Dubois, Wyoming, hunters split on losses to wolves

Dubois hunters split on losses to wolves. AP.

This article says “Charles Kay, a Utah researcher who specializes in wildlife ecology, said there have been no comprehensive studies of how wolves impact big game because such a study would be complex, time-consuming and costly.”

In fact there have been many studies, although Kay may not think they were comprehensive enough. Then too, “big game” is a lot of different kinds of animals, all of which might respond differently.



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  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I’d like to take first crack at this, since I live and hunt elk in the Dubois, Wyoming area, which is the Upper Wind River Valley in the southeastern portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, west of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

    First of all, regarding Charles Kay’s assertion, which Ralph quotes above, it is sheer nonsense. As Ralph states, there are numerous well-designed studies assessing the relationship between wolf predation and ungulate population dynamics that have been done throughout the northern hemisphere. Some of those studies were done in Alaska by the AK Dept. of Fish & Game, where Kay came from before he got his PhD at Utah State University. Perhaps he’s forgotten those studies.

    (Interestingly, Kay did his dissertation on how the National Park Service was mismanaging aspen and willow communities in Yellowstone National Park through the elk natural regulation policy. Funny, ever since wolves were placed into Yellowstone, and have caused a redistribution of elk away from aspen and willow, allowing those two species to return, not to mention bringing beaver back, we haven’t heard a word from Charles Kay about the improved conditions in Yellowstone riparian areas. I guess wolves aren’t relevant to the natural regulation controversy).

    I had the opportunity to spend some time assessing the most intensive, and expensive, study on the wolf-moose-caribou relationship ever done in North America–the Champagne-Aishihik wolf control program in the southern Yukon a decade ago. It lasted five years and cost over a million dollars, but it did go forward and was completed. The results of this study may be found in the following document:

    Robert D. Hayes et al. 2003. Experimental reduction of wolves in the Yukon: Ungulate responses and management implications. Wildlife Monographs (The Wildlife Society) 152: 1-35.

    So much for Kay’s assertion.

    Regarding this story, with its claims that wolves have put an end to the late season elk hunts, I can without qualification state that there have been two primary influences on the low cow-calf ratios in the Wiggins Fork Elk Herd, which is the herd that occupies the Upper Wind River Valley and the Dubois area. Neither has anything to do with wolves.

    As a preliminary, if you graph data concerning cow-calf ratios
    in the Wiggins Fork herd, using Wyoming G&F Department-produced data from the annual herd unit reports, based upon the winter trend counts done from the air, you will see that the decline in ratios began before wolves arrived in the Dubois area and certainly before the first pack was established in 1996/1997. Further, there is no statistically significant change in the rate of decline pre- or post-wolf, and we have of late seen some improvement, although not much.

    First, we have had an on-again, off-again drought here since the early 90s. It has been a serious drought and has had an impact on all local wildlife, not just elk. We did see some improvement in elk cow calf ratios after a let up in the drought over the last three years, but that change is not significant either. I’d like to see a couple more years of data before coming to the conclusion that ratios are on the rise. We did have good moisture this summer and fall.

    Second, and most importantly, G&F instituted an elk reduction program between 1998 and 2003 as a consequence of landowner complaints about too many elk. The focus of the program was cows and calves. I estimate, since the actual number was never published in the G&F herd unit reports, that 1500 additional type 6, LATE SEASON cow-calf licenses were issued during that five year period. According to G&F, most of those licenses were filled, but separate numbers were never published, something I’ve pressed G&F about but have never received an answer. In any case, G&F decided to cease the program in 2003. We have had very few late season tags issued here of late.

    That is why there are few late season cow calf tags being issued now. The herd reduction program was successful, as far as G&F was concerned, and the Dept. stopped issuing the licenses.

    This claim about reduced hunting opportunities around here as a consequence of wolves wiping out the elk (not to mention fear of grizzlies) came up three years ago in a Casper Star Tribune story that was very similar to the current story, but G&F didn’t try to answer the complaints with the facts. Since G&F remained silent, I wrote a letter to the CST explaining how the herd reduction program worked and what it accomplished, and pointing out that wolves had nothing to do with reduced hunting opportunities. I actually got some quiet thank-yous from G&F biologists for the letter, which, when you consider the highly adversarial relationship I’ve had with G&F over the years, was astounding.

    In short, there is no scientific evidence that wolves are responsible for reducing elk cow calf ratios in the Wiggins Fork Herd, or for any other elk herd in northwestern Wyoming. Claims from G&F to the contrary have no data to back them up.

    This is true also of Yellowstone’s Northern Herd, just in case Bob Fanning wants to press that claim once more.

    Nor does G&F have anyintention of carrying out a scientifically valid study of the impact of wolf depredation on elk, primarily because of the expense and time (five years) required to do it right, but also, I suspect, because the results would prove to be inconclusive, and the Stockgrowers and SFW would not like that.

    I will say that the Cody office of G&F is doing a scientifically valid study (I’ve seen the experimental design) that addresses the influence of wolves on elk distribution in the Clarks Fork area, but the study does not include an assessment of the impact of wolf depredation on elk numbers or cow-calf ratios. It is limited to changes in elk behavior. I know the biologist who’s heading up the study, and he’s an excellent scientist who had formerly done much of the work on mule deer migration in the Pinedale area of Wyoming, but I do worry that the G&F headquarters in Cheyenne will twist the findings of the study to political ends. It won’t be the first time that’s happened.

    So, in closing, it’s clear that Wyoming G&F claims about wolf impacts on Wyoming elk cow-calf ratios have no scientific basis. Like everything else in this state, it’s all politics.

    And, elk hunting is still pretty good in the Dubois area.

  2. JB Avatar


    Thanks for the detailed response. I think we need to consider creating a “storehouse” of information regarding previous studies on wolves which contains citations, links to articles, and abstracts (if possible). Not sure if this is something Ralph is willing to undertake? If not, I may consider hosting on my website.

    In regards to Charles Kay:
    Kay is a political scientist in an ecologists clothing–he is also a big game hunter. From my limited interactions with him he appears to be EXTREMELY anti-wolf. Several years ago I sat by an watched while he cherry-picked data to a group of USU students about the effects of wolves on ungulate populations. At least one person got up and left, and a couple of us called him out on it. He turned bright red and got very hostile. In short, where wolves are concerned, I would not trust him as far as I could throw him…and I’m a pretty small guy. 😉


  3. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Robert Hoskins, your depth of knowledge is astounding…! You are one tremendous asset to the conservation community. Thank you for your contributions.

    JB, I’m pretty sure that Ralph is up to his neck in alligators and probably wouldn’t be willing to host/manage the much needed archive of which you speak. But I can’t speak for Ralph – that’s just my perception from recent conversations.

    Now, JB, if *you* were to host and manage that data, you’d be the man of the day. I strongly encourage you to take on this massive project. Will you consider it?

    Mack P. Bray


  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    It’s better if someone else could do this. I have a lot else to do.

    I would certainly put it up on this forum on its own page or whatever, if whoever did this believed this would be a good way to make it accessible.

  5. Justin Avatar

    I would recommend the International Wolf Center website http://www.wolf.org. Completely non-biased (I know, I worked there) and they are not an advocacy group, they just simply educate the public on the truth about wolves. Visit the site and if you’re really interested I would recommend taking a vacation to Minnesota to visit the center. Plus, check their headlines section, many other reports on wolves from around the world.

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Just a point–Charles Kay does have a PhD in wildlife ecology from Utah State–I describe his doctoral dissertation above–but he is now affiliated, or at least he was the last time I checked, with some political economy institute at Utah State, with strong leanings toward the so-called “free market environmentalists,” which is a euphemism for those who call for the privatization of public resources, or the massive transfer of public wealth into private hands. That affiliation should give you an idea of his credibility. He is big-time anti-wolf and he consistently plays fast and loose with the facts, which is easy for him since his audience has no conception of what a scientific fact is. I have a copy of an article he wrote for Peterson’s Hunting Magazine in 92 or 93 that is a deliberate pack of lies about wolves.

    I wonder if the wolf center in Ely MN has such a storehouse of scientific information on wolves. It might be best to see if someone is actually doing this before trying to reinvent the wheel. Few of us have additional time to do this kind of thing. I know Ralph doesn’t, and I am up to my ass in elk and bison disease issues (e.g., elk feedgrounds).

  7. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray


  8. JB Avatar

    A bit more about C. Kay. Yes he has a PhD in wildlife ecology, but his dissertation was more of a natural history piece. He read Louis & Clark’s accounts of wildlife and tried to extrapolate actual numbers. I saw him present on this once. He argued that the idea of abundant wildlife in the U.S. is a myth. His assertions are quite controversial.

  9. JB Avatar

    Oh, sorry. Yes, Mack?

  10. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I’ve read Kay’s dissertation–it happened to be on a shelf in the Un. of Wyoming library near a collection of the Transactions of the North American Wildlife Conference, which contained previously unknown presentations by Aldo Leopold from the 30s and 40s that I (re)discovered some years ago–and it is based largely upon comparisons of photographs of aspen and willow groves taken over time in Yellowstone.

    In my opinion it was not a particularly informative or valuable addition to human knowledge, which is what a PhD dissertation is supposed to be.

    I don’t think Kay really understands what scientific research actually entails, and that might explain why he’s now doing political economy instead of wildlife ecology. Thing is, he doesn’t understand political economy either, since the privatization apologists at PERC, etc., with whom he associates himself are always trying to separate the “political” from the “economic,” a separation that may exist in right wing economic ideology but not in reality.

    I think what JB is talking about above is Kay’s attempt to argue in a book called Aboriginal Overkill that Native American population numbers were so high that wildlife numbers were historically very low, and only reached the numbers seen by Lewis & Clark east of the Divide after the great Native die-offs continent wide from smallpox, scarlet fever, etc., released those populations from heavy human predation. This is part of the right wing assertion that humans have always heavily impacted North American ecosystems, so what we’re doing now is not so different.

    Trouble is, that’s an assertion of ideology, not science.

  11. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    JB, if *you* were to host and manage that data, you’d be the man of the day. I strongly encourage you to take on this massive project. Will you consider it?

    Mack P. Bray


  12. JB Avatar

    I tell you what, I’ll start be putting a list of references together. I have a good idea where to go for these. I would like to link articles as well, but that will have to wait. Robert and Ralph aren’t the only ones busy right now! 😉


  13. Don Riley Avatar
    Don Riley

    Don’t take Bud Betts lightly. He is much more that just an outfitter. Long time state legislator with mucho contacts and influence.

  14. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I know Bud Betts fairly well, see him occasionally in Dubois and speak with him civilly about various topics, and I’d never take him lightly; nothing said here does so. He’s well aware of my own position on wolves. And I’m well aware of his political background and contacts; during his legislative service he was at one time in line for Speaker of the Wyoming House. He was also instrumental in developing Wyoming’s original dual status law for wolves, leaving wolves as predatory animals in 3/4 of the State, which, however, violates the Endangered Species Act, not to mention the final rule under which wolves were reintroduced.

    That doesn’t change the fact that his comments about wolves in this story have no scientific basis, as I explained above.

    Once again, the reason we don’t have many late season elk tags in the Dubois area is that the Wyoming G&F Department stopped issuing them at the conclusion of the five year herd reduction program in 2003. Is that so hard to understand?

  15. savage Avatar

    wild guess here,,,but maybe the Dubois area use to be an easy elk hunt. I dont think the elk are gone, the wolves just made them smarter. Im not a hunter, but wouldnt that make the hunt a little more fun, a challenge, an actual “hunt” ?

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I agree with you, but Wyoming’s governor and some “sportsmen’s” groups have made it clear they don’t want a greater challenge.

    They are dogs that don’t want to learn new tricks, I guess. 😉

  17. JB Avatar

    Mack, Ralph:

    I found at least one site that has already began assembling studies. Check out:



  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I hope everyone interested will downlead and keep a copy because the Predator Conservation Alliance has become Keystone (a different focus), and this web page might disappear.

  19. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    The Upper Wind River Valley (Dubois area) has three elk hunt areas–67, 68, and 69, and all are general tag areas for October. That is, you can buy general elk licenses over the counter, rather than have to participate in a limited quota draw. What this means is that there is no administrative limit on how many people (residents) can hunt here. That’s a testament, in part, to the robust elk herd we have here, despite the ongoing drought and the presence of wolves.

    As I said, the general tag is for October. We do have limited quota tags (Type 2, 3, or 6) that increase or decrease in number, depending upon G&F’s hunt strategy for each year in each hunt area, that will run into November. These are generally antlerless tags–cows and calves.

    These are the late season tags that are the main topic of discussion here.

    In general, G&F does a good job here with elk, despite the politics. The main reason for this good work is that we have lots of good summer range in wilderness, and more importantly, we have the two best winter range complexes in the lower 48 states–one primarily for elk, the East Fork, which is twice the size of the National Elk Refuge over the Continental Divide in Jackson Hole, the other for bighorn sheep, in Whiskey Basin.

    When you include federal land, as well as the Wind River Indian Reservation, the winter habitat here is simply superb.

    Our G&F owned winter range complexes came about due to the long-term G&F policy of buying up local ranches when they became available over the years and consolidating the parcels to create extensive winter range. This policy ended in the early 90s thanks to livestock industry pressure. But that’s a separate story.

    The difficulty in hunting here is driven primarily by the terrain, not by the number or distribution of elk, even with the latter changing, sometimes significantly, due to the presence of wolves. (Yes, wolves are moving elk around). Much of the watershed is wilderness–thank God–and it is truly God’s own horse country. (I think the Absaoka Mountains, which run from here up into Montana, including much of Yellowstone National Park, provide the best horse country in the Rockies. That’s why I live here).

    During October, which is an antlered season only, the bulls are still up high. If you don’t have horses, you have to do all your hunting on foot, and it’s a long, long way back to elk country.

    Thus, as a practical matter, since far too many hunters these days insist upon hunting a la ATV, which limits them to the non-wilderness roaded front country, where the bulls aren’t, big-game outfitters have the backcountry and the big bulls to themselves. In a sense, all those general tags aren’t worth much.

    As you might expect, the outfitters tend to take a proprietary interest in the backcountry, treating it as if it’s private property during hunting season. I suspect this is true everywhere where big game hunting takes place.

    This has typically been one of the major issues in Wyoming G&F politics, with hunters pitted, sometimes bitterly, against outfitters. Any big game outfitter you talk to privately will acknowledge that the industry is not well respected by hunters, but quite frankly, the industry is pretty much responsible for that problem because it has worked hard to extend private commercial control over public resources, hunters be damned.

    Another related political issue is access to private land and the outfitter propensity to lease private land for commercial hunts, which cuts out the not very rich hunter.

    The final issue is the provision of hunting licenses to landowners and outfitters for sale on the open market. This is still illegal in Wyoming–the only western state where it is still illegal–but that doesn’t mean that landowners and outfitters aren’t continually working the legislature to permit it.

    Enter wolves and grizzly bears. The presence of predators in big-game country has been used by unscrupulous groups like Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife–which, if you look closely at how it operates, who’s on its board, etc., is little more than a front for landowners and outfitters–to blur the actual conflict between hunters and private landowners and outfitters over the loss of public hunting opportunities to private interests. SFW has been beating the predator drum loudly, very loudly, and hunters, who have never been well-organized or politically astute, have fallen for it hook. line, and sinker. Consequently, SFW has a very large membership, siphoning members away from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, which has become merely moribund, which is a shame, because it used to be the strongest voice for hunter rights in the State.

    In short, private commercial interests are covering their continuing privatization schemes over wildlife and land, which are truly contrary to the interests of Wyoming hunters, with the alleged threat of predators to big game hunting. To someone who knows anything at all about politics, this is as clear as a Wind River Mountain lake.

    The fact of the matter is that outfitters and landowners know perfectly well that wolves aren’t wiping out the elk herds in northwestern Wyoming. Everywhere you look, especially east of the Continental Divide where there are no feedgrounds, elk herds are robust and healthy, within the restrictions set by environment and human activity, primarily because of generally good management and the presence of G&F owned winter range complexes.

    What has upset local businesses about the situation with elk hunting here referred to in the story that began this thread of discussion is that when G&F was issuing lots of late season cow-calf tags for the herd reduction program, lots of extra hunters were spending lots of dollars here. When the reduction program ended, that put an end to the extra hunter dollars. However, rather than being grateful for the windfall, businesses, as all businesses do when their income is cut, for whatever reason, complained–which is understandable. But rather than complain about G&F reducing the number of late season tags, a decision that was made for good biological reasons, they complained instead about wolves and bears.

    That complaint has no validity.

    I hope that explains in part what’s going on in this State with elk, wolves, and big-game politics.


  20. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I’d like to add to the above my opinion that the Stockgrowers/landowners and the outfitters are very smart and ruthless people, and no one should underestimate them. They know exactly what they want, and they are willing to do anything to get what they want. They certainly have the political power to do it.

    In the past, the privatization/anti-public trust goals of landowners and the outfitters were opposed by the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, and effectively so, but the organization has long since lost its nerve and is now little more than the Wyoming G&F Department Association, with the attitude of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

    Consequently, there is now no effective voice for Wyoming hunters to maintain the public trust in wildlife. This is a tragedy

    Politically speaking, the creation of SFW-Wyoming was a stroke of genius by the Stockgrowers and the outfitters. It has effectively organized Wyoming hunters to work against predators and blinded them to the actual privatization/commercialization goals of landowners and outfitters.

    You gotta hand it to ’em.

  21. catbestland Avatar

    I am amazed at the absolute genius participants on this blog. You guys, Ralph, Robert, Mack, JB, Lynne, Kim, d.b. Hill, Kathie, Todd, If I missed anybody I’m sorry. With input and dirrection from you guys, we can get this thing turned around and start seeing some real progress in the wildlife and environmental isues. I wish I could contribute as much in the same manner, but there are those who are willing to be the grunts. Please fee free to delegate in this direction. Onward you bright knights of the ecosystems!!!!!

  22. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Well, we could be Jedi Knights, but D-cell battery flashlights don’t put out enough power.


  23. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Hey, Cat, your contributions to this blog are VERY MUCH appreciated…!

    And Robert is such an incredible asset to the conservation community.

    Here’s to our D-cell flashlights becoming weapons of MASS CONSTRUCTION…!

    IMPORTANT – Here’s an exceptional article about Sportsmen for (some) Fish and (some) Wildlife – please read and share:


    Mack P. Bray


  24. catbestland Avatar

    You hold enough D-cell batteries together and they will begin to shed a lot of light!

  25. catbestland Avatar

    Mack, that was one of the most frightening articles I have ever read. My guess is they all live in camouflaged places called compounds and have swastika tattoos on their chests. An their leaders??? Craig et al. These truly are the dark forces of evil.

  26. be Avatar

    at least they’re honest.

  27. catbestland Avatar

    Oh and be, I forgot you, especially you. (one of the brilliant knights that is.) I’m sorry.

  28. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Nate! Nate Helm! and BW, time to step in and defend SFW!

    High Country News was pretty unfriendly.

  29. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    We’re trying to shed as much light as possible on the truth of things. But we need more than light, and we need more than truth. We need the power to move heaven and earth.


  30. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Ralph, I though the High Country article about Sportsmen for Feed and Whining was quite neutral, unbiased and balanced. I’ll read it again.

    Robert, we HAVE the power to move heaven and earth. It’s in US, OUR COMMUNITY. It’s vested in US.


    Mack P. Bray


    – – – –

    All the more reason for a rally. . . Ralph

  31. be Avatar

    moving heaven and earth is a matter of finding the right fulcrums.

    honesty above all. omission for fear of controversy is dishonest.

    the reason ron gillette has not made it to the previous meetings is that they know that if this process remains relatively tempered – as is – they win – their interest is served. they’ve had years of their politicos in power to make sure that is the case.

    sometimes controversy is an asset if there is a disciplined mouth-piece.

    sometimes civics is appropriate.

  32. catbestland Avatar

    I intend to take this very matter up with the most powerful in heaven and earth this very evening.

  33. savage Avatar

    man! do politics make things complicated, but you got to have em…

    thanks Mr. Hoskins

  34. Irremotus Avatar

    Robert Hoskins, with what group are you affiliated?


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