Wolves and elk population/hunting in the Upper Clearwater (N. Central Idaho)

The supposed highly negative effect of wolves on the elk populations in the upper Clearwater River area of North Central Idaho has long been a talking point by Idaho Fish and Game and a number of local hunting organizations and public officials.

I predicted wolves would be blamed when the elk population dropped off in the early and mid 1990s. There were very few wolves in the area until about the year 2000, however. They certainly got blamed, however, as well as all other carnivoires. The non-agency biologists I knew said the problem was a severe winter, maturation of the habitat (back to like when Lewis and Clark came through and almost starved to death) and the spread of the noxious non-native pest plant, knapweed onto what winter range remained.

I got this information today from the Wolf Education and Research Center.

As far as the Lolo goes – unit 12 has had a population problem since 1985 – Wolves did not have a foothold (according to IDF&G reports) in the area until 2000
Unit 12 Total Elk Pop 1985 = 4767
1997 = 2667
2006 = 1658
Unit 10 on the other hand has had an increase in elk since 2003 with an increase in c/c ratio to boot.
Total Elk 1989 = 11507c/c = 29.9
1998 = 5079
2003 = 2643
2006 = 3452 c/c = 29.4
This is from IDF&G 2007 Sightability Report that I got out of the Lewiston [Idaho] office from Clay Hickey.
There has been an increase in hunter harvest in the entire zone (units10 &12) since 2000. IDF&G W-170-R-30, 05/06 Elk Survey
1998 total hunters = 1533 total harvest =277
2005 total hunters = 1590 total harvest = 329
Note that “the Lolo” is the part of the area which has been perhaps the most controversial. It is in Unit 12. Unit 10 is adjacent to the west.
Elk today numbers are not anything like the 1970s (when it was predicted this elk decline would happen). However, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious “wolf appearence” effect on harvest or numbers (both have increased).
I understand the South Fork of the Clearwater (Elk City) shows even more improvement for elk.



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  1. Jeff Avatar

    Have you ever even been out in Unit 12. I have and there aren’t very many elk left and the cow to calf ratio is terrible! I saw a group of 25 cows on two occasions and they had 4 calves. I’m in the area in the Spring, Summer, and Fall and have been for about the last 5 years and the moose and elk have decline considerably. I don’t trust the reports of Idaho Fish and Game, I’m seeing this first hand. It is sad that you can’t let your significant and baby walk down a road without worrying of being attacked by a wolf. I had two come at my uncle and I about three weeks ago. It seems like there are radicals only focused for the wolf’s well-being but not for the coyote, moose, elk, and deer. Why is that?

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    This is your first comment, so I guess you don’t know anything about me or this forum.

    I’ve encountered wolves in the wild in Idaho and Wyoming more often than 99.9% of the population. I wasn’t and I’m not afraid at all.

    Wolves won’t hurt you unless you go great lengths such as start feeding them and letting them hang around your camp, cabin, residence, or whatever.

    I know about unit 12, and we have discussed it many times in this forum and especially on my old web site at http://www.forwolves.org/ralph.

    The problem in unit 12 is lack of habitat. It’s not the last 4 or 5 years that elk have declined. The decline began a long time ago as the burnt over forest from the period 1910-30 matured.

    I hope recent forest fires will improve that situation if we can keep the burns from becoming covered with knapweed.

    I expect to be in unit 12 next week, and I’ll be looking for myself (I live in SE Idaho).

    This blog has plenty to say about other animals besides wolves.

    The best wolf habitat is to have habitat that generates food for ungulates. Elk need something eat, and they need to drop their calves early and pretty much all at the same time to reduce the period of time black bears can prey on the calves.

    An elk population that doesn’t have enough big bulls will find the elk cows irregularly bred. So there will be a lot of “late calves.” What is the bull to cow ratio in unit 12?

  3. Randy Warren Avatar
    Randy Warren

    I hunt, hike and camp alot in Unit 10 (Kelly Creek area) and have noticed the habits of the elk have changed. I am not saying the wolves have killed the elk off, but they have really changed the elk’s habits. I haven’t heard a bull bugle one time in several years since wolves arrived. The elk stay scattered and in the brush mostly now. I also wonder if anyone has been able to determine whether wolves have affected breeding success because of this and if the low recruitment maybe for this reason. I have seen wolves in the area I hunt personally. I don’t hate wolves but I do believe they are definately affecting elk negatively in more ways than just killing them.


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