Why have elk declined in the Bitterroot River area?

There have been many large scale changes to the land in recent years, including wolf restoration , but not just wolves-

Predator puzzle. Study raises questions over what’s killing Bitterroot elk. By Alex Sakariassen. Missoula Independent.

People tend to approach these questions with their minds made up.  What I see when I visit compared to 20 years ago is the effects of vast forest fires.





  1. jon Avatar

    Gotta love outfitters. They sure do love using wolves as scapegoats for the reason why they can’t get their clients an elk.

  2. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    The problem I see is that wolf supporters are basically having to play whack-a-mole with the elk issue. It seems that every time there is a decline of elk in any zone, unit, or sub-unit, wolves are to blame and then that decline is immediately extrapolated by some hunters/outfitters to mean that elk are disappearing for good absolutely everywhere wolves reside. Why is the onus always on the wolf supporter to explain why not all elk declines in certain areas of Idaho, Western Montana, or Western Wyoming are totally due to wolves, and/or other types of predation?

  3. Nancy Avatar


    When you take articles like this into consideration not to mention the rate of development in these areas plus an increase in outfitters, its no wonder game is disappearing.

    1. Elk275 Avatar

      To say that wolves are not having an effect is wrong. Wolves are causing a decline in elk numbers in the Bitterroot, how much of a decline is to be seen. If there were no wolves the would be more elk — wolves eat elk. There has been an increase in bears and mountains in the last ten years which definitely has had an effect.

      In the Snowcrest and Gravelly Mountains one thousand either sex elk “B” permits were eliminated, a large part of the reason is because of increased wolves.

  4. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Elk 275,

    What the outfitters in Thorofare didn’t like was having located elk the day or days before, then the wolves would move them that night. But the outfitters did like it a LOT that the wolves bunched these very dysfunctional elk herds into larger refuge camps. Thus, it was easy to find these large groupings and shoot the bulls out of them.

    Now think one step further and think of indigenous populations of humans hiding in down timber, draws and canyons…and then having technologically advanced people with guns going bang-bang and essentially flushing them out. These hunted folks are then a lot easier to kill by any novice hunter who likes hunting humans because there is no cover to hide behind.

    Thus most elk populations declined because the state and federal biologist biologists did not act fast enough with regulation changes to accomodate this easy pickins. I’d say if those state biologists looked a little closer at hunter success PRIOR to the demise one would see higher hunter success.

    It happened in Thorofare and I’d say it happened the same in the Bitterroot.

    Of course the only long term solution is for the state G&F to look at what made elk-predator relationships so compatable prior to white man “hunters”. They need to see the value of looking at infrastructure needs of every herd animal….then the states can see the need of this extended family structure as key to those herd animals “fighting” off predators.

    Then hunting has to change to the same style as hunter-gatherers did all those years….groups of hunters hunting the families of game, not the individuals. Kill all of one family and leave the others with their infrastructure intact. 90% of all herd animals were harvested this way prior to modern hunting practises.

    Without this, all the studies combined will all end in symptom management at best.

  5. JerryBlack Avatar

    Have any of you “regular” posters ever heard of HB 42 that Debbie Barrett of Dillon sponsored in 2003 in the Montana legislature.?
    Might be worth your time to research it.
    It mandated a drastic reduction of elk in most hunting districts.
    You can only blame so much on predators, but it seems the real problem is those low elk objectives mandated by the legislature in 2003.
    More politically correct though, to blame the wolves

    1. JEFF E Avatar
      JEFF E

      we had a discussion on that bill here. barrett is a livstock industry whore IMO.

  6. Angela Avatar

    @elk275 “If there were no wolves there would be more elk — wolves eat elk.”

    Wolves eat elk, but elk populations could be controlled by factors other than wolf predation, in which case, reducing wolf numbers may not increase elk numbers. Something we have seen in salmon populations is that predators may never be a limiting factor until populations are very low, and then they may act to keep the population low and delay recovery. I don’t know much about ungulate population dynamics, but could it be the case that winter range or some other density-dependent factor has reduced their numbers to the point at which predation has a larger impact than it “normally” would?

    In any case, determining the cause of a population’s decline is not possible without knowing how each factor affects them, so it definitely seems that more studies are in order. And the relative effects of various mortality factors may be completely different between herds.

    But how is collecting data now going to give them “baseline” data. Surely there must be data on land cover changes, etc. with which to model populations as well?

  7. Mike Avatar

    I find this laughable to be perfectly honest.

    If they are worried about elk numbers, why are they continuing to shoot them? That seems to be the biggest reason for any decline in population.

    Call me crazy, but when you’re firing a bullet into an animal you’re “worried about”, I think it’s a little insane.


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