Yellowstone elk population up slightly

7,109 elk counted in the northern range.

Elk grazing in Yellowstone
© Ken Cole

Each year elk are counted from a plane on the northern range of Yellowstone and the counts are affected by conditions on the ground and in the air.

It appears that the elk population is stabilizing from the drop seen over the last decade. At one time the estimate was 19,000 which was far more than was healthy for the ecosystem of the Park. Montana FWP allowed a late season hunt on the border of the Park near Gardiner where thousands of elk were harvested in an attempt at lowering the population.

Yellowstone elk population up slightly
Montana’s News Station






  1. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Of course, the Yellowstone wolf population is also down. And, we had a much more lush year last year than last.

    I think from what I’ve read these numbers of elk would still be slightly too high to prevent vegetation from declining on the northern range, though it’s close to that magic K.

  2. Hoosier Avatar

    I noticed not many pro-wolf people are commenting on this blog! I wander why maybe they have not read this, maybe they didn’t find it interesting, or maybe it says that the wolf is impacting the elk more than they would like to admit.

    I am pro-wolf and think that they belong as a viable species in the ecosystem. Lets consider some things: cattle are in the west to stay, ranchers that lose livestock deserve their just, hunters get theirs, and we still have to find a way for wolves. I can understand why someone who is pro-wolf wants to always defend them when they are misrepresented, but many pro-wolfers aren’t telling all either.

    We want to deny that wolves can have a profound effect on big game species…well read the article. It is clear that wolves are reducing herds at astonishing rates. According to counts proposed in this article the northern range herd has lost 60% of its count since the wolf re-intro. It cannot be denied that wolves are the impacting on a large scale.

    This information studied only the northern range where a 40% decline in wolf population lead to a increase in elk #’s. What I find interesting is the hunter or woodsman that comments saying elk numbers in other areas of the west are declining. Pro-wolfers say that these people are uneducated or are just being anti-wolf to preserve their right to hunt.

    Wolfers lets all get on the same page and stop the arguement that says wolves aren’t affecting elk large scale. I have read one report that pro-wolfers love and they say wolves are not the reason for elk decline…bull crap! The proof is in time and time again wolves are affecting elk #’s on a large scale. PS its natures way of balance! Now we need to manage these animals in the best way possible because mother nature has some other issues i.e. cattle. The delisting will not be the end of the wolf if states build a system that allows for limited removal in needed areas.

    Wolves can’t nor can any other creature roam the world like in the past, but they can co-exist with us. Pro-wolf people should channel their efforts into management plans that protect the populations of both species. Killing a wolf is not the end of the world its manages, protects, and educates. I would not personally want to kill one, but others would. Working with these people builds bridges and gets more done with both intrests in mind. There is are huge gaps with wolves most love them or hate them, and each person has that RIGHT!

  3. Cobra Avatar

    Good post, I feel the same way and I think alot of people do. I’ve always wondered if we took the time and money spent on fighting one another and everyone pitched in for a common goal what could be achieved. Wolves are here to stay and with a management sysyem in place everyone will win in the long run. We need to quit thinking with our hearts and think with our minds of what’s best for managing all species.

  4. John d. Avatar
    John d.

    Why is the crash-boom cycle so hard for some people to understand? Why does it scare them so much?

    Keeping a constant number of prey or predators is not beneficial to the ecosystem especially when there is supposed to be a low number for a given period of time which can not be achieved because the number of any given species is artificially reduced to meet the demands of humans.

    When herbivore numbers go down, the predators go down for a while, giving rise to more herbivores and then more predators, then the cycle repeats. The whole point of wolf reintroduction was to reduce the large herbivore population, hence the decline in formerly overpopulated elk numbers.

  5. Jon Way Avatar

    while I don’t disagree with you, remember elk were at all time highs and likely would’ve gone done (possibly way down) with or without wolves, esp. with 2000 or more getting killed in the Gardiner late-hunt and lots of starvation the following 2 winters.
    Also, wolves and grizzly bears are living in much higher densities there (northern range) than just about anywhere else documented.
    So, while they are obviously having an effect on elk #s and continue to have an effect in the northern range, it is likely more of an effect (b/c it is combined with grizzly predation) than might be in other locations. And while they certainly kill elk in other locations (outside the park) look at hunter success statewide which is still pretty good and likely will continue to be even with wolves around. I agree with you though – there is certainly a middle ground b.c wolves are having an effect – but they aren’t making them go extinct (not nearly so) either. And that was one of the major points of the reintroduction…

  6. Ken Cole Avatar

    Here is what I understand about elk population declines caused by wolves. Wolves generally take weaker animals when they hunt and since they are more of a sight predator, meaning they approach prey in full sight to test them rather than ambushing them like cougars do, and they tend to take calves later in the year rather than right after they are born because of the way they hunt. Generally wolves won’t try to take down healthy elk because it is difficult and dangerous although it does happen.

    Where would you expect to find the highest rates of unhealthy elk? Usually you find them in areas where the habitat can’t sustain the numbers of elk that exist there for various reasons. Yellowstone is a prime example of this.

    Yellowstone’s elk had no pressure from hunting except for the areas outside its borders and no wolves to prey on them. Managers were trying desperately to reduce numbers of elk by allowing liberal hunting at the borders, specifically in Gardiner, to reduce the herd size. They allowed hunters to take large numbers of cow elk yet still the populations remained at levels where they were impacting the health of the land and the health of the animals was not at prime levels. Before the reintroduction of wolves there were documented declines in the northern range elk herd because of this.

    Enter the wolves. When wolves were reintroduced they were dropped into paradise. There were literally thousands of old non-productive cow elk which were easy prey especially during the late winter when they were at their weakest. The average age of elk taken by wolves was high and their health was very poor. Also, there was a very harsh winter in 1996-7 which dramatically impacted the elk and bison herds.

    Here is what Ralph had to say back in 1999( ):

    Northern elk herd-
    The highest concentration of wolves in Yellowstone is on the northern range of the Park where for the last two winters the elk population size has been stable at about 10,500 elk. Prior to the starvation winter of 1996-7, the northern elk herd population was 16,000 – 19,000. Note: this year’s winter census results were released on March 19, 1999. Officially the count of the northern range herd was 11,742 elk.

    The sex ratio of elk in the northern herd is about equal. This means about 5000 cow elk Approximately 65 calves per 100 cows are born a year (this is lower than most elk herds in the general area). Figure 3200-3300 new elk calves a year. To maintain a stable population, requires a one year elk calf survival rate of 25 calves per 100 cows. Elk calves are preyed on by not just by wolves, but coyotes, cougar, and for about a 2 week period, by bears, especially grizzly. The winter census just completed showed a calf to cow ratio of 34 calves to 100 cows. So, I would conclude that for 1998-9 there was net recruitment into the herd. The National Park Service news release on the census stated “estimates of calf ratios have varied from 17 to 48 calves per 100 females since the mid-1970s and since 1995 have varied from 23 to 34 calves per 100 female elk.”

    Since reintroduction wolf numbers have risen to peak numbers then dropped then risen and this year they are down again. It is apparent that wolf numbers have reached capacity in the northern range and elk numbers have stabilized as well. The late season hunt is not held anymore, which may anger some hunters but the reasons for having it in the first place was to reduce elk populations to levels which were compatible to the environment.

    The information about Idaho is different. The same sort of situation has occurred in the Lolo but for different reasons. It used to be that elk populations were very high primarily because the habitat supported high numbers of elk. Declines were also noted before the wolf reintroduction but there were different reasons. The habitat was changing from more open areas to forested areas. The reason the habitat supported large numbers of elk was due primarily to the devastating fires of 1910 which cleared the forest and made for good habitat. The Lolo and upper Clearwater area has much higher precipitation than areas of the state to the south and Yellowstone. In its normal condition it is densely forested and has steep terrain and winter habitat is limited in this area as well. The elk are less healthy going into winter than they were when the habitat was more open as well.

    Would you say that this means that the elk population consists of animals in prime health? I wouldn’t, and populations are declining but people want to blame it solely on wolves which is not the case. Yes, wolves are killing at higher rates than in other areas but that doesn’t mean that these elk are healthy or that they are in sync with the environment that they live in.

    There are other factors in the Clearwater. Density of roads is high and spotted knapweed has blanketed areas of recent burns and clearcuts. Will this habitat be capable of ever supporting those high populations of elk again? Unless there are severe fires again and knapweed doesn’t take over the habitat in their aftermath I highly doubt it.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    People have been commenting about the number of elk on the northern range on this blog and my previous web site for ten years now.

    Every year there is a story about the winter count of elk and then there follows a variation on the same discussion. Some years there are more comments and some years fewer.

  8. Ryan Avatar

    “Here is what I understand about elk population declines caused by wolves. Wolves generally take weaker animals when they hunt and since they are more of a sight predator, meaning they approach prey in full sight to test them rather than ambushing them like cougars do, and they tend to take calves later in the year rather than right after they are born because of the way they hunt. Generally wolves won’t try to take down healthy elk because it is difficult and dangerous although it does happen.”


    You drank the Cool Laid.. If you look at population surveys done, the number of old cows is still very high in many populations like the one in Lolo pass. Birth rates have dropped due to constant pressure from wolves and a large factor in poor health is because they are less effective foragers. This affects yearlings significantly, reducing population recuritment. In addition mature bulls get hit very hard post rut by wolf predation due to the stresses brought about by the rut allowing younger bulls to breed in the second estrus ensuring that calves have less time to prepare for winter.

  9. Moose Avatar

    “In addition mature bulls get hit very hard post rut by wolf predation due to the stresses brought about by the rut allowing younger bulls to breed in the second estrus ensuring that calves have less time to prepare for winter.”

    I hear this from hunters in MI/WI as well…does anyone have actual data on this – would make sense if bulls/bucks are in a truely vulnerable state then, wolves would have a ‘greater’ success rate than normally, but are they in fact “hit very hard” at that time? …from an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t make sense…but, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a scientist, but would like to hear a scientific explanation. Thanks.

  10. Ryan Avatar


    Its actually known with moose too, there have been some studies on it. Mature bucks and Bulls rut very hard and deplete there fat reserves then post rut become solitary animals (or small bachleor groups) and are much more voulnerable to wolf predation. Its not as big of factor is the bull to cow ratio is very high, but in the current western landscape the bull to cow ratio is relatively low due to human harvest of bulls in part (usually lower age class, although hunters in some units do specifically taget mature bulls where the opportunity presents itself, usually limited entry hunts managed for trophy quality) which is what creates this issue. The lack of mature bulls breeding cows in the first esterus leading to younger calves much less prepared for winter has been documented in many Fish and Game studies leading to tighter controls on the harvest of bulls in an effort to raise Bull to cow ratios. Also having all of the calves drop in roughly the same time period insulates them from predation as sheer numbers allows the calves individual odds of survival to increase. Halving calving spread out across the spring leads to lower calf recruitment as a whole.

  11. Moose Avatar

    Thanks for the explanation..I’m still a bit confused tho…If wolves are impacting bull numbers post-rut, how does that affect the first estrus? Haven’t those bulls/bucks already made their contribution? I would think hunting would be the most important variable there – taking bulls/bucks before they have a chance to mate. Don’t mature bulls/bucks become ‘mature’ becuz they have demonstrated effective predator avoidance strategies? I guess I need to bone up on ungulate reproduction.

  12. Jay Avatar

    Ryan, please send me a link or copy of one peer-reviewed wildlife journal that shows that average inception date is later due to predation.

  13. Ryan Avatar


    Most hunting takes place after the rut with elk, mostly pre rut hunting for mule deer. (archery would be the exception). That being said hunting is a big variable involved in this equation as well. As I mentioned before less bulls and bucks to start with intensify the problem.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Well with the delisting these wolves are going to get killed. So we will see if the elk population grows.

  15. Jay Avatar

    Ryan, at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to start a pissing contest, I will also add that there’s been lots of work done in Colorado looking at the human effects of hunting–the conclusions were that within a day or two of archery season, elk immediately shifted to private land where hunting pressure was eliminated, or at least much reduced. Also, they looked at the aspect of bulls wising up to human bugling, and the result was bulls learned very quickly to recognize artificial bugling and associated gunfire when they investigated, and thus stopped bugling back. What’s my point, you ask? I’m just extremely tired of the assertion that human hunting is completely benign, and that all the blame for everything under the sun falls on wild predators, from elk not bugling to the stuff you were talking about above. There’s a ton of data that says humans harass deer and elk much more than predators do. Not to say predators don’t have impacts, but hunters (some, as I don’t lump myself in this category) always want to blame everything but themselves, and always have an excuse at the ready.

  16. Ryan Avatar


    Please reread my posts, I don’t believe I ever once said that it was only predation that could lead to a later inception date. As stated above its due to both recreational hunting and its can be magnified due to predation as well. There are numerous peer revied studies citing that lack of mature bulls in populations leads to later avg inception dates.

  17. Jay Avatar

    I would be interested in reading them, if you could pass along a citation.

  18. Cobra Avatar

    We’ve noticed in North Idaho a huge difference in the way the elk react to the wolves. Normally in the rut you know as well as I do that bulls will bugles their heads off at times, and cows and calves are pretty vocal also. We can almost tell in which drainages there are wolves these days because the bulls will not bugle and even th cows and calves are quiet. I cou;ld see how the ruts could and do take longer for elk because they use there bugling to collect cows and challenge other bulls. Without bugling they have to cover much more ground quietly than they used to when they could get on a high ridge and their bugles would carry farther allowing the cows to come to them.

  19. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Why is the crash-boom cycle so hard for some people to understand? Why does it scare them so much?

    Thank-you so much for that comment. So refreshing. I might also point out, that after 16 years of living in Montana within an hour of Yellowstone, there is plenty of evidence to support a crash-boom cycle. The wolf reintroduction took place shortly after I started hunting in 1994. In 1996-1997, there was a severe winter that killed hundreds, maybe even thousands (I don’t have the numbers) of elk, deer, buffalo, and other game. Elk were so weakened that they stayed in the lower elevations past Memorial Day. So it is pretty convenient to say that elk populations have dropped since wolf reintroduction. Yet somehow I was able to shoot a healthy cow that year and have still managed to see large populations of elk and other game in Yellowstone and plenty of people from my hometown have gotten elk and deer every year.

    I am going to use my famous line here, and that is that wolves would have gone extinct thousands of years ago if they killed everything like people say they do. Sorry for being so redundant but I can’t resist. 😉

  20. Jay Avatar

    There you go again Ryan–I’ve just cited an actual peer-reviewed journal that states hunters can and do have an effect on bulls curtailing bugling, and yet you’re stating it all wolves. Further, read the recent report from MT FWP, that states (I’ll paraphrase) that humans have a greater effect on elk movement and distribution than wolves. Why is it so hard to admit that you human hunting disturbs elk and deer as much or more than any predator? these critters have evolved for eons to cope with each other, you know.

  21. Jay Avatar

    Sorry Ryan, I see it was Cobra that made the elk bugling must’ve been wolves comment…my bad.

  22. Jay Avatar

    Cobra, when I used to bow hunt, it was almost a foot race to see who could get to the elk to take the first crack at them when you heard a bugle, what with all the hunters in the woods. But certainly human harassment has NOTHING to do with elk learning to shut up, right? I mean, you were there in that particular drainage hunting those elk, but of course it had to have been the wolves that made them quiet, right. That argument sounds a lot like two guys farting in a small room and one blaming the other for the bad smell.

  23. Layton Avatar


    “Also, they looked at the aspect of bulls wising up to human bugling, and the result was bulls learned very quickly to recognize artificial bugling and associated gunfire when they investigated, and thus stopped bugling back. ……………………………………..from elk not bugling to the stuff you were talking about above. There’s a ton of data that says humans harass deer and elk much more than predators do.”

    I’d really like to see that/those study(s) — could you give me a link??

    Yes, I know, it’s anecdotal!! But, I’ve hunted the same general area for elk for about 15 years now — I KNOW the area — I KNOW where elk go when they are spooked. I ALSO know that my bugling never chased them out of the area!!

    When the wolves got to the point that the only answer you get when you or a bull bugle is a bunch of wolves howling —- presto — no more elk — of course that might have also had something do do with the bone piles laying around — maybe??

    A foot race to get to the elk first?? Try getting more that a few feet off the blacktop!! Oooorrrr, maybe go someplace besides Colorado. Wait, aren’t they trying to get a wolf presence in Estes Park?? Maybe you’ll soon know what we’re up against.

  24. Barb Avatar

    We’re trying to get a “wolf presence” anywhere we CAN in Colorado. We have ZERO right now — oh sorry, we have the incredible lone female wolf that came from Yellowstone unless a wolf hater has shot her already.

  25. Barb Avatar

    Nature goes in valleys and mountains — nature has never always kept an “even, perfect balance” of anything — but it “rights” itself eventually.

    I find this article interesting — still too many elk — as it shows that wolves ‘aren’t eating everything in sight’ as the hysterical wolf haters like to claim.

    It’s so hard for man to just accept nature as it is — man constantly wants to “manage it.” After all, if nature doesn’t need man, that would make man feel insignificant in the giant picture, and his ego won’t allow that.

  26. Barb Avatar

    I misspoke — not too many elk but the “right” amount (as judged by humans, as much as how important that is………….)

    Man needs to get over himself and his importance in the grand scheme of things.

  27. Cobra Avatar

    I spend alot of time in the woods. I bowhunt also. It’s pretty esay to set wherever your setting and tell me what I see and hear. Yes, bulls do go quiet because of to much hunting pressure but if you get off the road a couple of miles where hunter numbers are at a minimum and wolves are present the elk flat quit talking. Like Layton said if you cow call or bugle and the wolves howl you might as well hang it up for the day because the elk will move out of the drainage. I’m not bitchin because I’ve not been successful I was just stating a fact that I had noticed. I still hunt areas that you hardly if ever encounter another hunter.

  28. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Barb as man is part of the grand scheme of things, I find you statement real funny….

  29. Jay Avatar

    Layton–the area I hunted was a wilderness in E. Washington, and was a backpack trip in…no roads in sight. Actually, there doesn’t have to be a pile of hunters, 10-12 hunters hunting the same general area all hearing that bull bugle off in the distance, doesn’t take much to get everyone moving in the same direction.

    Citations for the studies I mentioned (all are in JWM):
    Effects of archery hunter numbers and opening dates on elk movement
    Auteur(s) / Author(s)
    VIEIRA Mark E. R. (1) ; CONNER Mary M. (1) ; WHITE Gary C. (1) ; FREDDY David J. (2) ;

    Elk Movement in Response to Early-Season Hunting in Northwest Colorado, by Mary M. Conner, Gary C. White and David J. Freddy

    Responses of Bull Elk to Simulated Elk Vocalizations during Rut, by Noreen E. Walsh, Gary C. White and David J. Freddy © 1991

    This is taken directly from the MT FWP final report on wolf-ungulate interactions:
    Most data collected during winter indicate that wolves have small-scale effects on elk distribution (displacement of up to approximately 1 km upon contact) and movement rates (increased movement rates of approximately 1.23 km per every 4 hours). Wolves may also affect elk habitat selection and group sizes, but the magnitude and direction of these effects is widely variable among wintering areas and even among habitats in the same wintering area. Where the impacts of hunting, hunter access, and wolves have been studied simultaneously, the impacts of hunting and hunter access on elk distribution, movements, group sizes, and habitat selection have been larger than the effects of wolves.

  30. Hoosier Avatar

    “I misspoke — not too many elk but the “right” amount (as judged by humans, as much as how important that is………….) Man needs to get over himself and his importance in the grand scheme of things.”

    Might I ask how this statement backs your ablilty to defend the delisting as I am sure you are against it. Take out the word elk put in wolf and what do you have? You have nothing but your personal interst in mind. Your statement only holds water if you include all animals not just the ones you like.

    As I posted above we are responsible to manage or maintain a species if it is within our power as the human race because we have the capacity. (According to the bible God gave man dominion over the beast, but since that holds zero water in the science world. We can only go with what our minds create as good.) This is no different when it comes to wolves if we realize there are significant numbers then delist. Which studies are showing that numbers are exceeding all origanal goals. When you achieve a goal you don’t start over you make a new goal! These wolves are ready and they have been for some time or this wouldn’t be an issue.

    On another NOTE:
    Elk hunters are wise to wolf affects in their hunting area. Why? Because these are the people in the woods during these times and they are witness this. Their name doesn’t have ot have MBA or Ph.d to notice such changes. Besides must avid hunters spend more time in the field than the Ph.d ‘ers (If you have earned such a title congrats and I mean it I marval at your commitment) Hunting pressure be it from human or wolves dicitates prey patterns. This is not a negotiable statement it is fact and proven with any hunted species reguarless of what preditor we are discussing.

  31. John d. Avatar
    John d.

    I’ve heard a lot of things from hunters over long period of time, not every word is truth Hoosier. In fact sometimes it is an outright fabrication.

    Management is not about keeping a natural balance because it attempts to keep populations at a constant level (for ungulates: high, for predators [any]: low).
    As for the hunters spending more time in the field, their minds are not intent on studying the behaviours wildlife other than how to exploit the most efficient method on how to kill them. The same can be said for wildlife watchers, albeit they have no intention on taking anything but photographs. I’ve heard stories of hunters ‘saving’ an elk bull from coyotes by killing the entire pack (and later shooting the same elk while it was bogged in a stream) to watching innocent calves getting killed by wolves but not caring that wolf pups and bear cubs can be shot in the face and poisoned.

    Delisting is the want to return to bad old habits instead of moving on and learning from the mistakes of the past. The mindset has not changed, the feelings for predators by the ‘powers that be’ have remained hostile and the outright want for the immediate termination of hundreds of lives, some which will be taken in the most disgusting ways imaginable, with no consideration for the consiquences is downright cold-blooded.

    But hey, wildlife can’t be wild can they? No they need to be treated like livestock, just things to make the landscape look pretty and to be killed whenever humans can’t be satisfied with what they have already.

  32. JB Avatar

    The problem is the word “management” means different things to different people; and its meaning is changing. Aldo Leopold described game management as “…the art of making land produce sustained annual crops of wild game for recreational use” (Leopold 1933, p.3). Wildlife management since Leopold’s time has the production of a “harvestable surplus” of game animals as its primary goal. Conservation of resources (to enhance the production of game) plays an important role in traditional management; thus, most hunters describe themselves as conservationists.

    However, conservation biologists have a much different view of management. Instead of managing land FOR the production of game species (i.e. traditional management) the goal is changed to managing for the production of biodiversity. Note: management (e.g. removal of non-native invasive species) is still required, but has a distinctly different flavor. Most hunters today have no use for biodiversity. Rather than frogs, salamanders, wolves and cougars, they would prefer more (insert game species).

    The tension between these two competing goals (i.e. production of game v. production of biodiversity) is–I believe–what drives much of the debate on this website. Of course, there are others like Barb (sorry to pick on you, Barb) who advocate a total “protectionist” (aka animal rights) perspective; however, there is nothing in either the wildlife management or conservation biology literature that advocates this approach.

  33. JB Avatar

    Almost Forgot: Leopold, A. 1933. Game Management. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, USA.

  34. Layton Avatar

    “The tension between these two competing goals (i.e. production of game v. production of biodiversity) is–I believe–what drives much of the debate on this website.”

    Bingo!! IMNSHO JB hit it right on the head!!

    Then you have something like John D said:

    “I’ve heard a lot of things from hunters over long period of time, not every word is truth Hoosier. In fact sometimes it is an outright fabrication.”

    And I don’t mean to single out John D. — just using that quote to point out an example of the problem.

    The point I’m trying to make here is that a LOT of the current difficulty is the lack of trust between the two groups. To a lot of the folks here ANYTHING that a hunter says is suspect, if not just a down and out lie.

    Conversely, I wouldn’t trust anything that comes from a publication backed by “green” money unless I personally experienced it. WWP or ICL or the new Western Wolves group or Suzanne Stone’s group —- or any other of a dozen I could name are (IMHO) motivated by a completely different reason than one that makes sense to me.

    I don’t trust the “biological diversity” argument, never have. I see no reason to introduce one specie that will adversely affect another that I think is valuable, especially when that animal is given a free pass to breed and eat what it wants to. Times have changed, we will NEVER return to some kind of a Utopian state where wolves and elk live in a “natural” world. (in spite of what some emotionally driven folks here would like) There are way to many millions of humans to do that.

    I see people on the “wolfie” side (not a derogatory term, just one to describe who I am referring to) turn on their own biologists when their opinions change (Geist?) and I have seen hunters cuss their own hunting partners for voicing an opinion in favor of critters on the predatory side.

    I don’t know what the solution is. But I certainly know what it ISN’T and that’s the current attitudes of some folks on both sides, but how do you (we) change it?? If someone has an idea, it would certainly be worth discussing.

  35. Jay Avatar

    Hoosier, should I interpret your statement about Ph.d’-types such that hunters (who spend a week or two out in the woods each year) know more about a species such as wolves than a guy like Dave Mech, who has devoted his entire career to studying wolves by putting radiocollars out, following movements, population dynamics, prey selection, survival, mortality, etc., etc., etc.? I agree there’s a lot to learn about the woods by direct observation, and I’m not discounting hunters experiences in the woods (I learn something new almost every time I go out) but to say hunters know more because they spend a little time out in the woods is just ludicrous. We would know next to nothing about species such as wolves and cougars if it weren’t for those researchers doing actual research, not anecdotal observations. Those folks got those M.Sc’s and PhD’s by working long, long hours out in the field, and many grew up hunting and fishing, which probably got a large proportion of them into the field in the first place.

  36. Jay Avatar

    And I used Mech as an example intentionally, because he’s one of several wolf biologists who knows enough about their population dynamics and ability to sustain reasonably high human-caused mortality that he’s a strong proponent of having wolf hunts.

  37. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    There are certainly a lot more ethical values and systems driving the approaches than biodiversity versus a kind of game farming approach versus so called protectionism.

    Long ago, I took an environmental ethics class, and I found the whole thing frustrating because the approaches almost never went further than stating the superficial assumptions that drove the various distinctions. Most of the views struck me as dogmatic. And, dogmatism seems to me to be the actual driver of most of the environmental wars – those waged on many sides of the issue.

    Not being dogmatic I don’t think means that you become simply a skeptic of ethics; I think it actually changes the approach in a way that’s quite drastically different in practical implications than we have now.

    The debate about elk in Yellowstone’s northern range, it is true, has often been about the biodiversity of the range and the system that best produces biodiversity v. having as many elk as possible for game hunting (and of course, those who would argue that the two ethical goals actually might produce the same kinds of policies). I just think we are selling the discussion short if we stop there.

    I’ve often thought about the question, “What is Yellowstone?” One of the grand projects I’ve envisioned in life would be to write an ontological treatise that focused on that question as the nexus. You could do the same thing with “What is an elk”, “What is a system?”, “What is wildlife?”, and on and on … I think if we get beneath the embodied form that draws us into the question (i.e., Yellowstone, elk, wolf, etc.), we would go further to getting at the policy. What are these things, what can actually be known about them, what is their relationship to virtue, assuming there is such a thing? Instead, we start with pre-ordained assumptions, assume that we all kind of have the same values, and argue from there … where there are differences, we reduce them to the least we can make sense of. But, I think environmental issues are so profound they drive at the most basic level of first principles.

    I’ve often thought no one would read a book about Yellowstone that quickly went to Thales and Heraclitus. Perhaps, reading the discussion here, I am wrong. It seems we could use it, even if it only becomes a strawman to tear down toward a better consensus.


  38. JB Avatar

    “There are certainly a lot more ethical values and systems driving the approaches than biodiversity versus a kind of game farming approach versus so called protectionism.”

    Jim: I don’t want to get into a debate about what “ethics” or “values” are, as different disciplines use these terms to mean different things (which is why I didn’t use either term in my post). I am aware of a number psychological studies that suggest people’s value orientations (i.e. their fundamental beliefs about how wildlife should be used) have multiple dimensions. However, it is the protection v. use dimension that is most often predictive of people’s attitudes regarding wildlife management issues.

    You said: “…Most of the views struck me as dogmatic. And, dogmatism seems to me to be the actual driver of most of the environmental wars.”

    This–in essence–was my point. Most of the debate on this blog comes down to people who advocate a traditional “game management” viewpoint (i.e. more game is better) to those who advocate for protection of certain species for various reasons (e.g. biodiversity, ecological integrity, animal rights, etc.). I’m sure that we could have a very interesting discussion about the values and ethical beliefs that underlie these–and I’ll use your word–“dogmas,” but that wasn’t my intent. Rather, my intent was to point out that those who visit this blog often argue past one another because they have fundamentally-conflicting views regarding the goals of “management”; adherence to these dogmas are what actually drive our “environmental wars.”

  39. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    JB, once we unravel these dogmas, that isn’t to say that in the end, we still might not end up ultimately siding with many of the practical policy implications of one of the sides.

    For instance, I don’t believe in biodiversity as an end in itself; however, the net result of my tendency to deconstruct and strip down ethics to its minimalist core I think still tends in the end to a world that is consequentially biodiverse. That is it follows from my worldview; it isn’t the worldview itself.

    That’s my hunch, but we’d all have to stop talking past each other to see if that hunch holds.

  40. Hoosier Avatar


    Let me rephase as I am a hunter. I spend more time in the field doing scouting and movement observations than I do hunting. As I relize that this is not the norm and my personal duties got in the way of my statement above.

    I prefer to go into the woods with just my camera and capture that aspect of things, but I grew up hunting and fishing which has stuck with me.

    I would agree that most hunters spend minimal time in the woods as they are there to hunt, shoot, and go home to brag. I prefer to study, find a targeted animal, enjoy the outdoors, and learn as much about any species as possible. I am defending many hunters because many things about animal behavior that they mention holds water. Several pro-wolf people will refuse to raise the same points that hunters will becasue they fear this will hurt the image of the wolf. I notice throughout my years of reading this blog if it protrays a wolf as negative it gets skipped or doctored. This is my only issue with many of the pro-wolf side as they will limit the information to protect the wolf.

    At best I feel wolves will delist and will have a short bag limit hunting season. This is not the end of the world for wolves, but it proves that our efforts to resort the wolf are not in vain, and this could have happened before now. Wolfers asked for wolves and they got them by margins far higher than expected, and now they think you are taking something that is only their’s. Wolves are for everyone and enjoyment comes from many angles we (those who think wolves belong) better find some common ground and focus on it. Part of the process is to listen to both sides in hopes of entertaining conflicting ideas or else everyone looses.

  41. JB Avatar

    Jim: As someone that has conducted a few quantitative studies assessing people’s environmental worldviews, I would suggest that the complexity of thought demonstrated in your assessment of these environmental issues puts you at least a couple of standard deviations away from the mean. 😉