Central Idaho elk and deer doing fine in presence of wolves

Dr. Jim Peek presented data at the Chico wolf conference showing that the elk and deer population is doing fine in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. He examined population and hunter success trends in 4 key hunting units before and after wolf restoration.

Currently there are 105-119 wolves in the 4 units, which he believes is the maximum number that will naturally occur.

Overall, elk harvest is nearly stable with a slight upward trend in recent years. Mule deer harvest has increased more dramatically, perhaps the result of the many recent forest fires that have resulted in a proliferation of browse,

In the individual units, elk population is declining on one, increasing on one, with no trend in the other two.

Peek predicted a future decline in the most remote areas because of an overabundance of old, non-productive cow elk, and relatively few bull elk due to human hunting effects (few hunters will pack in 2 to 4 days to shoot an old cow elk, but they will for a bull elk). He speculated that the future elk decrease in the deep backcountry would be greater if wolf populations are reduced because old cows are what the wolves target — average age 13 years.

In the one front country unit (the Salmon Face, unit 28), the present and future seem bright because the cow elk are younger and the cow/calf ratio higher. Hunters there do go after cow elk because it does not take the time to get into that country.

Overall, the wolves have had little effect on elk or deer population size. The important factors are wildfires (57% of the area has burned since 1982), summer drought or adequate rainfall, and winter severity. Wolves can potentially suppress population rebound following a severe winter, especially in the frontcountry unit, although he presented no evidence that this has actually happened.



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  1. Maska Avatar

    Thanks for this report, Ralph.

  2. Chuck Avatar

    Here I thought the wolves had eaten all the deer and elk. Ok I was being a smart ***
    Am sure they will figure out some lie to combat the facts.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I did learn today that Idaho Fish and Game has really allowed outfitters to kill off much of the central Idaho cougar population. This has been a silent slaughter.


  4. vicki Avatar

    How does that happen? How can the just kill them without a public lottery for tags? So many variables in all of it can be darned hard to keep up with.

    Now you know the wolves were full from all the cattle they ate! Ha.

  5. TPageCO Avatar

    Hey Ralph – how about some details on your cougar comment? What units? Did IDFG raise quotas? What about info on age classes of killed cougars?

  6. AJ Avatar

    Ralph, How can one get a hold of this data or report? Is it a study of some sort?

  7. kim kaiser Avatar

    is the cougar fund out of Jackson kicking an cowpiles on the cougar thing,

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    For answers to these questions, email peek@uidaho.edu.

    That’s Dr. Jim Peek. He probably isn’t home yet.

    IDFG did raise quotas.

  9. TallTrent Avatar


    Thanks for bringing up Dr. Peek’s presentation. I had never met Jim until the conference, but really enjoyed his talk. It was both well-thought/scientific and quite humorous. I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Dr. Peek and his wife on day at the conference and enjoyed talking to him about wolves and elk and their relationship.

    As for the numbers that he laid out, it really does confirm my suspicions that those whining about elk numbers in Idaho are way-off-base.

    Dr. Peek’s talk was one of many, many highlights of the conference. Paul Paquet’s careful examination of the Kenton Carnegie was the most important speech of the conference.


    Paquet laid out a very reasonable argument as to why assuming that wolves killed Carnegie was not a given. I was very impressed with the evidence he laid out, particularly the photo evidence.

    Absolutely a great conference. I met lots of people (Ralph, JB, Mack, Lynne) from the blog but also was wowed by the variety of presentations and also the discussions I had with folks about wolves.

  10. TallTrent Avatar

    I met Brian Ertz too, of course. Didn’t mean to leave you.

  11. TallTrent Avatar

    Buffaloed and sal were there too. Man, lots of people from the blog at the conference.

    One really interesting thing about Dr. Peek’s lecture was how much age is a major vulnerability factor in wolves picking out prey. 12.6 years (I think Ralph uses 13 in the post here) is the average age of elk killed by wolves in Idaho. Cougar kills are average age 9 and hunter-killed elk are average age 7.

  12. Brian Ertz Avatar

    i enjoyed Dr. Peek’s presentation as well, and enjoyed meeting TallTrent ~ as well as all of the others that he mentions. It was a great conference.

  13. Scott Avatar

    What were the 4 units? Ralph is pro-wolf so unless data is published I do not believe. Hunters kill bulls – so do wolves (and cats). In late winter are not the bulls weakest? IDF&G reduced elk tags by 6500 according to them, and they admitted wolves are reducing elk numbers and this trend will continue. http://www.idahostatesman.com/1406/story/485697.html
    Spoke with Scott Mtn Lookout FS employee yesterday. He has been there all summer and has not seen or heard a single elk all season, and he hasn’t seen a deer. How is the moose population in the back country? Use to see moose all the time where we hunt. Haven’t seen a moose in 3 years.


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