Severe winter causes big die-off of big game in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

The never-ending winter in the Northern Rockies hits deer, elk, moose, pronghorn hard-

During the winter, I made a number of posts about the hard conditions for ungulates in the Northern Rockies. The failure of spring to arrive is causing deaths to continue and grow.

Record wildlife die-offs reported in Northern Rockies. Reuters. By Laura Zuckerman.



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  1. dave Avatar

    I wonder how long it will take the anti-wolf loudmouths to start screaming about those evil wolves wiping out all the wildlife. Oh, about 2 weeks or so…

    1. Rita K.Sharpe Avatar
      Rita K.Sharpe

      I was rather thinking the same thing.

  2. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    What they will do, is find partially scavenged carcasses and try to use it as proof that wolves sport kill, and don’t fully utilize what they kill.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I agree. This is all very predictable, and it is good to call them in advance.

  4. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    It’s too bad there isn’t some way to get it out right away that the wolves didn’t kill of these animals.

  5. vickif Avatar

    Perhaps people should see this is a sign we need to limit hunting (hunters take the prime animals in most instances) for a few years. Mean while we should increase the habitat and protection of habitat?
    Wait, it is far easier to blame wolves and not do anything to better the situation…I predict politics as usual!

    1. wolf moderate Avatar
      wolf moderate

      Actually the vast majority of kills by hunters are yearlings. Here is some information in regards to hunter success rates with the % of bulls, cows, 6 points, etc…harvested. These elk aren’t as easy to hunt as many try to portray.

      1. vickif Avatar

        I was being sarcastic about the entire thing. I know elk are not all that easy to hunt. I just feel as though we can say ‘wolves are hurting’, or ‘hunting is bad’ ‘trophy hunting is the problem’ ‘wolves kill only sick elk’ blah, blah, blah, it is all a very huge over simplification. The entire issue is a symptom of a much larger problem.
        We have limited habitat, and it is shrinking. We need balance, and we have none. Wolves are not the key, hunters are not the key, hell-the winter being hard isn’t.

        The key is, in my very humble opinion, how little value humans place on preserving our environment, and changing that. We point the finger every where but ourselves. We are parasites on the environment, we limit animals’ ability to survive, we fail to see the costs of our own behaviors….so it does not matter who or what we blame. Until we are prepared to fix the causes we have control over, this is just going to be another round of the blame game.
        We need to obtain and save more habitat. Period. More winter range, less cows. So on, and so forth.
        I think the lack of progress in these areas is making me very pesemistic in my old age.

      2. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        I agree w/ everything you said. Sarcasm is sometimes hard to pick up on the web 😉

      3. vickif Avatar

        It sure is, lol. But I did enjoy the link. Thanks!

  6. WM Avatar

    Just to balance the conversation a little, Scott Creel, ungulate scientist at Montana State University, and one of the most respected scientists for his work on ungulate – wolf relationships, reported in several of his papers awhile back that wolves can affect the survivability of ungulates during winter in a variety of ways.

    He suggested that wolves keep elk from some of their more nutritious grazing feed (grasses), by driving them on to steeper ground, at higher elevations into the trees, where they feed on less nutritious browse. They also spend more time being on the “lookout” for wolf predators, decreasing the time they feed, and thus caloric intake.

    This can result in elk going into the winter months with less fat reserves. That, in turn, has two consequences, less fat reserves means more elk will die in bad winters like this one as their caloric needs exceed their intake plus reserves.

    And it also means pregnant cows, if they survive winter, will have lower birth weight (and possibly less healthy) calves. The question, then, is whether these lower birth weight calves survive. Weakened elk make it easier for all predators – wolves, bears, lions, so that should be no surprise to anyone.

    Weakened, elk including mature bulls going into winter with less reserves from the rut AND being harassed by wolves means greater risk for their survival as well.

    Conclusion: Do not completely dismiss effect of wolves on ungulate populations in bad winters. The question is what is the net difference between elk die off from winter with wolves and without. Then we will know more about how much impact there is.

    A link to Dr. Creel’s website, specifically look at prior year publications, and you can do your own reading.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      May also want to figure in, less suitable Winter elk habitat. To wolves, it doesn’t matter, and elk is an elk.

    2. dave Avatar

      In other words, with wolves in the ecosystem, elk act like elk, not like fat barnyard cattle. They’re subjected to all the selective forces that nature can throw at them, and yet, as a species, they survive. They’ve had tens (hundreds?) of thousands of years of experience coexisting with wolves, so I wouldn’t get too concerned about thier ability to continue to do so. This is assuming that humans leave them enough suitable habitat to survive in.

      1. WM Avatar


        You oversimplify. It is not, from the collective human perspective, that the species merely survives. It is that elk in a managed ecosystem – and there is no denying that the ecosystem is managed for human objectives – are now being impacted by a long gone (in recent times, anyway) predator in ever larger numbers, and apparently an even more unpredictable and highly variable weather environment.

        No doubt, winter range for elk and bison would be better without cattle, subdivisions, hiways and fenced over migration corridors. the problem is those things are not likely to go away real soon, with some conditions getting worse. The question is how to manage with these changing objectives, and differing stakeholder expectations, with yet another variable (wolves) being added back into the equation in ever greater numbers.

        And the only time I have ever seen elk act like ” barnyard cattle” (notice I omitted your “fat” adjective) is when they are starving because they have no winter range and must raid rancher haystacks or hang around government feeding stations.

      2. Elk275 Avatar


        ++This is assuming that humans leave them enough suitable habitat to survive in.++

        It is sportsman’s groups that have worked for nearly 100 years protecting wildlife habitat. The amount of habitat that has been protected in years gone by, due to land prices, will not be repeated. There is no way that non consumtive wildlife users will ever be able to contribute the amount of habitat that early sportman’s group’s such as Duck’s unlimited were able to aquire in many years ago.

      3. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate


        To be fair, “environmentalists” file thousands of lawsuits per year. That helps too! It’s not just sportsmen that are helping animals and acquiring lands. These lawsuits, including the constitutionality of the wolf rider is really going to help. It won’t be a waste of tax payer money at all.

      4. william huard Avatar
        william huard

        Elk 275
        Non consumptive groups like the nature conservancy protect thousands of acres every year, and they don’t protect in order to kill

      5. william huard Avatar
        william huard

        more sarcasm from bounty boy

      6. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        I need a summer job…

      7. WM Avatar


        ++Non consumptive groups like the nature conservancy protect thousands of acres every year, and they don’t protect in order to kill++

        Are you sure about that? I was under the impression hunting was allowed, and maybe even advocated on some Nature Conservancy lands. Certainly that has been the case for many years. Have they changed their policies?

      8. Phil Avatar

        wm and Elk,
        Yes, elk are impacted by wolves, but is the impact (in your opinions) a negative for the elk species or a positive? Is the impact still occuring? Or, has it reached its peak and/or bypassed it? I believe the impact is more so of a positive one for the elk in changes in behaviors to a more natural one, and sustained populations. I also believe the impacts have reached their and bypassed their peaks. Case in point; the dropping of the wolf population in Yellowstone after the elk population reached its lower limit level and has been level since.

  7. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    My impression is that Nature Conservancy protects land for both hunting and non hunting uses. I was responding to Elk 275 when he stated “There is no way that non consumptive wildlife users will ever be able to contribute the amount of habitat that early sportsmens groups like Ducks Unlimited were able to acquire many years ago.”
    When I think of Nature Conservancy I don’t think “hunting” do you? They protect land for all to use.

    1. WM Avatar

      I agree. But the same is true of many other conservation organizations that acquire lands. In the case of the Rocky Mountain Elk foundation they have acquired lands and deeded them over to the USFS for all to use, or acquired conservation easements on private property – again for all to use.

    2. Elk275 Avatar

      How many acres of wetlands has Duck’s unlimited protected that are used by bird watchers year around. How many acres of land has sportsman’s groups protected that have liimted mutiple use year around. Montana closed the state wildlife management areas form December 1 to May 1 to protect wintering big game. Then from May 1 to December 1 the public is allowed to used them according to the management object’s. This is done in all of the states.

      Then the most important issue is the work that a segament of the hook and bullet crowd do to protect our rights to access our federal and state lands. Oh, how private landowners want to close as much access to public lands so they can become de facto private land.

      By the way, the hook and bullet is far from being among the best people on earth.

      1. Phil Avatar

        I do not know much about Ducks Unlimited, and a little more, but not to much about Elk Foundation, but are their conservation efforts directly for species that are a main focus for them (Ducks and Elk), or for all species who inhabit those conserved lands? By protecting one species, you will generally protect many other species just by protecting its land (in most cases), so, is this what you two mean when you talk about conservation efforts from groups like the Elk Foundation?

  8. Elk275 Avatar

    William, read this:

    The Nature Conservancy has allowed hunting on some of their properties in the United States. Thinking about it, Northeast of Cody, Wyoming is Heart Mountain. The NC owns a portion of Heart Mountain and one is allow with permission to hunt elk on NC lands.

    The above article indicates that the NC has 7 million acres in the USA. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has 450,000 acres of fee lands and another 450,000 acres with easements or leases , for a total of 900,000 acres of land. That does not count other lands that sportsman’s groups have purchased over the years. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has almost 8% of the total land that the NC has in US. All groups need to be apart of habitat acquisition and preservation, but we do not need children type thinking on hunting — if you do not like it, do not participate.

    Your thinking is very, very small. This last legislative session with the Republicans in control wanted no net gain of FW&P’s lands but the hook and bullet crowd defeated that proposed law along with several other negative wildlife laws. The hook and bullet crowd in the Northern Rocky Mountain states is why they is a prey base for your wolf. The hook and bullet crowd is why every year thousands and thousand of people travel to the Northern Rockies whether it is a hunting or fishing, wolf watching, photography or just to enjoy nature the way the way they see it.

    1. mikarooni Avatar

      Elk, I’ll concede that the “hook and bullet crowd” has done and still does some good conservation work and a zero tolerance attitude toward any and all hunting and fishing is neither completely warranted nor practical; however, your position is, as seems to be your pattern, an emotional and self-serving exaggeration. Yes, the “hook and bullet crowd” was a major, except for Muir it was the major, conservation force in the early 20th century; but, today, the link between the “hook and bullet crowd” and ultra-rightist groups like the NRA and the political damage that link has done and continues to do to the broad foundations of conservation can’t be denied. Yes, all groups need to be a part of habitat acquisition and preservation; but, it’s also generally not a good idea to sleep with a spouse who beats you and that is just what ultra-rightist groups like the NRA, which the “hook and bullet crowd” generally support, like to to do to most other conservation groups. No, we do not need “children type thinking” on hunting; but, neither do we need “children type thinking” from the “hook and bullet crowd” and the ultra-rightist groups like the NRA that the “hook and bullet crowd” supports when it comes to the ESA or designated wilderness or carrying guns in National Parks. As a pot, you should not call the kettles black. And, you can’t tell other types of wildlife enthusiasts that, if they do not like hunting or fishing, they should simply not participate. That truly is “children type thinking” when your playtime games are killing the very wildlife that other enthusiasts cherish. I agree that we all need to compromise on various issues, from time to time, to get things done for the common good; but, I’m not sure all the compromise has really been just on your side recently; so, let’s not be so quick to strut our stuff and tell others that their “thinking is very, very small” when you’re speaking, as a realtor, to PhDs.

      1. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate


        You have a PhD? cool.

        I know this is a bit off topic, but what is wrong with legally carrying a firearm in National Parks? Personally, I don’t carry a sidearm usually, but do not mind at all if other do. I don’t want only crack heads and criminals carrying guns in National Parks, which would be the case, had it not been for the Democrats passing the bill. I love Democrats! They are more conservative than the republicans 😉

      2. Elk275 Avatar

        I am not a realtor, I am a certified appraiser, my signature and knowledge has been trusted with many multi million dollar loans. I have dealt with people who have an 8 th grade education who are smarter than many Ph.Ds who I have known. I was drinking tea with two MSU professors today both are very smart, but they have there limitations. I could careless if someone has an 8 th grade education or a Ph.D, I listen, I read, I study and my boots have been on the ground in this country for over fifty years. I can agree, ask questions or disagree, I always try to learn. I do not talk above my pay grade.

        Talking about Ph.Ds, there is a women realtor in Bozeman with a 10 th grade education who income exceeds 30 Ph.Ds at MSU. Is she smart? I think that she dumber than a brick shit house, but with 124 million in yearly sales, that is a income between three and four million a year she has smarts somewhere. She has something that you and I do not have, but maybe we never wanted it that bad.

        ++That truly is “children type thinking” when your playtime games are killing the very wildlife that other enthusiasts cherish.++

        Guess what, ever year they there has been more and more wildlife. The wildlife that enthusiast cherish. But in the last few years, I have notice less elk, deer and moose in western Montana, this is boots on the ground. There are a number of hunting districts that have closed because of predation. The upper Gallatin Canyon has close moose hunting districts because of wolf and grizzly predation. In the Lima Peaks and Beaverhead Mountains, mountain goat hunting is closed because of a decline in goats which is believe to be caused by mountain loin predation. So we are losing some of are wildlife.

        The hook and bullet crowd is what kept an ultra right wing/tea party from dismantling many good state laws. We are never going to return to a Pre Columbian eco system. With the excepts of a few wilderness areas all land is managed to some degree and the future is going to intensify management. If you do not want to sleep with the enemy don’t. The wolf people are a very small minority who appeal emotionally to a larger population.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Well, the “hook-and-bullet” crowd is not homogenous. There are many interests and factions inside. So some can do some very good conservation work, others just once-and-while, still others are completely negative.

      Those who are caught up mostly in gun rights issues, I think, are the most likely to be on the negative side of conservation — anti-conservation. That’s where the NRA is. Unfortunately, at this time, the right-wing ideology the NRA subscribes to seems to be growing among many hunters.

      I think most folks who post here are well above average in both their intelligence and outdoor knowledge whether they hunt or approach the outdoors in some other way(s). I have a PhD myself, but while getting it I learned nothing about experiencing and knowing the outdoors.


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Ralph Maughan