Finally, a real study, and released to the public-

Not surprisingly (to me anyway) the effect of wolves on elk populations varies by area and presence of other predators such as grizzly bears. In addition hunters affect elk more than wolves. When considering wolves and ungulates alone, I take this report to be generally quite positive for the effects of wolves on ungulates.

Here is the news release, but there is the much larger report available to for those interested. Here is the 90+ page full report. Ralph Maughan

Added. Notice how the MSM immediately gives the results of this an immediate spin by means of the headline. Wolves tied to elk decline in parts of state. By EVE BYRON – Independent Record

Contact Ron Aasheim, 406-444-4038; Justin Gude, 406-444-3767; or visit FWP’s Web site

Study Finds Mixed Wolf Impacts On Elk Populations-
Not all elk populations respond in the same manner when faced with sharing the landscape with wolves, a new report by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks suggests.

Researchers who spent the past seven years measuring the populations and behavior of elk in Montana found that elk numbers in some areas of southwestern Montana have dropped rapidly due mostly to the loss of elk calves targeted by wolves and grizzly bears that inhabit the same area. The same study, led by FWP and Montana State University, also suggests that in some areas of western Montana elk numbers have increased while hunter-harvests of elk have decreased, with little apparent influence by local wolf packs on elk numbers.

“One-size-fits-all explanations of wolf-elk interactions across large landscapes do not seem to exist,” said Justin Gude, FWP’s chief of wildlife research in Helena.
The 95-page report contains two sections. The first section summarizes research efforts in the Greater Yellowstone Area and southwestern Montana, with a primary focus on wolf-elk interactions. The second section summarizes FWP data collection and monitoring efforts from the entire range of wolves in Montana.In their study of elk and wolves southwestern Montana and within the Greater Yellowstone Area, researchers found that elk are the primary prey species for wolves, especially during the cold-weather months that stretch from November through April. “Our research shows that wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park tend to prey on elk calves more than on adult female elk, but they will also target adult male elk that inhabit a wolf pack’s territory,” Gude said.

Gude said the wolves’ wintertime predation on elk varies widely across southwestern Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Area, from about seven to 23 elk killed per wolf at any
time between the months of November and April. “In summer, data are more limited,” Gude said, “but it appears that wolves kill fewer elk during summer than during winter.”

Listed below are some other findings from the study.

  • In the Northern Yellowstone elk herd, a continued decline in elk numbers is likely unless total predator to elk ratios decline, even if hunting pressure remains low.
  • In most areas with low total predator to elk ratios, elk numbers have remained stable or have increased since wolf restoration began.
  • Wolves influence elk distribution, movements, group sizes, and habitat selection to varying degrees in different areas, but hunting activity and hunter access have a greater impact on elk distribution, movements, group sizes, and habitat selection than do wolves.
  • Elk and moose populations in northwestern Montana appear to be stable or increasing in the few areas that have sufficient data to examine long-term trends.
  • In most of northwestern Montana, it’s probable that white-tailed deer are the major prey of wolves, yet the recent decline in deer numbers there is most likely due to poor fawn survival and recruitment during the recent spate of severe winters-in combination with high antlerless harvests by hunters and wolf-predation rates.
  • Some areas in Montana are unsuitable to wolves because livestock depredations continually lead to wolf removals, preventing wolf numbers from increasing at rates similar to protected areas. In these areas, wolves are less likely to limit deer and elk populations.

The final report is available online at Click “Elk-Wolf Interactions.” For more information call Justin Gude, 406-444-3767.
– fwp –

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

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.

6 Responses to Montana FWP study finds mixed impacts of wolves on ungulate populations

  1. Robert Hoskins says:


    The link to the full report is corrupted for some reason–I think at the FWP end. I’ve tried to download the report twice and both times the download has failed. Is there another pathway to the report? I’d really like to read it. The claims about the northern yellowstone elk herd stated in the news release don’t read right from an ecological perspective.


  2. SAP says:

    This link seemed to work:

  3. Robert Hoskins says:


    When I hit your link, I then was directed to go to the same link that Ralph posted and each time, I got a notice of a damaged file. Anyway, I contacted Justin Gude through the FWP website and he sent me a copy of the report. Thanks. Must be these Crowheart phonelines.

    If anyone has difficulty getting the report, I now have a copy, so if you want it, let me know and I’ll forward it.


  4. jburnham says:

    If you right click and choose ‘save link as’ it will download the pdf. This will work for the link from this post or the fwp site.

  5. jburnham says:

    I was shocked to see this headline in the Missoulian/Billings Gazette write up of the study: “Wolves not elk eliminators”

    Of course, the commenters have ideas of their own.

    • ProWolf in WY says:

      That is good news that the two statewide papers in Montana mention that. Those get coverage everywhere in the state. Now if only the Casper Star-Tribune and Idaho’s statewide papers would write that then we can actually inform people.


February 2009


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey