Norm Bishop on wolves and the northern range elk population-

Bishop, below responded to Montana State Sen. Joe Balyeat who has proposed legislation cut off relations between Montana and the federal government on wolves.
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Sen. Joe Balyeat [Bozeman Chronicle Dec. 30] proposes legislation to sever Montana’s ties with federal agencies on wolf management. He fears that allowing the wolf population to keep growing will doom the northern Yellowstone elk population, and elk throughout the state (where elk populations are 14% over goal).

Montana wolves increased to 394 in 2007, but the mid-year 2008 estimate is down 9%, to 360. Northern Yellowstone’s wolf population is down 21% 35% from 81 in 2007 to 64 53 in 2008. As the density of wolves increased in past years, interpack killing joined disease as a limiting factor.

Sen. Balyeat’s rationale for his bill appears to be based on a one-time count he made of the ratio of calves to cows of the northern Yellowstone elk herd. From dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles on the effects of restored gray wolves on their prey in Yellowstone, we can pick two to enlighten us on these complex issues.

Vucetich (2005. Influence of harvest, climate, and wolf predation on Yellowstone elk 1961-2004. OIKOS 111:259-270) studied the contribution of wolf predation in a decline of elk from 17,000 to 8,000. They built and assessed models based on elk-related data prior to wolf reintroduction (1961-1995), and used them to predict how the elk population might have fared from 1995 to 2004 had wolves not been restored. Climate and hunter harvest explained most of the elk decline. From 1995 to 2004 wolves killed mostly elk that would have died from other causes.

Wright et al. (2006. Selection of Northern Yellowstone Elk by Gray Wolves and Hunters JWM 70(4):1070-1078), documented that hunting exerted a greater total reproductive impact on the herd than wolf predation. The article’s authors were university, federal, and state wildlife biologists working cooperatively. No legislation is needed to improve on that.

Norman A. Bishop
Bozeman, MT

Note: Bishop was a leader and supporter of wolf restoration interpretation in Yellowstone.
He has received numerous awards for his Park Service work with wolves. Among other
organizations, he is a director of the Wolf Recovery Foundation.



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  1. buffalorunner Avatar

    So Joe Balyeat is a qualified wildlife biologist now, eh? My belly is hurting from the laughter!!

    An analysis of the data presented in the Vucetich et al. paper clearly shows that the northern range elk reached ecological carrying capacity when the population was nearly 20,000 in the mid-90’s which resulted in a decline vital rates (birth & death). The combined synergystic effects of several severe winters, and little change in hunter harvest levels at around the same time also contributed to the population decline. It was also around this time that wolves were re-introduced to the system. As the northern range elk declined because of these other factors, the wolf population was expanding and learning to hunt these elk.

    The re-introduced wolf population was too small to be the initial and only cause for the decline observed in the northern range elk population over the last 15 years or so. The decline in the elk population was most likely a result of intrinsic factors in response to reaching ecological carrying capacity, environmental stochasticity, and sustained levels of hunter harvest . The current elk population has reached a new lower “steady state” in which wolf predation is most likely a regulating factor and not the original cause for the population decline.

    Other studies have shown that wolf predation has shifted elk distribution in the northen range which may explain Mr. Balyeat’s observations in his “count” data.

    Another thing, the ranchers in this area whose cattle herds have been affected by the recent brucellosis outbreaks that supposedly came from elk, lament that the elk population is too high.

    Guess, it’s all a matter of perspective…

    Mr. Balyeat has opened up a real can of worms here for sure. Why do Montana’s wacky, right-wing legislators think they are experts in wildlife management when they have no formal training in this area, and most are barely qualified to be in office?

  2. timz Avatar

    “Why do Montana’s wacky, right-wing legislators think they are experts in wildlife management when they have no formal training in this area, and most are barely qualified to be in office?”

    As one Idaho F&G commisioner put it “God gave us the ability to manage wildlife.”

  3. jdubya Avatar

    Time and time again the two most negative influences on deer/elk numbers are climate and hunters. Lack of food/water, and blood sport vastly outweigh any influence from predation. But you can say that until you are blue in the face, and people (hunters, mainly) still want to kill every cougar and wolf in the state. This raises a basic question: can some people be educated or is it a lost cause?

  4. timz Avatar

    My experience tells me it’s a lost cause.

  5. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    “people (hunters, mainly) still want to kill every cougar and wolf in the state”

    Wow that is a strong generalization! the type that keeps the sides divided on issues…

    I have lived and hunted in Montana as well as lived and hunted in Idaho, and can tell you with 100% conviction that the majority don’t want to kill everything, it is the vocal, sensationalists that we hear about in the news. Yes, there are some that want to get rid of cats as well as wolves, bears and anything they perceive as a threat to their way of life. The average hunter wants to enjoy the woods and hunt as well as understands the dynamics of interspecies relationships.

    I will be so glad, when people stop with the generalization of both sides…it would go a long ways to getting solutions to the situation.

  6. Salle Avatar

    I got real tired of talking to people who on;y hear what they want to hear. So I avoid wasting my breath.

    I do have a new bumper sticker that originated, of all places, in Lander, Wyoming that says:

    “Real Men Aren’t Afraid of Wolves”

    I love it and display it proudly. (I’m not one for bumper stickers but this one is really worth it.)

  7. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Salle, I like your bumper sticker. This is off subject but my favorite was:
    Stumps of Mystery, an Oregon experience.

    A lady once asked my “Where are those?”

  8. jdubya Avatar

    Save Bears, I said: “”But you can say that until you are blue in the face, and people (hunters, mainly) still want to kill every cougar and wolf in the state.””

    Then you said” I have lived and hunted in Montana as well as lived and hunted in Idaho, and can tell you with 100% conviction that the majority don’t want to kill everything, it is the vocal, sensationalists that we hear about in the news. Yes, there are some that want to get rid of cats as well as wolves, bears and anything they perceive as a threat to their way of life.””

    And you are attacking with me about what? Did I say all hunters? No I did not. I was talking about the same vocal minority that people like Balyeat like to play up to for the press and sensationalism. Ever heard of a woman called Ann Coulter? She plays that game very well (and has gotten quite rich in the process).

  9. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    You said “mainly” am I not mistaken on that? I contend it is not “mainly” hunters that want to kill all wolves and cougars…

    Yes, I have even met Ann in person, she is how you say “A B***H” and I told her that to her face..

    You know after working for Montana FWP for about 10 years and finally being forced out, because I would not play the political game, I feel I have a unique perspective to talk from, my area was Bison, but I still have a bit of in depth knowledge about bears, wolves and cougars..

    If people would just understand how their statements are perceived and used against a cause, or a need, then we would all be better off…

  10. Salle Avatar


    So tell me then, when one sees the following sort of tirade in the op-eds or reporting that isn’t far from it and little else, what do you expect the general population of readers to think? That ignorance is bliss?

    Kalispell Daily Inter Lake
    January 3, 2009
    Guest Opinion by Jay Jedlicka

    Wolves Are a Growing Threat In Woods

    I guess I’ve held my tongue long enough on the wolf issue.

    After reading Brian Peck’s article in the Dec.21 issue of the Daily Inter Lake, my blood is boiling! I’ve read several of his guest opinions in the Inter Lake over the years always defending predators in an ultra-liberal-environmental way. He must be on the payroll of some “Friends of the whatever we’re trying to save team, and we call ourselves “friends” because it makes everybody feel good and we’re all positive and we know what we’re talking about because we’re “friends.” I’m sick of people like Brian Peck.

    Being born and raised in the Flathead Valley and hunting west of town and elsewhere for 30 years, I’m disgusted by what I‘ve seen happening. The Fish & Game has slowly gated roads for 30 years now. Don’t get me wrong: Gates are all right during hunting season, but should be open for wood cutting, etc. The elk and deer population has boomed since the winter of 1996-97. They rebounded to the point of the most animals I’ve ever seen out hunting.

    Now I didn’t read this somewhere like Peck did; I go on personal experiences! And yes, I do have “wolfanoia.” Like you have truth-anoia, Brian Peck. But for the last six years, I’ve watched these deer and elk almost disappear. Four years ago the white-tailed deer were actually annoying when I was out bow hunting. In the same area this fall, with the waterhole full and plentiful vegetation, hunting for five weeks archery, I literally saw five deer! This in years past would have been easily hundreds!

    I was telling myself that it’s got to be the wolves! But I did not want to believe it, until the first snow in my area. Around the third week of general season with an inch of snow there, the tracks told the story. Wolves ran that mountain, about 12 wolves as near as I could tell. Two days later, they combed it again. They hunt like savages, spreading apart and coming back together, in a 600-800 yard swath. They covered the top and south slope, veered around and came back, top and north slope. They missed very little ground. I didn’t find anything they killed that day, because of the very few animals in that area. But at what I’ve figured at 10-15 miles an hour, this took them approximately one hour! So, I figure they covered 20 acres that day.

    Again, I did not read this; I’m going on personal experience and common sense, unlike the people that have read everything that they think they know! I’ve seen the game numbers only in the residential areas; I’d say they feel safer around houses. When the wolves run out of game in the hills, they will come to your neighborhood for a treat, rather than starve to death!

    When eventually we can buy a wolf tag, good luck trying to fill it, especially in the un-logged areas (i.e., Forest Service). These brushed-in tangles of fire danger may be hunted from the air only. We will go to permit hunting only, guaranteed.

    So, Brian Peck, on one of your nature hikes, whether through a magazine, or on a doubted real life one, carry a gun, because if a “pack” comes in on you, you’d better hope to hell you’re not the injured, the diseased, the oldest, the youngest, or the skinny.

    If you are, what are you going to do?

  11. jdubya Avatar

    “”But at what I’ve figured at 10-15 miles an hour, this took them approximately one hour! So, I figure they covered 20 acres that day.””

    Wow, that is some heavy mathematics.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Everyone, please note the corrected figures in the story. They came from Doug Smith at Yellowstone.

  13. Layton Avatar

    I see, when someone comes out against the superpuppies, it’s a tirade.

    But when someone like Brian Peck, Norm Bishop, or anyone else on the “for” side launches into a lot of rhetoric about how wonderful they are — it’s wonderful and should be required reading for everyone.


  14. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Jay’s opinion is just that an opinion…Why do you all give so much to these who are uninformed and don’t know what the hell they are talking about?????

    I also happen to know Jay personally, and he is off based, he is opinionated and he is uninformed…

    Again Salle, take it for what it is a guest opinion, that is all it is..

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Jay did get one thing right because I was up there during bow season. I spent 3 days driving around and walking.

    The deer were clustered around the large backcountry homes, most of which were empty. Of course you don’t need wolves to explain that — safe from hunting and plenty of food.

  16. Salle Avatar


    Unbeknownst to you, perhaps, Norm Bishop is a noted Yellowstone NP interpreter who relies on scientific data. Brian Peck also relies on scientific data. The gentleman’s op-ed is a tirade because it is based on subjective information in an attempt to personally attack Mr. Peck and others and not based on scientific data. (Scientific data is information collected within the discipline of stated and documented observations for the purpose of investigation rendering confirmation or rejection by others using the same methods for the sake of objectivity and does not take place within the realm of personal opinion and subjective information. Subjective information = personal observation conducted in a hap-hazard manner regardless of the results. Just in case you didn’t know the difference.)

  17. Salle Avatar

    Save Bears,

    I repeat:


    So tell me then, when one sees the following sort of tirade in the op-eds or reporting that isn’t far from it and little else, what do you expect the general population of readers to think? That ignorance is bliss?

  18. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    I would throw the question back to you….Why are you not writing your own op-eds to counter Jay’s misconceptions?

    I know for a fact the Interlake will publish virtually everything they receive…so again, why not submit a op-ed piece?

    If you wan the general readership to read another perspective and your not writing the piece then who is at fault?

  19. Salle Avatar

    I just became aware of this publication recently. And I am tired of being attacked. It’s somebody else’s turn for a spell while I work on the issue from another direction in the interim. I don’t always need to be the one speaking to those who don’t want to hear what I have to say in the newspapers which sometimes seems like a “free-for-all” much like a food-fight…

    On occasion I go out in public but usually I’m talking to those who actually have impact potential, like legislators and people in the world of Native America and the actual management agency personnel. I like the results better.

  20. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Every single one of us that have an opinion, need to buck it up and continue speaking every single chance we get..

    I am tired of being attacked, I understand that fully, it cost me a career, I walked away, but I have now found that my voice is really worth the effort..

    If you can post your opinions here….then why not there?

    Keep up the good fight Salle, it is well worth the effort..

  21. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    Save Bears…I disagree with with your assertion that “the average hunter here in Montana,
    understands the dynamics of interspecies relationships.” I find it quite the opposite with few exceptions. Most don’t even understand the dynamics of ecosystems and the role all these animals play. Just mention “trophic cascade affect” to them or for that matter, mention it to FWP personnel…..note the look you get.
    I don’t hunt anymore, mainly because I don’t like most hunters, except for the very few that venture into the back country without their gas-guzzling rigs, which brings me to another point……Go to a “hunter” organization meeting and listen to the rhetoric about the damn gas and oil drillers destroying the wildlife habitat…then look at the rigs parked outside that probably get 8mpg…they just don’t get it.
    I’m not attacking you…I sense that you do understand the interspecies relationships, an anomalous trait in Montana.

  22. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Hunters need big rigs to haul their ATVs around. It’s a well-known fact that it’s no longer possible to hunt without an ATV.

    Ah, but that’s a generalization. Didn’t S. Kellert (Yale) do some sort of study that showed hunters typically know more about wildlife than hikers?

  23. JimT Avatar

    Perhaps the hunters will morph into the legless creatures in WALL-E..~S~

    .You NEED an ATV to hunt? Can I ask why? I thought one of the oft-cited reasons why hunting is being “one with nature’ is the the intimate contact, the challenge of the stalk. For the record, I don’t hunt. I don’t believe in trophy hunting for its own sake. I do know some folks up in Alberta who hunt because without the meat, they and their family can’t make it. I can see that kind of hunting as the closest in kind to the traditional predator-prey relationship in the natural world. But, going to a canned shoot preserve, or shooting the biggest, healthiest animals because of a need to put a head on a wall? I don’t get it. And never will, I guess.

    I realize I may be touching the third rail here, but it’s my opinion and honestly held. I have always thought hunting was about NEEDING to kill to survive, by animal or human.

    I would LOVE to see that study…you have a cite to a site?

  24. JB Avatar


    I believe Chuck was being facetious. Steve Kellert conducted a number of studies in the 1970s-1990s that examined the “knowledge” of hunters compared with other groups. Not surprisingly, hunters are typically more knowledgeable about wildlife than other people.

  25. Salle Avatar

    I wonder what “other groups” he compared with hunters and what the interview questions were. And, in the 1970’s – the 1990’s, wildlife and wilderness/public land concerns weren’t exactly common topics, I wonder what a similar study would reveal today.

  26. JimT Avatar

    If so, I missed the irony completely…VBG. Part of the email “tone deaf” problem. I dislike emoticons, but find I use them to help convey if I am kidding or not…

    Not sure about wildlife…maybe hunting target populations, which, are pretty limited when you think about it. Still would like cites to the studies. And what the hell does a Eli guy know about hunting? VBG…

  27. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    Yes, I was being facetious about the “need” for hunters to use an ATV. Not to mention GPS, sonar, radar, 2-way radios, 12 volt blenders, and a bunch of other high tech toys.

  28. chuck parker Avatar
    chuck parker

    “Dominionistic/sport hunters constitute 38.5 percent of all those who hunted… They were significantly more likely to reside in cities, and to have been in the armed forces. Additionally, they differed from utilitarian/meat hunters in reporting far less experience raising animals for a product, and from nature hunters in reporting significantly less backpacking and birdwatching activities. One
    outstanding characteristic was their low scores on the
    knowledge-of-animals scale. Interestingly, only anti-hunters, of all animal activity groups studied, had equally low knowledge scores.”

    Stephen Kellert, “Attitudes and Characteristics of Hunters and Antihunters” (Transactions of the Forty-third North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, 1978). pp.412-423.

  29. JimT Avatar

    Chuck, let me say I missed your tone on the ATV thing, and appreciate you feel that the high tech toys are largely superfluous in hunting..except for GoreTex, I imagine…~S~

    I still have problems with the relevancy of the study, even though it may be one of a kind…

    First, 1978 data is a tad dated, 30 years plus 1, so it fails to reflect the tremendous growth and sophistication of the outdoor recreationist, and their increasing knowledge of the outdoors, ecological concerns from both human AND flora and fauna perspectives, the decline in the hunting numbers and the effect on the categories mentioned. Second, there is no indication in your post of the methodologies, definitions, etc. so it is hard to tell just how biased or unbiased the author was going into the project. I suspect those things are a bit wordy to put in a comment like ths, but I do like to know these things so I can judge the potential reliability of the study.

    Which is why I asked for the cite to a site where the paper can be read, to see how it was put together. Possibly it is out of print now?

    . And what the hell is a dominionistic hunter? ~S~One that believes, based on the Bible, that man put on this earth to have “dominion” over the animals of the earth? Sport hunters..ok..another kinder word for folks killing for a head on the wall. What is a “nature” hunter? Am I a “nature” hunter if I go out and stalk wildlife, only with a camera and 35mm camera? ~G~

    I would like to see the study updated. Any chance of that?


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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