life.

    A smart guy once said ” a discussion between people who share many views is unlikely to be fruitful, even though it may be pleasant; while a discussion between vastly different frameworks can be extremely fruitful, even though it may sometimes be extremely difficult.”
    [Karl Popper, smart guy]

  14. elkhunter Avatar

    Valid points SAP, I agree on some, and dont agree on others, I know you have not been around long on this blog, but you will see that hunters, and cattleman are blamed for about everything it seems. And I am not offended, I can promise that, it seems that if you speak your mind, everyone thinks your offended, I dont know if it is because their offended because I dont follow their same mindset. Who knows? And you also will find out, that when you talk down to someone, using sarcasm, dont expect them to see eye to eye with you, especially your comment “And here’s another notion: elk will learn. They always are. I hypothesize that cow elk will learn or are learning better behavioral strategies for dealing with grizzlies hunting their calves. I think they’re learning where they CAN’T winter now that wolves are back (e.g., hanging out in deep snow on Specimen Ridge eating aspens is not going to work anymore). What we see today may not be the case three years from now.” I am not a young child barely learning about the outdoors and hunting. It would help you alot more to maybe think that the person you are talking to is not a young child and just might have some knowledge on the topic. Thanks, SAP

  15. SAP Avatar

    Oops, sorry Elkhunter. It’s not always possible to imagine how the other person is going to read something. It’s so much different from talking face to face.

    So, I apologize if my tone seemed as though I was talking down to you. Was just sort of rambling on there with my observations, and not necessarily directing them at YOU specifically. And I wasn’t being sarcastic, either. I know that YOU know that elk learn — you wouldn’t be a successful hunter if you didn’t grasp that fundamental point.

  16. Dan Nursall Avatar
    Dan Nursall

    I feel sorry for the elk, prior to wolf re-introduction they were doing just fine with wildlife management paid for and taken care of by hunters and the IDFG Department. I agree that we haven’t seen an overall reduction in the elk herd (yet) but elk are running scared and the biggest loss in my opinion is elk won’t bugle if wolves are in the area. Hearing elk bugle makes the whole hunt for me and having that experience taken away by people who spend very little time in the woods sucks. Wolf lovers don’t spend near the time or money on outdoor pursuits as hunters but they act like they are the only voice worth listening to.

    I think your statement that “wolf lovers don’t spend near the time or money on outdoor pursuits as hunters” is just plain wrong on a per person basis. Of course, you are correct in total because elk are widespread.” I don’t like the term “wolf lover” because it is inherently unflattering and generally wrong. I support the wolf restoration because I appreciate all the wildlife.

    Those who watch wolves in Yellowstone tend to spend a huge amount of money and time doing it. Some have even purchased homes in Gardiner and Cooke City.

    As far elk go, I think I have done far more than most in conserving them by commenting on forest service and BLM development plans, surveying their range, and participating in appeals of projects.

    You also need to consider the fact that many hunters support wolf restoration or at least indifferent to it.

    If the elk are wary now, good!

    Ralph Maughan

  17. Jim Avatar

    The elk were doing fine prior to wolf recovery. Except the ones that were killed by hunters, poachers, vehicle collisions. The ones that had to be killed because they interfered with ranching and farming activities. Dan, next time you shoot an elk, ask it before it dies how well it is doing. Then ask it if it is grateful to the sportsman of ID that is was given a chance to inflate your ego, or to be a trophy on your wall.

  18. elkhunter Avatar

    Jim, the elk would probably be grateful to the hunter, considering the fact that a large majority of the money that goes to manage them is generated by hunters. Hunters are the large majority of the people that generate money for conservation, just look at any wild sheep foundation, elk foundation, turkey foundation, they all generate hundreds of thousands of dollars that help support those animals.

    You know, “hundreds of thousand of dollars” isn’t very much money. It would say they contribute millions, but so do non-hunting groups. Ralph Maughan


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