Biologist Boyce discovers the landscapes where elk are most likely to be killed by wolves

It is this kind of information that is very useful in judging the ecological effects of wolves. Human hunters too should take notice because elk learn what kinds of areas are safe and which are not.

Story from Science Daily. [Silly headline] Wolves Find Happy Hunting Grounds In Yellowstone National Park.



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  1. Layton Avatar

    Stand by ‘cuz this is going to be a bit long winded.

    My sometimes adversary (always?) on this blog – Jeff E. is fond of accusing me of quoting “out of context” so I have made the quotes here rather long to be SURE that I post the pertinent information for each.

    First a quote from the referenced article:

    “Boyce and his colleagues studied the wolf-elk interactions over a period of 10 consecutive winters in a northern range of the Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.
    The area has been of special interest to researchers since 14 wolves from the Canadian Rockies were introduced to the park in 1995. Wolves had been extirpated from Yellowstone in the 1930s, and some people speculated the re-introduced wolves would doom the park’s elk population. However, while the number of wolves on Yellowstone’s northern range has since grown to 84, the number of elk has not declined appreciably”

    And another, related comment from the same article:

    “Prime-age adult elk are largely invulnerable to predation from wolves, which are highly selective and target the young, old or weak.

    Then a quote from a post on this blog by Jeff E.:(didn’t get the date but he was putting me down on a “what do you want to talk about” thread.

    Northern Yellowstone Herd:
    1995-96 ~20,000 first year for wolves; start of severe
    drought conditions. >3,300 elk taken by
    hunters in Montana late hunt, mostly prime
    breeding aged cow elk. Montana knew that
    the herd was way over populated and was
    trying to reduce it through hunting.
    1996-97 no count preformed. Massive winter kill
    (1000s by best estimates) and >3300
    hunter harvest. Again the hardest hit are
    prime breeding aged cow elk on the hunt and
    the youngest and oldest from the winter kill.
    1998 ~12000 elk
    1998-00 population increases to ~15,000
    2000-05 population decreases to ~10,000. Factors
    identified were continued high hunter harvest
    of prime breeding aged cow elk outside the
    park, predation by bears and wolves and
    climatic variations which negatively affect
    pregnancy rates and calf recruitment.
    1996-2001: 22-34 per 100 cows
    2002-2005: 12-14 per 100 cows
    2006: 24 per 100 cows
    Factors cited for increase in 2006
    1. Drastically reduced hunter harvest of prime
    breeding aged cow elk
    2. Significant reduction of wolves on the
    northern range.

    Now I will be the first to admit that predation by wolves is not the ONLY reason sited for the decrease in the population of elk in the Northern Park area, but it surely is a SIGNIFICANT one.

    Which one is right, the article cited in this thread, or the data that are cited by Jeff E.??

    I’m terribly confused!! How about it Jeff? Are you still going to try to blame this on hunters and keep the wolves out of it?


    Layton (bored on a Sunday)

  2. Jay Avatar

    I’m going to propose that the said declines in elk numbers are probably caused by the extremely high predation rate by a growing population of introduced T. rex, a program hatched by the tree-hugging, pro-wolf, elk-and-deer hating greenie liberals that want to put a stop to our God-given right to roam the woods and kill stuff.

  3. Jon Way Avatar

    My thought Layton is that elk will never return to their all-time highs (about 20,000) with wolves around. However, elk will never be eradicated either. Most likely, wolves (which of course are one of the major population regulatory influences of elk in Yellowstone) will keep wolves around 10,000 animals (obviously give or take). Drought will no doubt weaken elk and will lower numbers as we see now. Hopefully, more rain and less drought will improve elk survival and maybe cause an increase to 12,000 or so. But with wolves around you will likely not see the cyclic highs and lows that were typical of elk before wolves. Of course, that is why they were reintroduced to the park.
    I think this middle road view of wolves as a major but not decimating influence of elk numbers is important for folks to move on with wolves soon to be delisted.
    Just my 2 cents.

  4. Jon Way Avatar

    Sorry, wolves will keep elk (not wolves) around 10,000…

    PS – I wouldn’t be surprised to see elk increase in the near future if the prolonged drought ever ends.

  5. Layton Avatar


    Well spoken, glad to see that you’ve been doing some REAL research. 8^)


    Better watch it partner, being a “middle of the roader” and actually trying to use a little common sense around here won’t win any popularity contests.

    Just curious tho’ — you mention that one of the reasons that wolves were introduced in the park was to lessen the cyclic highs and lows in the elk population – me paraphrasing . I’ve also heard, at various times, that some of the other reasons were – to increase the elk’s awareness of predators – to help the aspens grow better – etc. What WAS the main, official reason(s) for the intro?? Can anybody define that at this point?


  6. Mike Wof Avatar
    Mike Wof

    Actually, the population of elk is more determined by forage availability than by wolves. It is entirely possible that down the line, elk may actually exceed their previous population high before wolves came along…

    This is from that study done over some 30 years on Isle Royale…

    And by the way, wolf population is more strongly influenced by elk population than anything else (with the possible exception of human interference.) Of course, this is as long as habitat potential is achieved through interbreeding – which it isn’t…

    Oh, one more thing…habitat is obviously the largest influence on elk and wolf populations. If prey affect predator; then elk prey, aka forage, is highly dependent upon habitat.

  7. Jim Avatar

    The main official reason is because they were there originally and the ESA mandates that all ecosystems be returned to a point as close to their original state as possible.

    Private sector scientists will say to complete the ecosystem. People like me will say those things but mostly because we think they are cool and should be everywhere.

  8. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Layton says “I’m terribly confused!!”

  9. Jon Way Avatar

    I agree with you Jim…
    The main reason, Layton, was b.c of the law (ESA) that they were (just like every species) legally required to be returned to former areas where they were extirpated. Of course, making elk alert and probably moderating their numbers over the long-term (based on similar forage availability, which drought greatly affects) are secondary, yet important, reasons…

  10. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I was in eastern Idaho over the weekend visiting. My sister told me that she knows a couple that has opened a business of renting GPS receivers tuned to the frequency of the various collared animals in Yellowstone park. I don’t know if one receiver is used and a list of frequencies is provided or just one receiver tuned to one frequency. Have you heard anything like this? Anyone else?

  11. sal Avatar

    Jeff E.,

    We’ve got these folks in West, the seem to be from Eastern Idaho, at least the folks here are.

  12. sal Avatar

    If you check the “services” page, you might get an idea from looking at the bison on the sample screen that maybe you could catch up with any animal, especially those with collars on. BTW, some bison have collars now, as do some elk…

  13. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Actually, the ESA doesn’t require “ecosystem restoration”. The ESA mandates species protection; that’s it. If the ESA mandated ecosystem protection; there wouldn’t be anywhere near the litigation we have today.

  14. Layton Avatar

    Atta boy Jeff — chime in with some crappy comment when you get caught!!

    Either you or Boyce is flat out wrong — care to hazard a guess on which??

    What was the old adage about remaining silent and be thought a fool?? Congratulations!! You made it work!!


  15. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I attempted to post here earlier from my other URL. Actually, twice of the same post except the second one had some corrected spelling. Are there some glitches in the system today?

  16. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    Someone had asked earlier on here about what was the real reason for wolves being returned to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). I thought I knew the answer, but wasn’t sure so I found the first Annual Report for the Yellowstone Wolf Project (I’ll add the address to the bottom of this post if you’re curious). There were only a few paragraphs devoted to the reasoning behind the reintroduction, but they were very clear and concise. Here are some short quotes on the Program Objectives:
    “It was not until 1972 that then Assistant Secretary of
    the Interior, Nathaniel Reed, organized the first official
    meeting to discuss wolf restoration in Yellowstone with
    authorities on conservation of predators.”
    “The wolf niche appears essentially vacant.
    Therefore, I recommend restoring this native predator by
    introducing wolves to Yellowstone.” A plan to recover the
    gray wolf throughout the northern Rocky Mountains,
    approved in 1980 and revised in 1987, specifically called
    for reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone.”
    “Restoring wolves to Yellowstone is part of a larger
    effort to recover the gray wolf throughout the northern
    Rocky Mountains.”

    You may have another take on it, but I think it’s pretty obvious from these quotes that wolves were restored for conservation and recovery purposes. The GYE is great habitat for wolves, it has supported them for thousands of years. There are many things we have learned from the reintroduction. For instance the trophic cascade that wolves cause, or increases of willow and aspen growth, beaver population, etc. There are also differences in effect on prey between human hunting versus natural predation. These are all things we have learned about by studying the wolves in the GYE, but I don’t think you can say they are the “reasons” behind the reintroduction.


    By the way here is the web address for the Wolf Project Annual Reports:

  17. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Gee, Layton it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m not sure what you think you “caught” me at but if you would have had someone read all of my original post of 15 April 2007, to you that you referenced above, they would have pointed out that I cited two documents. Anyway here are the links.
    Now if you will open these you will see that every thing in my post came directly from those two documents. I will point out each individual sentence for you if need be. Also you might make note that of 43 references cited in the Elk Overview paper, low and behold, one of them is M.S. Boyce. So again what did you catch me at?
    Actually I fail to see what correlation you were trying to make between the three papers. You seem more confused than usual here.
    Layton I do not see us as adversaries as that would indicate there was, in this case mental, a challenge involved and be very sure that is not the case.
    No this is much more akin to a cat toying with a mouse.
    Let me hear you go squeak.

  18. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    oops, apparently my second link above turned out wrong. here is the correct one.

  19. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    okay sorry try this.
    damn spell check

  20. elkhunter Avatar

    Jeff E, I think Layton was pointing out the fact that you blame hunters for the decline in elk populations, and blaming the wolves as to not have any effect at all on the wolves.

  21. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    elk hunter,
    what you and Layton are obviously not getting is that I did not create the data in the documents I have cited. If you read them very carefully there are at least two references made of wolf predation, which I also included, when I posted that data.
    So how is it that merely repeating what 43 qualified sources of that paper had presented is blaming hunters for anything.


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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