Changing attitudes stymie elk managers

As elk hunters in Montana let out a bellow for wolf “control” right alongside their friends in other western states – elk distribution and populations in Montana demonstrate a soaring population of elk in areas – enough so that ranchers are getting fed up with elk depredation on cattle forage.

Changing attitudes stymie elk managersHelena Independent Record

Soaring population

Elk populations are soaring in some areas and a concern that other management techniques — changing hunting seasons, instituting more areas where only antlerless elk can be hunted or even something as drastic as using sharpshooters to cull herds, similar to what’s been done to deer in Helena, or paying people to hunt — might be necessary in the future unless something is done now.

The article also hits on a key demographic change in the West ~ people are valuing wildlife more and more, and the old-line adversarial relationship to the natural world (what some folk call the “Livestock Culture of Death”) is waning.

Another article via the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) looks at populations throughout the West :

Elk Populations SoaringNew West, Guest Column

Population highlights among top elk states: California, Nevada and New Mexico experienced the greatest increases with growth exceeding 100 percent. Colorado, Montana and Utah herds are 50-70 percent larger. Oregon and Wyoming are up 20-40 percent.

The article demonstrates that it’s chiefly habitat conservation initiatives and management regimes with regard to take of elk that RMEF attributes to having had such an impact on elk numbers.

Clearly hostility toward wolves, and other predators, is being fomented by something other than sound reasoning and data which would suggest wolves will wipe out all of the elk herds.







  1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    …elk distribution and populations in Montana demonstrate a soaring population of elk in areas
    Wyoming …up 20-40 percent. …enough so that ranchers are getting fed up with elk depredation on cattle forage.

    Yet somehow wolves are killing them all and killing everyone’s livestock. Yet more evidence why certain people have no credibility.

  2. timz Avatar

    I can’t believe they would publish an article like this. Does it not do great damage to the anti-wolf cause?

  3. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    You would think wouldn’t you timz? It will be a cold day in Hell before this gets published in the Idaho Statesman. I would also be surprised if it was in the Casper Star Tribune.

  4. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page


    Who is the “they” you are referencing? NewWest? RMEF? I suspect you are trying to be sarcastic, but I can’t figure it out…

  5. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Tom, I interpreted the “they” as publishers of a Montana newspaper.

  6. Bob Wharff Avatar
    Bob Wharff

    Talking in generalities may show an increase overall of 20-40 in Wyoming. What happens when you look at specific areas? Areas where elk once maintained an average reproductive rate of 30-35% are now in single digits. What do they have in common? Introduced wolves which are being maintained at significantly higher numbers than anyone desired or admittedly wanted. Wouldn’t you think that violates the EIS underwhich the introduction occurred?

  7. Jeff N. Avatar
    Jeff N.

    Bob Wharff,

    Uh…No. Wolves have not had a devastating effect on the the elk population in WY because it is not biologically possible whether they are present locally or generally throughout the state. As far as wolves being “maintained at higher numbers than “anyone” wanted…..I call bullshit. Your argument unravels regularly and your lack of scientific evidence to back up your your claims is further evidence that you are a wind bag and a hopeless idiot.

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Bob Wharff,

    the articles are meant to illustrate that the elk are out there. when people talk to me about qualifying their anti-wolf sentiment by “looking at specific areas” and they maintain that herds in those very specific areas must achieve a “30-35%” reproductive rate or whatever via prescribing anything other than habitat conservation (i’m a big proponent of “passive restoration”) or restraint/manipulation of a hunt — our influence on a particular herd — then they are slipping down a slope whereby it seems to me like less about wildlife management – and more about ranching – production and protection (predator “control”) of an agricultural product – commodification.

    if you can’t handle the ebb and flow of the natural world on a particular drainage — it’s time to get your own private spread, fence it, load it with livestock, and “hunt” to your heart’s content.

  9. timz Avatar

    Actually I was referring to the R.M.E.F. and wasn’t trying to be sarastic. I am very surprised they would admit to the fact elk numbers are actually increasing evn with the presence of wolves.

  10. Bob Wharff Avatar
    Bob Wharff

    Jeff N,

    Perhaps you should read a bit more about the introduction. I suggest reading ‘Wolf Wars’ by Hank Fischer. This book clearly articulates the how’s, why’s, etc. pertaining to wolf introduction. This book was written by and from the Environmentalist perspective. I have read that even Hank Fischer has publicly decried current efforts to push for more wolves than was initially agreed upon.


    Elk are out there. One small component that seems to be readily over looked is the reproductive rates, male:female ratio’s, and average age of animals within a population. The fact that so many on the pro-wolf side do not care about the impacts wolves are placing upon hunting is what divides us. Those which introduced wolves hammered out a compromise between the pro-wolf and anti-wolf crowd by establishing and accepting a minimum of 100 wolves and 30 breeding pairs as the threshold for delisting. The anti-wolf crowd desired no wolves, but introductions took place any way. The pro-wolf crowd is now forcing an expansion of wolves. Your statements highlight one of the biggest problems we face.

    The anti-wolf crowd could say the samething to you. By your own private spread, fence it, load it with all the predators and wildilfe you desire, and feed them ’til your heart is content.

    This demonstrates why we are at an impass which ultimately will lead to conflict and less wildife for both sides. Wolves may be winning now but that can easily shift.

  11. outsider Avatar

    Brian, I would be very careful when I call for people to fence their private if they don’t like the ebb and flow. Last time I looked their is way more critical habitate on private than any other place. Not to mention what would happen to wildlife migration paterens when they come up againinst fences. The lack of access that would follow the fenceing, for the general public. I can remember there being some very pissed off people on this blog when indivuals where blocking access and charging high fees for hunting on their private. You can’t have it both ways.

  12. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    To anyone who spends much time in many of our watersheds that have been negatively affected by high concentrations of ungulates, this population count comes as no surprise. Many of them are devoid of the trees and plants necessary, for example, to support beaver populations, which are much more important to the integrity of an ecosystem than elk.

  13. Jeff N. Avatar
    Jeff N.

    Bob Wharff,

    I’ve read Wolf Wars.

    For some reason the anti-wolf crowd keeps misrepresenting the minimum number of wolves and wolf packs that would trigger delisting as a maximum number of wolves and wolf packs allowed in the recovery area. The only thing keeping the delisting of wolves from being settled is Wyoming’s unwillingness to submit an acceptable management plan.

  14. Brian Ertz Avatar


    I never promoted re-introduction and from my vantage in retrospect – given the absurd backslide that the 10(j) has turned into – it’s a shame, I don’t entirely disagree that the wolf-advocates that did support it should find themselves in an awkward position – which is not to say your characterization of some “deal” which would trump the proper administration of best science and the law is accurate.

    Outsider – I was making a point about Bob treating elk as if they were livestock. I was never pissed about blocked off access so I’m not trying to have it both ways. I find the extortive idea that we should all lick the boots of the landowner to be counterproductive – let them close access, let the whiney ranchers sense of self-entitlement and the whiney “sportsmen’s” self-entitlement spar – that’s a good thing for the long run in my estimation.

    Jerry b is right – regard for ecosystem integrity has been lost in the bickering.

  15. Ryan Avatar

    Brian and Jerry,

    Thats more due to livestock than wild ungulates by a dam site. REMF like to toot there own horn, but their claim the Oregon populations are up that much is Bullshit. Elk populations are up in many areas, the issue is that in many areas where the populations are up in in direct correlation with agriculture and ag depridations. Many NFS and BLM lands which should be prime Elk habitat are barren.

  16. John d. Avatar
    John d.

    Got a book for you Bob,
    “Spirit of the Wild Dog” by Lesley J. Rogers and Gisela Kaplan.

    Information regarding breeding habits, effects on prey, social behaviour, hunting behaviour, intelligence, species distribution and threats to the survival of wild canid species.

    As for wolves wiping out prey that’s a biological impossibility.

  17. JB Avatar

    “This demonstrates why we are at an impass which ultimately will lead to conflict and less wildife for both sides. Wolves may be winning now but that can easily shift.”


    No offense, but I think this statement is out of touch with the political landscape in the U.S. Participation in hunting is on the decline, has been for a while now. Only ~5% of U.S. residents hunt. Far less than 1% are involved in livestock production. Despite the western rhetoric, the BLM, FS, FWS, and NPS are caretakers of lands that belong to ALL of us, and the courts are increasingly forcing them to abide by laws designed to ensure the public interest is considered. By my reckoning, any political shift that occurs is likely to favor predators over livestock, and favor unmolested, free-ranging predators over “controlled” populations. If anything, hunters should be looking to align their interests with wildlife advocates. You have far more to gain from the demise of the livestock industry than from increased predator control. Think on it.

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar


    I’m glad your aware of the problem on public land – did you know that in the 90s – before the Bush admin would do even more damage – as much as 96% of available forage on BLM lands was appropriated to livestock ! That’s BLM’s own figure –

    Let’s restore big game & wildlife habitat across landscapes that belong to all of us – maybe the elk wouldn’t be pounding the private so much if livestock weren’t pounding the public ground.

  19. JB Avatar

    Just as a follow up to my comments above…

    I support hunting; both in principal AND as a wildlife management tool. However, I worry about the fate of hunting if groups like SFW continue to advocate positions that are out of touch with the electorate. The rhetoric from some of these groups is…well, the word “silly” would be appropriate if it wasn’t so damn offensive. While it may go over well with rural Idahoan’s, it invokes injustice and stereotypes of “redneck” hunters among most of the rest of the country.

    Yes, wolves affect ungulate populations, but these effects are waaaay overblown by anti-predator hunting groups. In some places (e.g., where habitat quality is poor, or human hunting pressure is high) wolves certainly can negatively impact elk. But it is telling that 15 years after reintroduction western states are near, at or above quotas. Moreover (and again), wolves are singled out as the cause of declines when habitat quality, weather, human hunting, cougars, bears, etc., all are part of the equation.

    In short, the pathological focus on wolves makes these groups (and hunters, by extension) look greedy and backward to the rest of society. It’s time to let your hatred of predators go and focus on doing something that actually improves habitat quality (for ALL wildlife) and the image of hunters nationwide.

    Just my 2 cents.

  20. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    I would say the the estimates of hunters in the US widely vary depending on who is counting the numbers, I have seen a low of 12.5 million and a high of 43.7 million hunters currently residing in the US, this is a statistic that is open to very wide interpretation as well as speculation.. So I would say ~5% is a arbitrary number at best..

  21. JB Avatar

    Save bears,

    No doubt the numbers vary based on how you calculate participation, and who describes themselves as a “hunter”. Still, in either case numbers are dropping. Check out the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation from 2006:

    “Using information on historical participation contained in the survey screen permits estimates of the number of anglers and hunters who were inactive in 2006 but were active in prior years. 44.4 million individuals fished and 18.6 million hunted in the U.S. over the five years from 2002 to 2006.”

    18.6/300 (million) = 6.2%


  22. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    I agree JB, but in the same time period, the NSSF says there have been 43.7 million hunters in approximately the same time period…which would suggest….

    43.7/300(million) = 14.56%

    So who knows….I do agree, that Hunters would benefit themselves by understanding the conservation side of things a bit better

  23. JB Avatar

    NSSF’s mission:

    “Defends and promotes America’s hunting and shooting traditions.” Based on their mission, I suggest that their numbers are suspect.

    The FWS has been conducting the same survey (in coordination with the Census Bureau), since 1955. I have a bit more confidence in their numbers.

    FYI: If you go back far enough (12 years or so) you can count me as a hunter, even though I’ve long since quit defining myself as such.

  24. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    As a person that has worked for and with the agencies, I highly suspect just about any of the numbers that are thrown out on both sides and that includes the FWS, they have some very motivated people in their ranks to promote certain positions..

    I was not accepting any sides position, but just stating as with most surveys, they are all subject to interpretation based on who is doing the survey and what the goals of the surveys position is…

  25. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page


    “Let’s restore big game & wildlife habitat across landscapes that belong to all of us – maybe the elk wouldn’t be pounding the private so much if livestock weren’t pounding the public ground.”

    Very well put, although I’d add in ORV’s, the explosive growth in recreation, noxious weeds and all the other factors that have caused public lands to deteriorate over the past few decades.

    While many F&G agencies have been successfully increasing elk numbers across the west, the federal agencies have been in complete gridlock due largely to the multiple use mandate. Many private landowners (and wildlife consultants who used to work for fed and state agencies before leaving in frustration) recognize that it’s much easier to do good things on private ground. RMEF, among other organizations, has been helpful in making this happen. As hunting organizations go, I think they have done a pretty good job of staying out of the wolf issue and continuing to focus on habitat enhancement and conservation, by the way.

    While I also agree that ecosystem integrity is often ignored, I don’t believe that the real issue is between hunters and landowners. Most hunters don’t hunt private land after all. The biggest issue, again and again, is the declining quality of hunting and fishing on public land. This has led us down the path of rod and trespass fees, elk harboring problems and game damage permits, increased predator conflicts on private ground and all the rest. As it stands I have to walk a darn long way uphill to have a quality elk hunt now, and I hardly fish outside the backcountry anymore due to the hordes on the public water nowadays.

  26. JB Avatar

    Save bears,

    As usual on this blog, whenever you try to make a point somebody ends up attacking your numbers [sigh]. Note, the Census Bureau actually conducts the survey for the FWS. You can read about the methodology here (; specifically, start on page 149. As with all surveys, sampling and non-sampling (e.g. nonresponse) are sources of error, but based upon my experience I believe these are reasonably close estimates.

    Lost in arguing about the validity of numbers is my actual point, which I believe is still valid. (1) Hunters make up a small percentage of the U.S. population; (2) their numbers are decreasing; (3) fringe organizations that promote positions that are out of touch give hunters a bad name.

    – – –

    FYI: If you care to argue the numbers farther, I have direct access to license numbers in two states. These data indicate that, in the state with higher participation (both located in the Midwest, by the way), 14% of the state’s population hunted in 2000, and 12.8% hunted in 2005. Participation decreased across all regions (rural and urban) and both general license sales (i.e. small game) and deer firearm. These data support my original points.

  27. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    It is not an argument but an observation on my part is all.

    I do agree numbers have decreased and I agree with your point about hunters hooking up with advocates for wildlife…over livestock interests….

  28. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    With lack of infrastructure, the first thing any species will do to insure survival of that population is to populate itself. Then it starts putting together those infrastructure needs of those populations that best survives. Look to human examples, ghettos and poor countries to see this in action. It also doesn’t matter to that species if it has to “blemish” itself to insure survival (ie. Southern red wolves taking in coyote genes). It will take care of any species environmental compatability concerns later.

    Thus to see a “good” population of elk has little to do with whether that herd has good infrastructure or the land and ecosystem has environmental compatability.

    As for wolves they will, as predators, make for accelerated infrastructure in these elk populations….but only if state F&G agencies would recognize the need for herd infrastructure….as compared to population densities. Alas it won’t happen, thus supposed informed environmentalists and land exploiters both end up rating the health of species with the most elementary of all guidelines, numbers of bodies seen on the ground.

    It would be like aliens flying over the earth and rating the health and level of civilization of humans by counting densities and numbers they saw. Such is todays state of Game and Fish, biologists and concerned environmentalist assessments as I see it …… from my point of view.


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Brian Ertz