Northern Range Yellowstone elk count drops to record low in latest count

Latest  is 4,635 elk, count is down 24 percent from 6,070 last winter-
Wolf population was over 100, 5 years ago; now down to 37-*

Update. Leader of the Yellowstone wolf team, Dr. Doug Smith talks about the elk situation on Montana Public Radio News. Note that it is not the first story in the “evening news.”

News Release from the
Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group 

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks – Contact:  Karen Loveless
National Park Service – Contact:  Doug Smith 307-344-2242
U.S. Forest Service – Contact: Dan Tyers 406-848-7375
U.S. Geological Survey – Contact:  Paul Cross 406-994-6908

January 12, 2011

Winter Count Shows Decline In Northern Elk Herd Population

Wildlife biologists say increased predation, ongoing drought, and hunting
pressure all contributed to a decline in the northern Yellowstone elk
population from 1995 to 2010.

The annual aerial survey of the herd conducted during December 2010
resulted in a count of 4,635 elk, down 24 percent from the 6,070 reported
the previous year. There has been about a 70 percent drop in the size of
the northern elk herd from the 16,791 elk counted in 1995 and the start of
wolf restoration to Yellowstone National Park.

Predation by wolves and grizzly bears is cited as the major reason for the
decline in elk numbers.   Wolves in northern Yellowstone prey primarily on
elk.   Also, predation on newborn elk calves by grizzly bears may limit the
elk population’s ability to recover from these losses. 

Drought conditions experienced during the early 2000s appear to have
impacted the nutrition and abundance of forage, and may have lowered
reproduction rates in some elk.

The number of permits issued for the antlerless Gardiner Late Elk Hunt
declined from 1,102 in 2005 to just 100 permits during the 2006-2010
seasons.  The late season hunt was eliminated altogether for 2011.

The number of grizzly bears seen on the northern range during elk calving
season has decreased slightly in recent years.   Also, the wolf population
on the northern range inside Yellowstone National Park has dropped from 94
wolves in 2007 to 37 wolves in 2010.  Biologists suspect predator numbers
may be responding somewhat to the decline in the elk population.

Biologists expect the reduction in the number of wolves and the elimination
of the late season hunt will result in some increase in the elk population.

The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group will continue
to monitor trends of the northern Yellowstone elk population and evaluate
the relative contribution of various components of mortality, including
predation, environmental factors, and hunting.

The Working Group was formed in 1974 to cooperatively preserve and protect
the long-term integrity of the northern Yellowstone winter range for
wildlife species by increasing our scientific knowledge of the species and
their habitats, promoting prudent land management activities, and
encouraging an interagency approach to answering questions and solving

The Working Group is comprised of resource managers and biologists from the
Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, National Park Service (Yellowstone
National Park), U.S. Forest Service (Gallatin National Forest), and U.S.
Geological Survey-Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman.

– 30 –


Public Affairs Office
Yellowstone National Park, WY  82190
(307) 344-2013

*My note.  This is the northern range, not the entire Park. There are a number of other elk herds that live in the Park all, or part of the year.  Most of these other elk herds are in decline too, but not the largest, the Jackson Hole elk herd.  The Park has slightly over 100 wolves at the end of the year. 37 of them are on the northern range.  The Park wolf population has been declining in size too.

People focus on the northern range because it is the best known of the Park’s elk herds, is the best elk habitat year round, and it has been the focus of controversy for over a hundred years now. The number of deer and pronghorn are stable and bighorn sheep are increasing on the northern  range.  Ralph Maughan



  1. Save bears Avatar

    With those types of numbers this year all I can say is “Duck” Because the anti side is going to seize on this and make a mess..unfortunately, I believe with the current political climate in Montana, the legislature is going to jump on the bandwagon, hook line and sinker…

    1. Rita K.Sharpe Avatar
      Rita K.Sharpe

      I tend to agree with you on this one,Save bears, in fact,I just agree.

    2. Jason Zeller Avatar

      I hate to sound ignorant, but what is the “anti side”? I visited Yellowstone this last summer and, i Just recently started paying attention to what’s going on in that area on the country. Thanks!

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        the “anti side are the anti wolf folks.

  2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I have to say I’m not at all surprised after visiting the park last September. I glassed a huge amount of country in the twilight hours from the road and in the backcountry and saw very few elk and didn’t even hear one bugle on an 8 day backcountry hike near the end of September. The northern herd must be down to about the point it was at the end of the elk reductions in the 1960s.

  3. Kayla Avatar

    O My Gosh! Is this there all that is? Now I remember how it used to be. And last year it was hard to see that many Elk 0n Yellowstone’s opening weekend last year it seemed. And the Wolf numbers are also down to only 37. Wow! I know the wolves in Yellowstone from what have heard have had a problem the last few years with mange and canine distemper. Guess these problems will continue. But only 37 – Wow! You can bet that one will be hearing all kinds if political firecrackers over this guaranteed!

    1. Save bears Avatar

      I can guarantee you the anti side is going to be screaming to high heaven..this year is not going to be a fun year…

      1. Kayla Avatar

        What do you mean of me on the Anti Side. I Am NOT a Hunter!!! I am Pro Wolf but also would love to see lots of Elk! Less hunting up here and no late season hunts up in here is fine with me. Again I do NOT Hunt and Never Hunt!

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        When are they not screaming to high heaven?

      3. Kayla Avatar

        Save bears, sorry miss read your earlier comment. Yes the Anti Side will be screaming to high heaven. Yes it will be some year. Have a Good Night.

  4. Kayla Avatar

    Also have to say this. Ralph you said maybe only 100 wolves in all of Yellowstone. this is such a decline from 300 or so some years ago.

    I just have to wonder if some of these problems of the wolves come from so many pet dogs from people visiting Yellowstone. I know this will never be mentioned. If a pet dog has a disease, wanders around, then here comes a wolf and gets this disease and spreads in to the wolves. I have just wondered on this between Pet Dogs and the Yellowstone Wolves for years. Wonder if anyone knows anything about this if this is possible for partly the reason in the less wolf numbers.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      I think the peak wolf population in the Park was about 180.

      Dogs probably spread parvo and distemper, but the coyotes already have it. It seems to me like the wolves are declining in rough proportion to their major prey. That is what I’d expect.

      There is measurement error in the elk count. So suspect 2009 was maybe a count too high and 2010 too low, but the trend is clear.

      1. Kayla Avatar

        Thanks a Bunch Ralph!

      2. WM Avatar


        While wolves IN Yellowstone have decreased (180+ down to about 100), the number counted in MT as part of the GYA has INCREASED at the same time, in-part due to out migration of those wolves and their subsequent progeny.

        So, it is really one of those difficult analyses to make because of the arbitary geo-political boundaries. The wolves move and so do the elk. Some of these wolves go to the higher density prey areas, and to where the prey are not so wary. So the out-migration that should be factored in to the discussion, as well, along with the harvest numbers of those fringe populations.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’m hardly surprised because the northern range has more kinds of predatory animals than any other place in Montana. It has long been my hypothesis, which I will repeat, that lots of bears plus wolves tends to decrease elk populations. That is because bears are not strict carnivores, so they can withstand a drop in elk populations. However, look at the downward trend for wolves in the area. It is as steep as it is for elk.

    Deer and pronghorn are stable and bighorn are up, but for those who only care about elk, this won’t matter.

    1. Save bears Avatar

      I agree 100%, my comment was in response to what I have already seen in the Billings News Paper, as I said, I fear this is not going to be a good year..

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        Save Bears,

        I know what you mean. Going further, I think this is going to be a bad year in most ways.

    2. Kayla Avatar

      So the Deer are Stable and the Bighorn are Stable! Great!!!!Just personally have always loved to see the land covered wth All The Wildlife!!! Good to hear the Bighorns are UP for soooo Love Bighorns!

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        That’s the way I like to see it. Change is interesting most of the time.

    3. Ken Cole Avatar

      Don’t forget that bison populations would be way up if they were allowed to roam freely and weren’t repeatedly slaughtered. I suspect that a very robust bison population that is allowed to naturally regulate itself would have many more individuals that would be more vulnerable to wolf predation. In other words more buffalo would mean more weaker individuals.

  6. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Perhaps a bit of self regulation will now begin alla places such as Isle Royale. With a combintation of wolves, bears, cougars,
    and hunters, there are more varaibles at play. However, the specifics of dynamic population equilibria, and getting areas such as Yellowstone back to a true natural state still hold sway.

    The time for patience and science to really take over are here, but perhaps this is wishful thinking.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      ++The time for patience and science to really take over are here++

      Could not agree more with that statement Immer.

      The clock is ticking down for any other species out there that fail to meet the “human” standard time.

  7. jon Avatar

    It is no surprise and everyone should expect that some people when reading an article like this are going to naturally blame wolves. Wolves are the scapegoat for everything it seems.

    1. jon Avatar

      FWP chief hopes new Wyoming governor may help resolve wolf issue

      Ken or Ralph, you should make this a new topic.

    2. SAP Avatar

      jon – I am on a campaign against those un-moderated comment sections. They’re not even worth reading; in fact, I think they’re contributing to the social conflict over wolves. The best thing to do is stop reading them and for heaven’s sake don’t engage with people there. Absolutely toxic and not a forum for constructive engagement.

      I think the news sites like them because the more riled up people get, the more they visit the site. More site visits = a number they can show to advertising customers. Otherwise, there is no value to those comment sections at all.

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        yes and no. Getting involved/engaged in the vitriol helps no one and probably does fan the flames. Making a point, backing it with a logical argument, facts/research whenever available, differentiates from the flotsam, and allows the casual reader or those sitting on the fence to at least read an intelligent counterpoint. Therefore these news sites can’t be sited as proof that all folks are anti-wolf.

        I think it was pretty obvious a wolf season was ready to go, and then Wyoming did their dance. CC stated that.

      2. Wyo Native Avatar
        Wyo Native

        I’m with you on that! eliminated their comment section a few months back, and their website and reporting has improved tremendously IMHO.

      3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        I think unmoderated forums are bad.

        Give me an anonymous name and a bad day and I will start thinking about where someone I disagree with’s mother came from. 😉

      4. Ken Fischman, Ph.D. Avatar

        I rarely reply to to the wackos in comments sections anymore, unless to correct outrageous lies. I also suspect that after a dozen or so comments, the only ones who read the end of the threads are the narcissistic commenters themselves. That is a very small audience, whose minds will not be changed with facts, & therefore not worth my putting in time & energy to reply.

  8. Bill in colorado Avatar
    Bill in colorado

    Maybe now you can admit that wolves should be managed or both predator and prey will suffer. If the fun of going to Yellowstone is to see wildlife, then that is now being threatened. There’s a reason our ancestors having had experience with wolves just did’nt want them around. They are very hard to manage. Here in Colorado we’d rather have easy to manage wolverines. Even Grizzly bears would be cool and far easier to manage. Management is a must or every wild animal will be hurt, the landscape is not devoid of people like some want it to be. If you love animals like you say then you will admit that all of them need management through unpolitically motivated science!

    1. Rita K.Sharpe Avatar
      Rita K.Sharpe

      Yes,let us go back to our grandday’s day.Little science back then,if you didn’t want something,just get rid of it. Right now there is just to much emotion going around,on both sides.When talking about wolves or hunting,you can’t seem to go on any site without someone, from either side, not being able to keep it civil and not going over the deep end.I am for the wild places that all can enjoy before.

      1. jon Avatar

        Bears and wolves are being blamed. I know hunters are angry that wolves and bears are eating elk, but the days of having HUGE elk populations are a thing of the past.

    2. Justin Avatar

      I disagree with your premise that management is a must in places such as Yellowstone.

    3. Mtn Mama Avatar
      Mtn Mama

      Bill in colorado,
      What are you complaining about? Colorado has more Elk than anywhere on the planet and no wolves. Guess that Colorado’s solution to “unpolitically motivated science” are the orange plastic fences around the aspen groves in RMNP where you can watch elk herds from the luxury of your SUV.

  9. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    With the early snow this winter I suspect the elk count is pretty accurate. I have been seeing elk herds in the Little America area with almost no calves the past two falls.

    With the number of wolves down, Yellowstone Park biologists will collar a higher percentage of them which should help decrease their numbers.
    Penguin researchers have determined that putting radio clips on the penguins wings caused a 44% decrease in their numbers compared to normal penguins:
    I would like to see some statistics from an outside source doing a similar count on the deaths of radio-collared Yellowstone wolves versus those that were left alone.

    I don’t trust the wolf project biologists to do an accurate count because it might affect their jobs if it shows they are killing the wolves. Did they reduce wolf research staff when the Yellowstone wolf numbers dropped from 180 to 100?

    1. Kayla Avatar

      Larry, how interesting and thanks for posting. I have not heard of this as regarding radio collars and such. Interesting!

      Now as for myself personally, have grown tired of the modern wildlife biologist seemingly wanting to put a radio collar or radio chip on seemingly absolutely everything it seems. Just let the wildlife be themselves outside of our human involvement! I know that I would not want one of those darn things around my neck. It is my opinionthat is has gotten so out of hand now days.

      Just In My Opinion! Have a Good day!

    2. JB Avatar

      Penguins are quite a bit different from wolves, don’t you think? If your hypothesis (i.e., that radio collars kill wolves) was accurate, the original population of wolves would not have been nearly as successful.

      You might consider that getting rid of radio and gps collars would require much more intensive monitoring of wolves to collect the same/similar data. I suspect this would mean more grad students and volunteers, or the use of video cameras. They did this type of work on Isle Royale sans radio collars for a long time.

      1. WM Avatar


        Happy New Year, by the way!

        Yet one more reason Isle Royale is different from the real world. A range of a total of 23-50 wolves to track in a closed ecoysytem of an island 50 long and 10 miles wide, with no hope of out-migration. Every wolf known and numbered by researchers through observation, photos, videos, field notes, and some stuck with darts (maybe more than once?). One prey species to monitor (moose), also of known numbers, age structure and condition.

        Minnesota, on the other hand, is a more interesting estimation scenario, with its 3,000 wolves. Canada to the north (in and out migration) and WI (out-migration nearly exclusively) to the east. Resident wolf population in place and fairly static for some time, and a fair amount of private land, meaning somewhat limited access for survey professionals. Not many collars historically, and no desire to increase due to cost and probably no need to track.

        Estimates are done only every 5 years, using computer model, with data inputs from manual tabulated surveys by resource managers/volunteers on public and private lands, some winter aerial overflights and a very few collared research wolves (mostly Dr. Mech’s). Throw all the data in the computer ….grind, grind, grind = estimate. …..numbers don’t look right, do a sensitivity analysis (maybe change average pack size based on observed vs. projected)….grind, grind, grind = ANSWER.

        I bet the collared wolves are doing just fine, and if not we would know about it.



        With all due respect, I think these Yellowstone scientists are very honest about the numbers they report; research caused mortality (if any) or injuries are reported and well documented. There are just too many people watching in this very transparent fish bowl to allow for someone to try to justify their jobs, and cover up screw-ups. And there are alot of young graduate students and other researchers, with whom they share data, looking over their shoulders.

        I suspect you would like fewer with collars because they aren’t the ones people want to see in commerically shot photographs, which I understand is how you make your living. And, on that aspect I cannot blame you a bit. It certainly takes away from the viewing experience to see a collar on anything in a National Park or elsewhere.

      2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        Non-invasive methods definitely have their limits, particularly in forested environments. They have gotten somewhat of a boost with being to analyze DNA and identify individuals from scats. There was recently a study using DNA collected from pellet groups to estimate deer density on Prince of Wales Island. There is private non-profit group that has conducted non-invasive studies on wolves down the coast in B.C. but they seem to lean a lot on collar-based studies in Southeast Alaska to fill in large gaps. Gordon Haber also eschewed invasive methods but was constantly using NPS collared wolves in Denali — but was very quick to come down on NPS when a couple of them didn’t survive sedation. In Yellowstone, collars definitely affect the photographic appeal of wolves but I notice the most dedicated roadside wolf enthusiasts can speak at length about the history, personalities and habits of individual wolves. How would an absence of collars would affect that kind of intimate knowledge and enjoyment of many individual animals? I always figured collaring would be reduced some years after introduction, but maybe not.

      3. JB Avatar

        Happy New Year, WM. To be clear, what I was trying to suggest to Larry is that, without collars, the jobs of the researchers he so distrusts would become harder, necessitating more (not fewer) resources. Thus, I put no credence in his claim that NPS researchers cover up wolf deaths to protect their jobs. In fact, I find this claim extremely ironic given Larry’s own vested interest in seeing the collars removed.

      4. mikepost Avatar

        There is a condition that I believe all animals can be suseptable to called “capture myopathy”. One of the often unacknowledged facts of wildlife capture operations is that there is an “acceptable loss rate”. Often, this condition will not demonstrate at the time of capture but will slowly impact the released animal and can result in death several days after release. Most biologists believe the data gleaned (and the resulting benefits to the group as a whole) from such programs is worth that cost.

        On a seperate note I would have to question how effective airborne counts are once elk have been acclimated by wolves to stick to cover and not form large groups. It aint like it used to be where you could see 500 in one open valley and count them all in 30 seconds.

  10. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    One would think that the trend would bottom and slowly increase from here, given the decrease in wolves and cessation of Gardiner late hunt but it will be interesting to see. The count in 1968-1969, after the end of the elk reductions was similar at 4,305, not far from the most recent count. Six years later (1974-1975), it was 12,607 for an annual rate of increase of 19.6% (not including annual removal by hunters averaging about 100 elk), before the late hunt was reinstituted in 1975-1976. A 20% rate of increase appears to have been the potential from that level under range conditions at the time, but of course that was without wolves and fewer than half the grizzlies. Yellowstone is always changing in unexpected ways — that’s a lot what makes it so interesting.

    1. Dave Avatar

      The main factor currently affecting elk populations in the Yellowstone area is calf production. I have read time and again about the lack of calves. This is a predator issue. Not just the wolves but all predators. Predators learn to return year after year to the elk calving grounds each spring to reap a bountiful harvest of defenseless calves. Just as grizzlies return to the same areas to eat pine bark beatles or catch moth migrations.
      Also, with the increased predation risk brought on by wolves, elk are not going into or surviving winter as healthy as they have in the past. Elk are forced out of the large productive meadows into brushy hillsides which are not as nutritious. Furthmore, they are chased a lot more during the winter and forced to use up stored energy reserves quicker, there by causing fewer cows to give birth. All animals will self abort if in poor health or overly stressed during their gestation period. Which is why hunting seasons are in the fall, when the animals are the healthiest. If a herd cannot reproduce, the population must decline and rapidly. This does not change unless the predator levels are drastically reduced by disease, starvation or other controls. Without drastic predator reduction the predator/prey ratios would remain the same. The wolf populations in Yellowstone are lower (disease, out migration), but what about the grizzly and mountain lion? Now elk populations are low enough here (Yellowstone), to cause real concern about their health.
      Yes, this is a great experiment. I won’t say it is scientific, because in most “scientific” experiments strict controls are in place so the results can be carefully analyzed over time. Here a major factor is being allowed to grow pretty much unchecked without analyzing the long term effects. Instead the wolf population should have been controlled from the beginning so their long term affects could be anayzed and understood.
      There are also some comments about un moderated forums. Let’s be realistic, if the states were suddenly allowed to kill every wolf onsight, this forum would screaming just as loudly as many hunters are. If your lifestyle, if your local economy was drastically changed by outside sources beyond your control none of you would be very happy.
      Predation is a major concern not just due to wolves themselves, but their side effects. Hound hunters, the primary method for hunting bear and mountain lion, at least in the west, are scared or have moved their activites in areas where wolves are present, for the safety of their dogs. Remember the elk are getting hammered year around now, They do not have the luxury of lounging in big open meadows to graze all summer. Nor can they conserve precious winter reserves and avoid the wolves at the same time. A Yellowstone documentary put it very well. As winter progresses the wolves get stronger, the elk get weaker.
      What will happen is the highs and lows of mother nature, feast or famine with a few short years balanced populations in between.
      Also, I was not aware that deer population were increasing, except in one particular trpohy area in Montana.

      1. Virginia Avatar

        Not much sympathy for the hound hunters. In my opinion, they should stay home and watch television and play catch with the hounds if they fear for their safety and stop stalking bear and mountain lions.

      2. Save bears Avatar

        There is no hound hunting or baiting for bears in the state of Montana

      3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        I agree with a lot of this. I wanted to note that the audio I posted as an update to this story (Doug Smith’s comments) are that the elk herd that now exists on the northern range is “very healthy.”

  11. Craig Avatar

    Ralph do you know what the target level is for Elk on the Northern range? I know there are a lot more Pronghorn,Bighorn and even Moose up there than Ive seen in long time. I can’t believe they didn’t stop the late season Hunts when the numbers took a huge dip.

    1. jburnham Avatar

      Good question Craig. I’ve seen all kinds of target numbers thrown around, but no clear population objective.

      MT’s elk management plan doesn’t set any population objectives for elk in the Northern Yellowstone EMU. Perhaps because most of the elk here only winter in MT and spend most of the year inside the park?
      Population objectives from the plan:

      1)Use the Gardiner late hunt to regulate wintering elk numbers to help ensure the long-term viability and productivity of winter range habitat.
      2) Provide early and general season elk hunting opportunities commensurate with elk population levels.

    2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      I don’t know about Montana, but NPS’s goals drifted alot over the years. It’s interesting that after a protracted era of putting ungulates first, in the 1950s and 1960s they launched into a program to drastically reduce elk — shooting by rangers (I knew individual rangers who shot over 400 elk), driving them by helicopter to an open hunting area out of the park (they quickly caught onto that trick) and penning them in traps for live shipment out. I don’t think that program was particularly popular with hunters at the time, but don’t remember as much wide-spread controversy as there has been over wolves. Then, the whole wildlife management approach changed when Glen Cole replaced Bill Barmore — it was going to be naturally regulated. He did take some heat over whether it was working as the herd shot up dramatically and, being our close neighbor, I remember my mother asking him if she could bring anything back for him from our summer trip to Alaska. He said “Yes, some wolf puppies!” After him, Doug Houston did a lot of work comparing photos of current range conditions with historical ones and concluded it wasn’t in too bad a shape by historical standards despite the large and increasing herd, although I don’t think he delved too much into aspen.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      There is no target number for any animal in the Park on the northern range. The number just is what it is, but maybe you meant for the area north of the Park in Montana?

      1. Craig Avatar

        That would be more correct since they judge the herd on Hunting in Montana.

      2. JEFF E Avatar
        JEFF E

        For Montana
        “The State Elk Plan calls for a winter population objective of 3,000-5,000 elk north of Yellowstone with 2,000-3,000 of those animals wintering on or near the state-owned Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area. In the last six years, an estimated total of 3,200-4,000 elk have wintered north of Yellowstone National Park with 2,100-3,000 elk wintering on or near the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area.”

  12. jon Avatar

    This was posted already, but Doug Smith responds.

    “Yellowstone is one of the most predator rich environments in North America and that has an effect on elk,” he said. “But the biggest criticism when I got here in 1994 was there were too many elk. Now we’re getting criticism there’s too few elk. The Park Service does not specifically target a population size.”-Doug Smith

    Too many elk, too few elk, you can’t win.

    1. Craig Avatar

      Yes you can! It’s getting the F&G to pull there heads out and quit trying to sell tags for money until it’s to late and the game is gone! Then they piss everyone off and blam it on everything else except there piss poor management!
      Idaho is know different and probably worse on some of our mule Deer zones! Now they want to ad extra tags for bidding to raise money! We are going to be like Utah and piss off all the Hunters and let the SFW take over so it’s a big money deal! Then every average Joe hunter is screwed!
      Well if you read the Hunting boards people are pissed!!! And now Idaho set this shit up it’s gonna be shit hit the fan after reading how dissapointed people are in Utah. I understand the F&G are strapped for cash, but add 10 to 15 Dollars to the hunting liscense! You wanna hunt and have good hunting you are gonna pay for it! If not tough shit, go spend 4,000 on a guided hunt and take your chances. I would pay $20.00 bucks more a year for my liscense, if that’s what would help! Our Management is going backwards and trying to Cater to rich assholes to foot the bill! That is not going to last!

      1. Elk275 Avatar

        Craig, I think that you are off topic. I am for raising hunting license fifty plus dollars seeing that a ski lift ticket is fifty plus dollars a day, or golf green fees are what ever but golf is not my game. Nothing is cheap or free anymore. But this thread is about the Northern Yellowstone elk herd.

  13. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    Two things.

    It seems early to be doing the aerial count, and I’m uncertain of the number since elk have habituated back into the woods because of wolf activity. I’d like to see a count done on Feb 1 before winter kill sets in.

    2. Read all the posts above and see nothing about optimal ” Carrying Capacity” . The few posts Ralp chimed n on about Population Ob jectives are almost there, but out here in huntable Wyomng, a “population objective” is a quotient used largely to determine hunting seasons as much as anything. Then again , discussions of ” carrying capacity” out here in multiple use lands also account for forage given over to livestock and other human activity. Different formulas for different land use, same elk.

    I am very thankful to SEAK for posting the 68-69 census after the decade of elk reduction in the northern range, seeing it is almost exactly what was put out in this report this week 42 years later, between 4-5,000. Rolling around in my head is a number that says there were north of 20,000 elk in Yellowstone’s northern range back in the 60’s, and I also have a number of near 30,000 that won;t go away when the population reached its max in the mid-50’s and the elk were in miserable shape from starvation. But my recollection is dim . I was a young kid then.

    So I guess my question is: In the national park quasi-wilderness setting, what is the range of desired population number for the Northern Herd these days ?

    ( …and dang if this winter isn’t harder and colder with deeper snow already than recent winters…. )

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Hunters north of the Park aside, it seems to me to be a great experiment in the Park to see where the numbers will stabilize. Even then I imagine they will fluctuate over time because there is no such thing as a static balance of nature.

      I think Doug Smith said that the long run number of wolf packs on the northern range might be only two. If so, it shows the great wisdom of letting wolves roam over a large area. I think the initial “bloom” or “boom” of their numbers will decline.

      If wolves had been confined to Yellowstone Park, we would be in a genetic bottleneck within just a few more years.

      1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        I think the elk herd could probably be considered “healthy” over a fairly broad range. If you look at stock-recruit relationships, deer and likely elk populations are most productive at a population size far below the level at “carrying capacity”. Furthermore, they can take a severe winter better. In some ways that pattern might be reinforced more than usual with predators, because while a large, nutritionally stressed herd will provide lots of less fit animals for wolves — as the density declines, average fitness will likely increase and predators may be squeezed more than hunters — first from the lower population and second from the decline in “”non-prime” animals that are easier to kill.

        Hunters often have trouble with that concept, thinking that populations can and should be managed to be both large and stable. The island where I live and do almost all my deer hunting is right next to an immense urban area (30,000) and is the most intensively hunted location for deer in the region, with about 800 hunters spending 2,500-3,000 hunter-days over a 5 month season, 4-deer limit (either sex) on about 50,000 acres. The success rate is not particularly high because the deer have a tremendous amount of habitat security and get educated, but the population is very healthy and stable through severe winters, including a recent record one with 200 inches of snow that killed off huge numbers of deer on other islands. I snowshoed around that winter and found deer to be doing fine because they never got completely to the end of the groceries, and I scarcely noticed a decline the next hunting season, but friends who hunt in other islands found them generally dead zones with bones all along the beach line. Those more distant places are far easier hunting after a series of mild winters as deer reach unsustainable levels and hungry deer are moving around a lot more when snow starts building up. Most hunters think that’s the healthy situation, the desirable management objective even justifying no doe hunting, but you simply can’t stockpile animals at those levels — they end up on the beach one winter and fill their guts with kelp and die enmass, leaving the cycle to start again from a very low level. The trade-off is less stability and I prefer this island where I can go out any fall and find enough deer, even if I have to look harder on average and have more of them give me the slip. Deer on the nearby mainland also seem able to survive tough winters, but there where hunting is light, its mainly natural predators including wolves limiting density and contributing to stability.

  14. Craig Avatar

    Elk275, how so? This all is in the eqation to why Elk numbers have dropped! It’s not one thing, it’s many! If you can’t understand all the factors you will never solve the problem and the F&G is one big factor!!!!!!!!!!! More so than Wolves!

  15. PointsWest Avatar

    It would be interesting to compare those in the “Northern Herd” with those from Bechler Meadows that can disperse in a larger winter range at the Sand Creek WMA.

    Also, what about the large burns from the 88 fires. Don’t burns of a certain age produce good browse for elk? These burns are getting along in age. They are 23 years old now. Maybe they are full of jackpines now and the good browse is gone. These burns had to have had an impact on elk numbers. The numbers should have gone up a few years after the fires and then receded as the burns grew in with jackpines. There were vast areas of burns from the 88 fires.

  16. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I am a little late in responding.
    As for radio-collars on the photos I take, I am skilled enough with photoshop to remove a collar from an animal in just a few minutes. I refuse to sell photos of wildlife with radio collars on them. (One of the wolf watchers wanted a photo of a collared wolf that I had taken, because she had donated the money for the collar. I refused her offer.) What I resent about collars, when I come to Yellowstone, is that I came to see wild animals. If I wanted to see and photograph domesticated wildlife, I could shoot at a game farm for photographers.(Which I have never done)
    I have a collection of sad looking “wildlife” with radio collars that you can see as a slide show on my blog:
    I got started with my dislike for radio collars, and the researchers that use them, many years ago near Monterey, California, when I saw a pretty blond pointing a radio receiver antenna out toward the ocean. When I asked what whe was listening too, she said: “Sea Otters”.
    Her research group had put 100 radio transmitters inside of 100 Sea Otters. (Radio collars slip off)
    When I asked how they would get the radios out of the otters, she said they would just “leave them in” when the batteries went dead.
    Anyone who has seen a flashlight with corroded batteries in it, can imagine what happened to the 100 Sea Otters.
    I resisted my urge to throw her off of the cliff into the ocean.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      I don’t see any of those collared animals looking sad. Also, you offer for sale a couple of NPS images. I imagine that is illegal to sell one of their pics, unless you took it (which would likely still be illegal to sell).

      Some of the collared wolves have lived far, far longer than average wild wolves. Comparing penguins and wolves is like apples and oranges. While it is fine to not want collared wolves, you do have to realize that it is the bread and butter of the wolf program and it seemingly has little long-term effect on individual wolves, who often live for years with them before dying of non-radio collar causes like wolf on wolf aggression and getting killed by prey.

      1. Save bears Avatar


        If you take the picture, there is no limitation on your ability to sell the image…

      2. WM Avatar


        ….unless you have a contract/ licensing agreement that says otherwise….

      3. Save bears Avatar

        I you have a lic/contract agreement in place you are suppose to secure a commercial permit. I have never heard Larry mention he was under contract, but would have to let him clarify.

        But as a freelances, there is no limitation on selling photos that you take..

        Also, as any images taken by park service personal are pubic domain, there is several provisions for licensing those images for sale as well.

        I believe it was Doug Smith images that were used in a calender last year that was for retail sale by a business in Gardiner..

      4. WM Avatar


        Actually you raise a couple of issue.

        First, if you intend commercial use – sale of photo images taken in a NP you must comply with federal regulations. This often requires the photographer to purchase of a permit. I do not know what restrictions or liberties are granted to federal employees who may shoot images on their own time or during work hours, but incidental to their job (it could vary with permission of a supervisor).

        Second, a contract/licensing agreement is between the photographer and a third party. Typically, the photographer retains rights to the original image (it is an original create art form like a book manuscript or a painting), and may give a limited license agreement to the third party on whether images the photographer created may be reproduced (prints, electronic files, etc.), or how they may be used (website, posters, prints, etc.). In the digital age, the rules are the same, but more difficult to enforce, and that has created alot of copyright legal issues, and technical challenges to keep control of images one creates but does not authorize others to use, only use for a specific period of time. Stock agencies like Getty have gotten in trouble for this.

        I know something about this as I have done legal work in this area.

        Larry may have some additional insights on this side discussion.

      5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

        Jon Way
        I wouldn’t stoop to selling photos taken by anyone except myself. Those photos by the NPS or other government agencies are used for illustration only.
        Most of the NPS wannabe wildlife photographers/ biologists are very poor photographers to start with and have to give their photos away to get them published.
        I have seen photos of you carrying doped coyotes around.
        You ought to try some non-invasive techniques in your studies.
        Do you get a kick-back from the radio collar companies when you use their products?

      6. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        This topic on collaring of wolves really pisses me off. The main purpose of collaring wolves in Yellowstone is so the “wolf guides” can locate the zoo animals more easily. All so rich liberals can watch these “wild animals” in a “natural environment”. Yellowstone is more of a zoo however. Really sad.

        Sorry, it’s just that this issue really gets to me. There is no reason for collars other than for human entertainment. IMHO 🙂

      7. SAP Avatar

        wolf moderate – have you actually been to Lamar Valley? It’s a far far cry from a “zoo.” There are no guaranteed sightings, the animals come and go as they please, and there are no bars or fences between us and them.

        I hear that “Yellowstone is a zoo” canard quite frequently from people who have never been there.

        Telemetry is still important for estimating population size and understanding how wolves use the landscape. What wolves do from June to mid-September — even in YNP — is still a bit mysterious because they’re not down in the valleys and easily observable anymore.

        Outside YNP, collars mainly facilitate whole pack removals once they get into livestock conflicts.

        Yes, many wolf watchers just follow the research teams around waiting for them find radioed wolves, but that doesn’t mean that wolves are being collared for their entertainment.

      8. jon Avatar

        Right on sap. It’s like someone goes to ynp and on that day they went, they don’t see many elk, so they assume all of the elk are dead. As you said, elk come and go as they please. You go to ynp and expect to see certain animals, but that is not always the case. I think far too many people go to ynp and on the days they go, they see not many animals and they assume all of them are dead, killed by wolves. It’s ridiculous. There is no guarantee that you are going to see animals when you go to a national park like yellowstone. If you watched that video yellowstone is dead, made by avid wolf hater rockholm, you will see that he is filming yellowstone and he says he sees no elk and that ynp is a barren wasteland. He went there for filmed for a few hours and assumed that just because he didn’t see many elk, that must mean all of the elk weren’t there to be seen because the wolves killed them. Just like when you hunt, there s no guarantee you are going to bag your elk and it’s as if some hunters want a guarantee, but the world doesn’t work like that. I think it’s far easier to blame wolves when you fail as a hunter rather than blame yourself for not finding your elk.

      9. Elk275 Avatar


        Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park or the Lamar Valley? Yes or No. By the way visiting Yellowstone National Park this weekend is free, go visit.

    2. Jon Way Avatar

      Actually Larry,
      I have learned things with radio-collars that would be impossible to obtain any other way, such as the large territories in an urban environment. Considering that these animals can be slaughtered in unlimited numbers for half the year in my state, I would say that individuals wearing collars (5 of my animals have lived to over 10 years old so clearly the collars don’t reduce their lifespan) help the population overall. Approx. 25 of my 30 peer reviewed publications are only possible thru collaring a subset of the pop.

      You say you wouldn’t sell Park Photos, but again check your own website for the sedated black wolf. Pic is for sale.

      1. jon Avatar

        JW, you are from the northeast I take it? There is no point in letting hunters slaughter coyotes. Coyote killing does not control their numbers. Have any of your collared animals ever been shot by hunters? The coyote is probably the 2nd most hated animal after the wolf. Hunters are calling for their eradication in Maine because they think coyotes have wiped out all of the deer.

      2. Jon Way Avatar

        Yes, they have Jon. It really is a shame to kill animals for fun and think you are having an effect on their pops and that is what many do here in the NE like you suggest.
        Also, these “coyotes” are really coyote x wolf hybrids that I prefer to be called coywolves. Wolves are also getting killed in the process…
        Either way, it is wrong.

      3. jon Avatar

        That’s not shocking. Hunters some of them anyways do not care if it’s a research animal. When they see it, the shoot it. The vibe that I get from some hunters is that they want a predator free environment that is filled with many many deer and elk for them to shoot. It’s disgusting really. The hunters know they are shooting collared animals and they do it anyways. They have no respect for the lives of the coyotes that they shoot. Some of them get off on shooting animals for sport. Have a open season on coyotes for 8 months out of the year and you still won’t control their #s. Why can’t these boneheads understand that?

      4. jon Avatar

        Here in the ne hunters want to bring back bounties and snaring on coyotes. Some of these people are extreme predator haters.

      5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

        Jon Way-
        You seem to be a slow learner. Read my previous comments again. I only sell photos that I have taken. If I write an article about the abuse researchers inflict on animals, I will certainly use photos that I have taken of collared wildlife.
        Park regulations allow me to use any of their photos as long as I give credit as a NPS photo, which I do. I don’t sell them, even though it is ok to do so. Why would anyone buy a low resolution NPS photo from me when they can get a high resolution one for FREE from any national park?
        Of course, if they are hidden away in the Yellowstone Wolf Project files, they are a little hard to find. The last time any wolf photos were published on the Yellowstone Park web page for public use was in 2004.
        Doug Smith, Phd. published and sold a calendar “Yellowstone Wolves 2010”, in which he didn’t give credit to the NPS for any of the free NPS wolf photos taken from a NPS helicopter in it. He must have had a memory lapse. I think the park adminstrators refreshed his memory. I got a phone call from them telling me that he won’t be doing one for 2011.

        I have just put a photo on my blog:
        showing a dead and bleeding radio-collared bighorn ewe that I photographed in Glacier National Park.
        Of course, you will probably tell me she looks just fine.

        What’s a bullet in the head now and then?

        As for your “peer reviewed” papers. You guys that abuse and kill wildlife during your studies really stick together don’t you? How many of their studies did you “peer review” in return for them “peer reviewing” yours?

        Did you “peer review” the Mountain Goat study in Glacier this summer that killed the first two goats they darted?

      6. Jon Way Avatar

        Larry said:
        “As for your “peer reviewed” papers. You guys that abuse and kill wildlife during your studies really stick together don’t you?”

        Larry, It is hard to have respect for someone when you use language like that having no idea what you are talking about.
        First, I learn plenty quickly, thank you. So, you were able to get nice and up close to a man handling a sedated wolf. That is pretty cool, since it is for sale on your site, and you claim to only sell pics you took.
        2nd, did you get fired from a position involving doing wildlife work, b.c you honestly don’t have a clue what you are talking about regarding wildlife research. It is mighty scary that you used to be a teacher given what you public say here.

        I have never harmed an animal through collaring and actually go to incredible lengths to make sure they aren’t hurt including working with trained veterinarians. And no I don’t stick with anyone and would report abuse if it was observed by other researchers but of course you know best. I don’t know anything about the studies you refer to, in fact…

        Also, I want some documentation of the collared bighorn dying from the effect of collar rather than the umpteen ways it could’ve died in Glacier.

        I am done responding to your posts as well, Larry. It is worthless to engage with you on this form when you say the same sorry thing every time about wildlife work and aren’t willing to learn or accept other opinions. In fact, I have never heard such illogical talk from someone on this form than when you get going about radio-collars. It is fine to not like them, especially in a park setting (where I don’t do my work), but to speak half (or no) truths about people who dedicate their lives to protecting the animals you say they abuse is unacceptable. I shouldn’t even have responded to you the first time except to expose your lies regarding collaring.

      7. JB Avatar

        This is AT LEAST the third time we’ve had this conversation–with Larry using innuendo, insinuation, and anecdotes from other studies to draw into question the ethics of YNP researchers and the process of radio collaring wild animals, in general. I find this ironic because these are the same tactics that are continually used by the anti-wolf crowd, and are here discredited on a regular basis. And just like the anti-wolf crowd, Larry has a vested interest in the issue; and just like the anti-wolf crowd, Larry questions not only the ethics of the scientists involved, but the entire peer-review process.

        Larry: You are beyond disingenuous; you are downright dishonest. Shame on you.

      8. Save bears Avatar

        The Mt. Goats killed in Glacier were not killed during collaring, they were killed during mis-shots while darting them and the project was put on an immediate hold to review the process.

        I am not a fan of collaring at this point in time, but do see the need in certain circumstances..

      9. Ron Kearns Avatar
        Ron Kearns

        Jon Way,

        Regardless of your personal strife with any commenters here, I appreciate your contributions to this blog and request that you continue expressing your views and that you post any topic-relevant results from your research.


        You are an excellent photographer; however, please consider displaying a bit more understanding regarding the need for radio-collaring wildlife—especially when the use is minimally invasive. As a bighorn biologist, I did not especially like that state and federal biologists had to use radio/satellite telemetry methodologies, although it was/is necessary to gain insights that are simply unobtainable otherwise. However, I strongly oppose the practice of collaring wildlife as a means to later track and kill those valuable research subjects.

  17. Gina O. Avatar
    Gina O.

    I can tell you right where all of the biggest bull elk of the Northern Range went; slaughtered and laying lifeless in the back of pickup trucks while their killers drank beer and celebrated their new trophies. Parking areas outside of Gardiner bars this past fall were overflowing with such happenings weekend after weekend. I was SHOCKED with the number of bulls coming down off the Jardine road. More than I can count.

    1. Save bears Avatar


      That may be a valid argument, and don’t get me wrong, there have been a wide variety of reasons the herds are in decline, but for many years, there hunters took large numbers of elk with little effect on the Northern Herd.

      Now you may be opposed to hunting, which is fine, but lets not throw the anti-hunting rhetoric into this conversation about the decline of the Northern Herd.. and what the counts mean.

  18. jburnham Avatar

    This is an old but informative history of the Northern Range from the NPS. It touches on almost everything being discussed in this thread.

    Yellowstone’s Northern Range

    1. Cody Coyote Avatar
      Cody Coyote

      …link didn’t work for me

    1. WM Avatar


      The (undated) document is good for historic context and issue identification, but stops in about 1995 for historic time series data. So for continuing influence of a fire changed habitat (I don’t know whether this part of the Park had much fire) on prey species and recent impacts of wolves since 1995, and bears one needs to look elsewhere.

      Also an interesting statement regarding elk and willows (aspen too?):

      ++Although old photos show that some
      Northern Range locations had much taller willows in
      the 1890s than they do now, most of the decline in
      the last century has been during droughts rather than
      periods of large elk populations. No significant
      decline in Northern Range willows has occurred
      since 1959 despite a quadrupling of elk numbers.++

      Another statement that undercuts the assertion that riparian impacts of elk are cause for muddy streams:

      ++They found that most of the sediment
      that muddies park rivers comes from four steep and
      geologically unstable areas such as the Grand
      Canyon of the Yellowstone River and the higher
      elevations of the Lamar River watershed. In none of
      these places are ungulates significant soil movers.++

      Also, beaver are few because aspen have been marginally present for thousands of years.

      Lots to ponder in this document, and maybe some reseach gives conflicting views.

      I dislike undated material. It is also curious that in the letter of introduction it talks about Superintendent Finley in the third person, then it is signed by him (????). So much for quality contol at NPS.

      It would be nice if this “newsletter” was available in an updated form.

      1. Cody Coyote Avatar
        Cody Coyote

        I concur. What we need now is the follow-on YNP Northern Range report from 1995 to as near the present as practical, although this is very useful as far as it goes.

        Is that in the works, to anyone’s knowledge?

  19. NotafanofWW2 Avatar

    Perhaps that is the maximum number of elk that should be in that area, after all. People will never agree on a target population of wolves, bears, cats and elk for Yellowstone.

  20. NotafanofWW2 Avatar

    I beg your pardon
    Nobody promised you an elk parmesan

  21. NotafanofWW2 Avatar

    Anybody know if the elk Rex Rammell shot at Tex Creek is part of the Yellowstone herd?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      There is no one Yellowstone elk herd. There are a number of them. The story at hand is about the herd on the Park’s northern range, which also extends northward outside the Park.

      Some of the elk that winter at Tex Creek come from the Park, but not the northern range of Park. All of the elk at Tex Creek come out of the much larger Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

  22. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    The 60+ Comments to this same story at the Billings Gazette are stupendous. All over the board, with much intensity but little illumination. About 3/4ths being anti-wolfers ,”Howling Apocalypse Now” would be the tabloid take on it.

    Here’s a gem : ” We need to reclaim Montana before its too late. A 10,000 man hunt, planned and carried out without delay. Kill every pup in every den shoot the adults. The environmental cases can sue us later….” ( grammar and spelling corrected here)

    If you have a half hour to take a prophylactic mudbath:

    1. jon Avatar

      The missoulian is just like that. You have the same extremists calling for sss and for the wolves to be gut shot and left to die slowly and the pups clubbed to death. This shows you that anti-wolf sentiment is very much real today. Again, that has to do with wolves killing elk and deer. This is where their hatred comes from.

      1. Craig Avatar

        Yeah just like the extremist BS you post and have nothing to back it up except crap you read on the net! The hatred comes from ignorant people like you posting shit you really know nothing about,except what you choose to read and except as fact! Are you a member of PETA?

    2. jon Avatar

      And not suprisingly, the missoulian does not moderate the extremists comments.

      1. Craig Avatar

        Just the same you are an extremist! Should your comments be moderated? Pull your head out and look at reality!

    3. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      Chuck U. Feney is now doing poetry to spew his mindless drivel. In a few weeks it will be word salad, get those 4 point restraints ready. He is looking for a book deal

  23. Mike Avatar

    It’s a shame what hunting is doing to that elk herd. The amount of poachers and “trophy” stalking is frightening.

    Immediate steps should be taken to end hunting of this precious resource in this area.

    1. timz Avatar

      Last time I was in Gardiner I watched the Feds arrest two guys outside of a bar for poaching a bull elk in the park.

    2. Elk275 Avatar


      Thank God, that you have no say in how Montana manages it elk herds. If you and Jon had your ways all hunting would end.

      1. Mike Avatar

        My way preserves the elk.

        I find it scary, and bordering on frightening that the same people so “concerned” with the elk numbers are the ones who shoot them with lethal projectiles. If you want the elk to do well, stop shooting them. It’s really simple.

        This isn’t rocket science. The continued placation of wildlife managers to a sport that is damaging wildife popualtions is absurd.

        Time to get the politics out of this and let science handle it. But I guess that would irritate to many angry white guys in pickups who bow down to their small metal gods.

      2. logicalintuitive Avatar

        You know, I kind of agree with Mike.

        The wilderness and wildlife is not some kind of giant theme-park for our amusement – and, to be honest, hunting for most humans is pure recreation, no matter how you try to couch it in other terms.

        It isn’t about actual human survival in the majority of cases – and certainly not in this situation. After all, it costs a lot of money to buy guns,scopes,arrows, bows, ammo, tags, gas to get there etc., stands and camo etc etc. So that $ could be spent at the grocery instead.

        Wolves and bears have no choice. They prey on elk as they have over the ages. If we give them time and the space they need, it will balance out.

        The easiest factor to control in elk mortality is – human hunters. I didn’t say eliminate hunting entirely but I did say control it. As hunters we can control ourselves and our ‘sport’, can’t we? Especially for the good of our sport long-term?

        So we take a year or two off from hunting. Get our hands out of the pie. Stop trying to have our cake and eat it too.

        We say we love nature and we say we love our game. If we REALLY love the animals yet still choose to hunt, we need to put our sport aside when needed for the good of the prey animals we love.

        Not battle against wildlife which really DOES depend on predation to survive. Just for a chance to kill for sport? Otters were almost forced into extinction with this philosophy, too, as are sharks now.

        We need to learn this lesson.

        We’re learning this in the oceans the hard way – sport fishermen mustn’t take out sharks or other ‘competitors’, or risk the entire ocean food chain collapsing. As it’s doing now, by the way,

        We’re the smart ones, right? The ones who can make wise decisions when to stop meddling, stop ‘harvesting’.

        Isn’t that what ethical hunting is about?

        Otherwise it seems to me like trying to level a table by sawing the legs even – next thing you know you’ve sawed the legs right off.

  24. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Webmaster’s Note:

    To those who are trying to comment on this thread with a fake or with no email address, you have to have a valid email address to be allowed to comment.

  25. Rita K.Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K.Sharpe

    Why does it come down to this? Every hot head from both sides just rambling on .There are more issues besides the wolves, apparrantly, but the wolf issue is the straw that broke the camels back,when it comes to state’s rights and all the other underlying issues.I do not think,in general,that there is just one cause for the decline of elk or any other species.It’s a combination.

    1. Save bears Avatar


      You are 100% correct, there are many factors that contribute to population numbers going up or down, but the focus of both major sides are going to be the most controversial, which is wolves and bears…And I am 100% honest in saying, I am not looking forward to the near future, it is going to get nasty.

    2. WM Avatar


      To put the wolf issue into context: It is a newer issue, foisted on local populations by the federal government (some might argue without proper accountability). Promises have allegedly been broken regarding how many wolves in the NRM is enough. It has economic consequences and it has recreational consequences/trade-offs involving a different sets of stakeholders. To advance their interests the new stakeholders have used creative legal tactics involving highly complex interpretations of federal laws to advance their position. There seems no desire to compromise by either side, so the fire burns hotter by the day.

      Wolves are additive predator risk not seen in nearly 100 years and ….drum roll here………they kill alot of elk.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Elk, that some thought a few years ago, were getting totally out of hand.

        When do you think our “species” will finally stop playing “God” with other species? I really don’t think we are very good at it and those other species? End up paying the price for our stupidity not to mention our continued growth into what’s left of their habitat.

      2. WM Avatar


        It is not as though some groups have not tried to look to the future. In the 1950’s William Paley, head of CBS (back when TV executives actually had scruples and a sense of responsibility in their medium) created a group called Resources For The Future (RFF), which was a think tank that looked at what America and its land/ecosystems might look like decades into the future without some intervention and planning.

        The future they saw, is now the recent past, and we go into the next future still unpersuaded of the need for change. The works of RFF scholars have gone unheeded, even though some of their inventories, analyses and predictions have come true.

        One does not hear much about RFF anymore, its visionary, Marion Clawson died in 1998, and no one of his stature has picked up the mantle. Now there are so damn many organizations 501(c)3 organizations that claim to speak, no one really does. It is a bunch of small voices, and many times not very good ones at that, on either side of an issue. Big business has its lobbyists and special interest groups.

        Big voices or little voices, we tend to be a species that is incapable of planning well. We only react, and, unfortunately to this point, have not done very well at that.

        Our species will have to “play God” in the future, and make policy that affects other species. It is the only way forward, unless human population decreases by, say…. half.

      3. JB Avatar

        WM: I disagree with the idea that the wolf issue is new. Wolves were listed under the ESA in 1974, and before that under previous legislation. The Recovery Plan for the NRMs was published in 1987–23 years ago. It took an additional 8 years of research, analysis, 160,000+ public comments, and a change in administration to put ~35 wolves into Yellowstone NP and central Idaho. At that time, Dave Mech suggested that wolves were probably the most studied carnivore (besides human beings, of course).

        The conflict was and is inevitable. Local interests dominate federal lands and wildlife management outside of the national park system. National wildlife groups have no say and fear that state management will mean wolf populations are minimized to ecological insignificance. These fears are only heightened by the rhetoric of governors and legislators from western states, who seem to be more interested in using wolves to promote the states-rights debate. You’ve heard of a BATNA? Right now both sides have looked at their BATNAs and concluded that their actions are best for representing their constituents. And so we are locked in another win-lose battle instead of looking for a reasonable compromise.

      4. WM Avatar


        Maybe a poor choice words when I said “new.” What I should have tried to convey is that wolves, prior to having them on the landscape in the NRM, were just an idea. Now that the idea – an abstract concept- is now a reality, producing tangible and measureable impacts on the ground, good or bad, depending on one’s point of view, people tend to be more engaged. That is what I meant, by “new issue” and it is now on the front burner, so to speak.

      5. WM Avatar

        Example: Four years ago my interests in wolves were mostly casual curiosity and interest. Yes I wanted them on the landscape throughout the NRM, and supported that effort.

        Now that they have been where I hunt elk the last five years or so in fairly large numbers, apparently, affecting harvest numbers, the way I hunt and whether I will be seeing elk there in the future, I am more engaged in this “new issue.”

        Same is true for state regulators. Bet few predicted how this would play out in the NRM regarding the “new issue” of everybody in the DPS has got to be wolf manager with an approved plan (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

      6. Bob Avatar

        The big problems are still to come, there will be a ripple effect, the loss of that many prey animals will be felt. 2010 was a bad year for grizzly deaths want to bet 2011 will top 2010. Look at WS number for cattle depredations by all predator. Less food and a ever increasing predator population. Nature sure is lovely.

      7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        The number of grizzly bears and wolves is going to decline in Yellowstone Park. In fact, the number of wolves is already way down.

        I won’t say “nature is lovely” in a factual or in a sarcastic way. Nature is just how it is.

        The number of predators follows the number of their prey, although generalist predators have an advantage over specialized predators. Omnivores have the most advantageous situation. Grizzly bears would do very well indeed except they are so big and strong that they attract a lot of human attention. Taking humans into account, it’s coyotes who are the best situated.


        I think wolves are an additive source of ungulate mortality in some places, but not in others. In some places they are compensatory sources of mortality.

        As I said earlier, in a different way, I think dense bear populations and wolves are very likely to result in additive mortality of ungulates. It is not so clear between cougar and wolves. It also depends whether we are talking about elk, deer, or moose. Further still where a predator has an additive or a compensatory effect depends on the size of territory you are talking about. The smaller the unit of land, the more likely it will be one or the other, often right along side each other.

        Your explanation to Rita about the wolf issue in context is both too simple and too abstract at the same time, e.g., “to advance their interests the new stakeholders have used creative legal tactics involving highly complex interpretations of federal laws to advance their position.”

  26. NotafanofWW2 Avatar

    I just joined the CLF, (Carnivore Liberation Front). It’s a fledgling conservation organization committed to protecting apex preditors in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. I’ll post the website here once it’s set up.

    1. wolf moderate Avatar
      wolf moderate

      LOL. Nice. ALF (Animal Liberation Front) is also a must join FYI!

      CooCoo CooCoo.

  27. Leslie Avatar

    Looks like the wolf packs in my area to the NE of Yellowstone are doing very well this year. There are about 40 wolves in 4 distinct packs around the Crandall/Sunlight area. One surprise is the Beartooth pack has about 10 members and there are few elk up there. One wonders what they are eating in the winter, but I assume they eat lots of deer. The other nice thing is that since the studies of wolves and elk conducted in the valley over these last 5 years ended last year, there are very few collared wolves. That bodes well for WS not being able to locate these wolves as easily.

    The Sunlight elk herd is one of the herds in trouble with few calves even though the numbers are to capacity. The conclusion of the 3 year study done in the valley was that the main stress was drought, shorter spring greenup , poor quality nutrition, and the elk are calving every other year to conserve their resources. Also it is true that these elk go back to the Lamar to calf and there are just a lot more grizzlies than there used to be, grizzlies that eat elk calves. That and the addition of wolves with coyotes taking calves.

  28. mikepost Avatar

    The Wildlife Society electronic newsletter just published an article relating that the elk heards near Cody WY are 2300 over herd objectives…just a little factoid to throw into this some perspective.

    1. mikepost Avatar

      “herds” opps

  29. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Ralph, I read your note and saw that you said the Jackson herd was not declining. I was at the Elk Refuge today and saw hundreds of elk. They all seemed to look pretty healthy. There were plenty in the plains around Pinedale as well. There didn’t seem to be any problems.

    This is a bit unrelated, but I also saw three wolves on the refuge. All three were running around the edge of a big herd but none of the elk ran away and I would imagine they could have seen them. Anybody have any idea why the elk would not have run? They all seemed to be grazing and seemed to be pretty unconcerned.

    1. Idaho Dave Avatar
      Idaho Dave

      Animals have of a “safety zone” an area when something gets too close they start to react. Outside of that area they are aware but ignore. Usually, there will “sentries” that will be watching and the one to sound an alarm when real danger is preceived. it’s interesting to watch a herd as one cow will be nervous and just by her stance and nervousness the others will be become alert, no sounds. When the warning bark is sounded, poof, gone.
      Also, you will notice on various documentaries, especially of africa, the prey seem to know when the predators are actually hunting, not scouting or just watching. A “sixth sense”.
      Where you saw the wolves, on winter range, in the winter, elk really are feeding to survive and focused on food, much more than in the summer.

      1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
        ProWolf in WY

        It was very interesting to watch. The elk paid no attention to them wolves and they were in plain sight. It did seem as if they had some sort of sixth sense. They just grazed calmly and none seemed to be even looking at the wolves.

  30. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Paid no attention to *the wolves.

  31. Ann Sydow Avatar

    I have read that radio collars exacerbate the problem of mange in wolves. (Under the collar is a nice warm moist protected area where the mange will never die off) I can understand why they radio collared wolves in the beginning of the reintroduction in Yellowstone, and I certainly appreciate what biologists have learned from the ability to track the wolves whereabouts day after day for years at a time. But at this point I think enough is enough. Besides the trauma of capture, Radio collars put wolves at higher risk of being hunted, killed by wildlife Svs, and suffering from mange.

    1. JB Avatar


      I would like to know where you found the article about mange? I just did a quick search and can’t seem to find any literature that suggests radio collars contribute to mange in wolves.

      A few other considerations: (a) Besides the movement data, radio/gps collars allow FWS to determine cause of death (by quickly recovering wolf carcasses), which helps us to better understand legitimate threats to wolf populations (and could potentially act as a deterrent to those wanting to illegally shoot wolves), (b) Radio/gps collars assist in monitoring the status of the populations–we know a lot more about NRM wolf populations than Minnesota populations because such a high % of packs are collared (thus, we are better able to estimate the trend in population), and (c) the ESA requires 5-year monitoring of species/populations removed from the list of threatened and endangered species; given the effectiveness of radio/gps collars for locating (and counting) wolves, it is doubtful that we will see an end of their use anytime soon.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        JB – are there tracking devices available that are less intrusive?

      2. JB Avatar


        I’m by no means an expert in telemtry (Savebears or Jon Way would know better). I know there are much smaller devices available–I have colleagues that use telemtry to study the movement of song birds. However, the primary issue, at least as I understand it, is wolves’ ability to remove anything that isn’t very secure.

        Secondary concerns are the ease/cost of capture, which is related to battery life. Wolves are notoriously hard to capture, and even harder to re-capture. Moreover, there is some mortality associated with capture efforts; thus, scientists have sought to minimize capture/handling by using batteries that last longer, which, of course, are larger. As battery technology improves, researchers will have to make choices about whether to minimize capture/handling (and maximize battery life) or minimize collar sizes. My guess is that they will choose the former, as it will be more cost effective, require less handling, and maximize the amount of data they receive.

  32. Nancy Avatar

    Thanks JB.


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