Chairman of the State Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission chair says Montana elk are 22,000 over state objectives-

Anti-wolf sentiment seems high in Montana, judging from the media, but mostly from the Republican Party. However, the chairman of Montana FWP Commission, Dr. Robert Ream, once a wolf researcher himself, told Bitterroot Valley residents that the extremely low elk cow/calf ratio in the West Fork of Bitterroot (HD250) was probably a “perfect storm,” and that the ratio was improving.

Dr. Ream is also a well known Democrat in a state where the Republican Party and its splinter groups are marching more and more to what can perhaps best be described as a neo-Confederate themes. Like northern Idaho, Montana has for the last 25 years struggled against militias, neo-Nazis, theocrats, “freemen,” and secessionists, but it has more often than not withstood the call of far right reactionaryism.  This former political fringe is now using the wolf as a vehicle to move an otherwise unpopular agenda. They have largely seized the state Republican Party, now bolstered by the the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Montana’s law prohibiting corporate contributions in its election campaigns.

Despite the healthy elk numbers, Montana FWP Commission does want to further reduce wolf numbers. Ream made that clear.

The West Fork of Bitterroot, like the Yellowstone northern range elk herd, has been a cause celeb for anti-wolf activists, and these areas have been unwittingly taken by much of the media as representative of the entire state when in reality elk numbers grown well beyond objectives.  Places where elk are abundant and more so do not get much media publicity, though ranchers are often among the first to signal there are “too many elk.”

My experience in the West Fork also tells me that it is relatively infertile land, and high elk numbers probably not the prehistoric norm.  I think the elk numbers were also high there because of the area’s remoteness.  Once a combination of factors brought it down, it didn’t rebound in a couple years.

Ream’s history and comments were covered in the Bitterroot Star.The perfect storm’ for elk decline in HD 250.  By Michael Howell


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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

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.

65 Responses to Montana elk at all time high, but a “perfect storm” cause of elk decline in hunting district 250

  1. Ken Cole says:

    He also reminds people of House Bill 42 that required FWP to manage the elk “at or below the objectives.”

    I wrote about this issue earlier when the USFWS was still in control.

    There is a nice graph which shows the numbers and how the objectives arbitrarily changed.

  2. Craig says:

    Ralph, why has the Elk number issue become a political issue? Besides the cattle rancher bs?

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      For a decade or more now many hunting groups have claimed that wolves have decimated the elk herds. This just doesn’t fit the reality that the herds are not decimated, but at a record high. Hunting unit 250 is an exception, of course; but it has been represented as the norm.

  3. Jeff says:

    Stockmen have disproportionate power in most intermountain states, the instituions and agencies are controlled through old political establishment ties, between county commissioners, state legislators and state agencies; with their intergovernement history and with the related federal agencies, together this becomes a tough politically controlled component of goverenment that is difficult to change especially if the judiciary is of the same cloth. I do find it interesting to watch the language when ranchers speak about wolves and elk compared to what some hunters say about wolves and elk. In the Game and Fish’s defense they are in a difficult position especially when there are a myriad of property and access issues intermingled with wolves, grazing and elk…a good story to follow.

  4. Craig says:

    The stockmen now benifiet off the Elk and sell Tags for 1000s of dollars besides gettting subsidezed for running there cattle on public land! Managing Elk is becoming a tool for ranchers well being and profit for those who own large tracts of land! The average person is not going to be able to hunt before long!

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      That seems to be the idea if we listen to the founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Don Peay, of Utah. He is giving speeches how the traditional model of wildlife management is bad and wants people to compete monetarily to get a tag. David Allen of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, once an organization for the conservationist hunter, seems to be following the same course.

      Hunting as an activity for the 1%, is the method that hunting will die in America. It won’t come from the anti-hunting groups.

      • JB says:

        I agree 100%, Ralph. Peay recently refereed to the North American Model as socialism. These guys are pushing a new model of wildlife management–the Golden Rule Model–i.e., he who has the gold (or the land) makes the rules.

    • wolf moderate says:

      What percent of winter range is on private property? JB, do you know of a study that has shown the cost of wintering elk on private lands? It would be fine (IMO) if ranchers want to sell access to hunters (Trespass fees), due to the fact that that very rancher is likely shouldering the costs of elk and deer during the winter months.

      Of course any public land leases those ranchers hold should not be part of the equation.

      Idaho has vast amounts of public land for the 99%. I hunt exclusively on public lands and see no risk in letting ranchers recoup some of the costs associated with the loss of forage due to wildlife-So long as it is only on their private property.

      Peay would have a point about the North American Model being socialism IF ranchers didn’t take advantage of public lands for grazing. As it is, he is a hypocrite.

      • Salle says:

        Here in Montana I do recall that, probably a couple years ago now, there were some news stories regarding ranchers engaging in a temper-tantrum movement over their perception that the agency wasn’t doing enough to eradicate, I mean “manage” wolves so they decided to break agreements with MTFW&P allowing hunting on their properties.

        (There have also been numerous concerns with bad hunting practices on private land which may have resulted in other private land closures.)

        Here’s a starting place where such info (on private property easements might be found.

        Perhaps a search of the archives might bring up some of those stories…?

      • JB says:

        wolf moderate:

        I live in a state that is ~3% federal land–ALL of our wildlife (from birds to deer to coyotes) exist because of habitat on private land.

        FYI: The notion that wildlife are publicly owned predates modern socialism–it was inherited from the ancient Romans.

  5. Mike says:

    The problems is ranchers are hunters, and hunters are ranchers.

    It’s hard to untangle these “takers” from each other.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Mike, Craig and all,

      Of all wildlife that compete with cattle for forage, elk and bison do it the most (eat the same species of plants). With deer, pronghorn, bighorn, moose, etc., it is much less.

      Ranchers have no incentive to like elk unless they are serious hunters, or more importantly, if they control access to a good elk hunting area or do some outfitting on the side. That is why there are these continual proposals in legislatures to give them extra tags, let them auction them, etc. They want to make money off the state’s elk.

      If you follow the news in rural media carefully, you will find so-called “elk depredation” hunts are very frequent. This is where the elk have become too numerous in the view of those who have influence and their numbers are reduced with a special hunt.

      I have pointed out in the past that these hunts have taken place at the exact time the ranchers were telling media wolves have eaten all the elk. In other words, unless they can compartmentalize their minds, they were liars.

      Ranchers have found it in their interest to talk up the wolf causing elk decline story to keep hunters off their backs, but for most of them, I’d say, it is b.s.. They are no friend of hunters. They covet the grass the elk eat and they generally want their numbers reduced.

      The old bumper sticker, “Hunters. Did a cow get your elk?” rings true.

      Forage competition also explains rancher opposition to free ranging bison far better than the story how bison have brucellosis with which cattle will become infected. All transmissions of brucellosis in recent years for which the likely cause was determined came from elk and none from bison.

      • CodyCoyote says:

        The rule of thumb used here in northwest Wyoming is that a domestic cow grazing on the good cheap grass of summer range/ AUM’s public lands eats as much as two elk and four mule deer.

        The subsidized bovines export that good cheap subsidized public grass when they bring it down off the mountain in their four stomachs…

      • mikarooni says:

        Ralph hits a number of very good points in this thread, from his initial recognition that politics (MT and elsewhere) are “marching more and more to… neo-Confederate themes” (neo-Confederate pretty much describes it) to this point about the inherent competition between cattle (livestock) and elk. The surveys found 22,000 elk in MT or maybe 15,000 equivalent AUs. I don’t have time to find it; but, somebody look up and quote us the number of livestock AUs crawling around MT. It’s an order of magnitude or more higher than 15,000; I can tell you that.

        Ralph is also on the right track that ranchers “have found it in their interest to talk up the wolf causing elk decline story…” The only thing I would add is that when you think about “ranchers” you really need to realize that, for the most part, the “ranchers” are only the bottom level flunky part of the equation. The “ranchers” are the lowest bought-and-paid-for field worker and political propaganda arm of a industrialized meat syndicate that calls the shots at a much higher level. the “ranchers” are just little kids allowed to strut around and think they’re Gumby by a big business mob that uses them as a political tool.

        Finally, Ralph is also right about the fight over bison, except again the “ranchers” (many of whom aren’t even ranchers, but actually Marion Dickinson-type straphangers) aren’t really calling those shots. The industrialized meat syndicate owns the “custom and culture” propaganda machines that brainwash the ag community and shapes what they think. That enables the syndicate to use the “ranchers” as their body shield, in the fight over bison and elsewhere.

    • Savebears says:

      The problem is………..People like you Mike, that have little understanding of the dynamics of what is actually happening in the West, you write about Campgrounds and let the real important stuff to Ralph, Ken, Brian and many others that actually understand what is going on.

    • JB says:


      Roughly 5% of the US population hunts in a given year; however, lots of people hunt intermittently. Our own studies show ~15-20% hunt at least every 5 years. A tiny fraction of the population <1% engages in ranching. So your argument that "ranchers are hunters, and hunters are ranchers" simply doesn't hold. Yeah, lots of ranchers are hunters; but the vast majority of hunters ARE NOT ranchers.

      Another attempt to stereotype hunters to cast them in a negative light. It's really getting old.

      • JEFF E says:

        It’s more than getting old.
        Three dollar,
        we get you are rabidly anti-hunting,anti gun. OK. you have stated your opinion.
        Move on with something else if you can. Write about your last high definition pictures of a pik-a-nik table somewhere.
        At least you might then be adding somthing TO the conversation.

  6. Louise Kane says:

    This story is a strange coincidence for me. I called Dr. Ream yesterday evening to ask him a number of things but I wanted his take on what he thought was going to happen with regards to the trapping issue in Montana. I trusted his thoughts because I had also spoken to him last year as the second hunt began. I don’t want to repeat the conversation on a public forum but he is indeed a very intelligent, fair and good man. For those of you in Montana who hope that the wolf situation does not get worse, work hard next election, if you want to see good people like Ream stay in his position.

  7. Jeff says:

    For the most part I don’t think ranchers and hunters are of the same lot. Are there some that do both? Yes, but most do one or the other, unless the state gives them control of tags and then they moonlight as outfitters, but it depends on the state. Ranchers gemerally hate elk raiding their hay stacks—bison are even less tolerated because not only do they eat more hay than elk, but elk at least jump fences, bison destroy them, on top of that bull bison will breed with cattle, possibly jeoparding prized beef genetics.

  8. Savebears says:

    I respect the author of this article, but one thing I disagree with is using numbers from the whole(Over Objective) when the problems are in certain areas, it reminds of the old equal employment(affirmative Action) situation that happened in the past, where you had to show a certain number of minority employee’s to qualify for contracts.

  9. Savebears says:


    Bob will not win the election.

    • Carter Niemeyer says:

      I heard he was running in the top one percent of the last one percent of participants running for Montana governor.

      • JEFF E says:

        Bob”chicken little” Fanning from south chicago ,I believe, could not win an election as dog catcher.

        • Salle says:

          “Bob”chicken little” Fanning from south chicago ,I believe, could not win an election as dog catcher.”

          Even if that’s essentially what he’s doing, only it’s “wolf-catching” that he’s looking to engage in and not much else. If any politician in any state thinks this is the kind of platform that would lead to an election victory… they need to hang up and dial again.

  10. Jake says:

    yeah, censorship never works, it’s use has been proven historically to self defeat, it’s known to have caused animosity and hatred. Hopefully the Bitterroot Star has not resorted to such anti American and unprofessional actions, that would be a shame. It’s a line in the sand and means fk you, of course the censors themselves invent excuses, like if you post here the name calling will begin, yeah, I agree, so block the name callers and let reasonable rational debate win out. Just ask your political scientist, he’s a big expert on everything, spent 37 years preaching the University’s theology and definitions. He’s so smart he’d never resort to such shameful tactics himself, he’s always right, never in error, is as honest as the day is long..

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      So here you are. Have your say. Threaten anyone and you go.

      Non-religious universities have no theology. I don’t think you know much about their internal setup — how faculties, students and administration work, but if you do, show us.

      Traditionally professors have had more free speech than the average American. That is not a good thing. I mean that the average American should have more. Instead, they work at their employer’s will and can be fired for any reason at all unless they maybe have a union protecting them.

      • Nancy says:

        “Just ask your political scientist, he’s a big expert on everything, spent 37 years preaching the University’s theology and definitions. He’s so smart he’d never resort to such shameful tactics himself, he’s always right, never in error, is as honest as the day is long”

        Curious Ralph, is Jake a disgruntled, former student of yours… back and flinging a few frustrated thoughts your way. Kind of get that feeling for some reason, when I read his post.

      • Jake says:

        Education can be used as an imprint vehicle for social engineering, and has. I’ve been an Autodidact since born, because my family were also, autonomous learners, who can self-teach, instead of being Automaton, someone working from a set of pre-conditioned beliefs provided by a corporate master, turning out humans limited in the scope and depth of their creative, curious and rational faculties. In other words I am not instinctively obedient to the collective. Yes, I’m insinuating the robot university turns out programmed machines. Operate within the states guidelines and look at nothing else, control control, control.. If any wake up, crush em!

        Man makes religions of all things, thus my sarcastic use of the word theology. Most folks leave the University believing everything they were taught is the 100% gospel truth, and they defend it in the same fashion as vehemently as any religious theologist or theologian often does.

        Oh, and I did suffer 21 years of your public-private educational system. Even had a war with a professor,seems i challenged him once to often, which ended up in the board room with other faculty members, where upon I proved my case and was eventually awarded the credits he tried to deprive me of, through extra work as make up studies, Our disagreement was based on political Sciences and historical definitions.

        I’m not a threat to anyone. enjoy the CULT-ure war professor, I know I am.

        • Ralph Maughan says:

          Well Jake, it’s too bad your years in school were so negative. In fact that is common. There are many reasons for it. Making up for what you saw as suffering by being an autodidact seems like a good approach. I was and am myself. Given the poor quality of education grades 1-12 education in Utah where I lived from age 7-21, what I learned depended a lot on what I looked up myself and by having a supporting family that encouraged self learning.

          Universities have a long history, but one thing they have tried to resist is the effort to remodel them to fit the corporation. At the present their hundred year effort has pretty much collapsed, but even now many students resist becoming automatons and many professors, including myself, encouraged resistance. Many students can see this system being imposed on them by politicians subservient to corporations is not in their self-interest.

          So, Jake don’t judge me as a person because of generalizations from your 21 years of suffering.

          • Jake says:

            I only have an electronic impression of you. I will never judge you as a person, only as a man. You’ve given me something to think on. My years of schooling were a bore, and they left me in desire of the rest of the story. Between you and I, we’re missing something, I find that interesting indeed.

        • JB says:

          “Yes, I’m insinuating the robot university turns out programmed machines. Operate within the states guidelines and look at nothing else, control control, control.. If any wake up, crush em!”

          The way you’ve described Universities assumes a conformity in thinking that simply is not present–at least, not anywhere I’ve ever been (I’ve attended 5 public universities, and taught at 1). In fact, what makes public Universities different from private institutions and corporations is that (at least post tenure) no one can enforce conformity of thought. Thus, some of the great intellectual battles have been fought within academic departments (e.g., Stephen J. Gould v. E.O. Wilson at Harvard).

          Here’s a personal example: Just a few short months ago a professor from the department where I received my PhD wrote a response to a publication of mine, taking exception with some of our conclusions. I harbor no ill will toward him, and I don’t believe he feels any ill will toward me. I’ll probably see him at a conference or two in the next few years and we might even exchange pleasantries.

          In general, academia encourages critical thought and abhors intellectual conformity.
          Honestly, in my experience you could not be farther from the truth.

          • Immer Treue says:


            Well said. To add a bit more, I don’t know where Jake fits in, but the age and maturity level that most in the U.S. go to college/university, is both too young and too low. They have no concept of the world, lack solid critical thinking skills, and unfortunately too prone to hedonism.

            At 17 or 18 or whenever they hit the ivied walls, they are for the most part too young and too impressionable. Why would the military rather recruit this age group? I remember an uncle of mine said that after high school kids should either work for a few years and or do some extensive traveling to see how the world works.

            I won’t make the comparison that students should follow my example, but the first time I attended the university, I was too young, a so-so student, and remained in school for all the wrong reasons. When I returned in my early 30’s I was a completely different person. I had a solid academic agenda, took advantage of the campus cultural events, knew how to both talk and rationalize with professors, and had enough time left over to enjoy myself. None of this was parent or government “sponsored” as it was all out of my pocket.

            In terms of free thought, think of totalitarian regimes that have taken over countries in the past. Who are the first people they censor/remove? Straight to the critical thinkers who provide thoughtful and logical opposition.

          • Louise Kane says:

            “In general, academia encourages critical thought and abhors intellectual conformity.
            Honestly, in my experience you could not be farther from the truth.”

            I greatly agree.

      • Jake says:

        And one last thing Ralph, this has nothing to do with my say, I know there are competent science scholars and biologists that disagree with you guys, I would like to see a more open discussion involving the people of these calibers without all of the side noise by the anti wolf, anti hunter, NUTS chiming in with their emotional diatribes and trivial pursuits bunk. Have a happy day mister..

        • JEFF E says:

          Just a straight up question.
          have you ever had a class(‘s) from Ralph.
          Not wanting any dirty laundry expose’ but you seem to be making innuendos in that direction.

          Yes or No will suffice.

        • Salle says:

          Looking at yourself in the mirror there, Jake?

          It sounds a little too much like the KarlRovian model; attach your greatest weaknesses to your opponents.. “I am rubber, you are glue, what bounces off me, sticks to you” mentality. It only works for some for a limited time. Your primary cohorts (small circle of friends) may be of that mindset, but most folks can smell the stench… Maybe you need to broaden your horizons… you sound pretty emotional yourself.

          Some folks seem to be opposed to open discussion on topics they have already steadfastly decided on and no amount of alternative ideas can be accepted.

          Hope you stay securely tucked under that ideological rock, the boogey-man might trick you into engaging in independent cognition otherwise.

          • Jake says:

            Oh Dearest Salle;

            Are you trying to shove me back under that musty boulder? And right When I slink out from under that old stone to get a close up of where white men fear to tread. And do I really have to look into that reflecting glass, I’m so damn homely I just can’t do it.

        • JB says:


          One of those competent biologists posts here regularly. Several other biologists/ecologists who sometimes disagree with Ralph also post here. I have been participating for ~4 years and during that time have had occasion to disagree with all three moderators. The only people Ralph kicks out are those who refuse to be civil. (FYI: I agree with you about the anti-hunting rants.)

        • SAP says:

          Jake wrote: “… I know there are competent science scholars and biologists that disagree with you guys . . ”

          So THAT’S what you’re getting all over Ralph about? You think there’s some sort of orthodoxy being enforced on this blog, and “us guys” go along with it? Bad assumption. And to that bad assumption, you add the fact that Ralph is a professor (retired), and conclude that mean ol’ Professor Maughan is excluding everyone except his teacher’s pets.

          For sure, there is an element that is excluded from this blog. They are the ones who make up their own facts, generate conspiracy theories, and worse. There is little constructive to be gained by engaging with such individuals, except for a lot stress and anxiety over our own personal safety.

          Those voices are free to have their own blogs, which they have done. [They are NOT free to libel, threaten, and even assault those with whom they disagree, but most of us hope they’ll just crawl back under their rocks or find a different hobby.]

          You’re probably a busy guy, Jake. Too busy to really spell out exactly what it is you disagree with that’s being expressed here?

          If I may, what I see then is you jumping way ahead in an imaginary argument (with “you guys” on this blog) and more or less saying,

          “There’s no point in me making the points I want to make or expressing disagreement, because I am certain (based on bad experiences in college?) that Ralph and his Zombie Army are just going to shout me down and eventually ban me from the blog.”

          Is that a fair characterization?

          I have seen arguments go nowhere on here from time to time — a back&forth of name-calling and misrepresentation of the other person’s point (not going to name names). That’s frustrating. Generally, though, reason prevails (unless it’s just people expressing their emotions or differing ethical standards – one cannot “win” an argument about such things).

          But to come on here out of the blue (unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think you’ve commented much here before), and say that you’re not even going to actually join in a substantive discussion because you assume you’ll be treated unfairly — well, that is, Mr. Spock, highly illogical.

          • SAP says:

            By the way, I came out of college and my Masters degree very disillusioned, and certainly not anywhere near 100 percent in agreement with my professors.

            I did “inadvisable” things from time to time, such as: tell my sociology prof that Simone de Beauvoir was factually incorrect about biology, and, when he told me that I was wrong, got my biology prof involved. Ooo, bad move, even though I was right! Also had a similar thing as you did with a history professor. One of those “you can be right, or you can be happy” moments (I keep choosing “right” for some reason).

            • Jake says:


              I simply stated as a reader I would like to see more professional data from more professional biologists and less conjecture from non professionals on the subject of wildlife.No offense but this same old set of professionals constantly going back and forth could be livened up a bit with some additional participants of that profession, and less emotional baggage.

          • JEFF E says:

            As a point, this blog is Ralph’s private property. He gets to have the say, same as anyone else, about what happens on one’s private property.
            I find it endlessly amusing that there is a certain splinter group that endlessly whines about what Ralph does with his private property or who he decides to allow on his private property, while at the same time whining about there private property rights. If Ralph does not allow them to “stand out on the front lawn” and call him and other participants everything but a milk cow then their poor little selves are being deprived of free speech somehow by big ol’ mean Ralph.

            • Jake says:

              JEFF E;

              I did not go to Idaho State. I totally agree with you on the lecture of the private property aspect of the blog. My first comment has been compromised because it was directed at another man, who was slightly complaining about the Star blocking comments in order to refute Fanning. I thought that odd, and funny.

        • Immer Treue says:

          +++I know there are competent science scholars and biologists that disagree with you guys, I would like to see a more open discussion involving the people of these calibers without all of the side noise+++

          I’m all for it. I’ve only participated on this site for the past 1.5 years, and perhaps I’ve missed discussions centered around the thoughts and studies of certain individuals. I’d like to have open discussions about Geist, Beers, Graves. The anti’s have used quotes from Bergerud, but I find very little in regard to his comment in any contextual fashion on line.

          Heck, if we can debate the rationale of Mech, Peterson, Creel, Rotella…why not some who take the other “side”.

          • mikarooni says:


            Beers is posting here all the time. If you want to have an “open discussion” with him, have at it if that’s what floats your boat. You guys need to keep your pseudonyms straight; you’re tackling your own co-conspirators.

            • Salle says:


            • Immer Treue says:

              Hey Douche Bag!

              Read my post, and what I said, not what you thought I said.

              I don’t know who all the pseudonyms are. How about a little help?

              I put something out there for discussion sake, not that I agree with what they say, but for the very least some debate on what they say. We have knowledgeable people who post on this blog. If people can cast aspersions toward a venerable biologist who’s career has been spent studying wolves, why not have some discussion, when the opportunity presents itself, to those, and those like them in the small sampling I provided.

            • mikarooni says:

              “I don’t know who all the pseudonyms are. How about a little help?”

              Ask JB. He may be able to help.

            • Immer Treue says:

              The JB who “posts here all the time” is not Jim Beers.

        • Ken Cole says:

          Maybe you should start your own blog and see who shows up to read it Jake. It’s free.

  11. Chuck says:

    Lets just say if Bob Fanning were to get lucky and be elected am sure lots of people would no longer choose Montana as a vacation spot, including me.
    If you believe what some say on other forums there are no elk left in Montana, the wolves have ate them all.

  12. Chuck says:

    Ya about as much chance as Rex Rammell had running for Gov of Idaho.

  13. Savebears says:

    Come on Guys…Being Realistic is entirely different than being in fantasy land, Fanning will never win in the state I live in..

  14. Robert R says:

    The elk at an all time high is region specific, not state wide. I work for an excavating construction business. I spent two months working in the Big Hole Valley and in all that time not one elk was ever spotted. We were there at first light and at last light and the only big game we seen was a group of antelope and a cow moose. Everyone criticizes FWP, but if was not for the start of the fish and game around 1905 we would not have the game we have today period. Also FWP cannot manage the game that cannot be accessed on private land and that is your all time numbers of elk. I know this for a fact because some of the clients we work for own a hundred thousand acres or more and don’t allow hunting.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Robert R,

      The chairman of the commission said that state’s elk population is at an all time high and that the declines are hunting unit specific. In other words, it’s the reverse of what you say. Your example is also region specific.

      Now are far as access goes, that is a huge problem. It is hunting as an activity for the rich, like the “King’s forest” way back hundreds of years ago in Europe. That seems to be the thing being advocated by Don Peay and his Sportmans for Fish and Wildlife.

    • Nancy says:

      Robert R – I will assume if you do excavating work, you were in the Big Hole Valley during the summer months?

      Living near & spending a lot of time traveling back and forth thru the Big Hole, I can honestly say spring and fall are the best times to see elk, when they are migrating in or out of the area. (I see hundreds of elk during that time 🙂

      I seldom see them in the summertime because the forests and hgh meadows seem to be their areas of choice for foraging, not wide open hayfields (which take up a great deal of the land in the BH valley)

      • Salle says:

        And to further add factors to be considered that would discourage elk sightings in that area during that time of the year… has it occurred to anyone that wildlife don’t frequent areas where heavy digging equipment is in use due to ground vibration and noise in general? I mean, come on. You think that with “excavation” going on nearby wildlife will just mosey by out of curiosity? Does the expectation that elk ~ or most other wildlife ~ would come along to see what was happening make sense? I suspect that the wildlife that was seen were in the act of evacuating the area… at least during the time the excavation activities were going on.

        • Cobra says:

          Actually heavy equipment doesn’t seem to bother the elk and deer that much. They’re always around logging operations. I’ve had them come down in some areas and lick grease off the grease zirks.
          I had a rope about 2 feet long on my track hoe to hold open the door one week and three days in a row I would have to follow elk tracks away from the site to find my rope, usually about a 100 feet or more up the trail. I set up a trail cam one night and found the culprit to be a yearling cow elk, I almost think it was a game for her.

    • mikarooni says:

      Robert R,

      Nancy and Salle make very good points and I have to offer my own corroborating experience. I own a piece of property, small by ranch standards but very large by recreational standards, in a valley setting very similar to and not that far from the Big Hole (they call it the “Big Hole” because it is a lower elevation, winter range hole in the mountains). I get pronghorn in the summer and lots of elk in the winter; but, aside from a few who are too lazy to move with the rest of the herds, most of the elk go high in the summer. There are still plenty of elk even in the summer; but, you seldom see them in the light and especially not if you’re moving around using motors and making noise. I like to see wildlife; so, if I have the time and don’t need to get stuff done, I’ll go out in the dark, park the truck close to the entrance, and sit there napping for close to an hour with the lights and engine off. Then, I start moving as quietly as possible, not out into the open, but through the trees. I only have to walk five or ten minutes before I spook an elk or two and often at ranges of ten to twenty yards. By the time I’ve walked out thirty minutes, I’ll have moved close to a dozen elk. By “first light” as you call it, those elk are bedded back down as deep into the trees as they can get.

      You’re correct that I don’t allow hunting, not because I’m anti-hunting, but because even when hunters swear they won’t trash the place I end up cleaning up their messes. But, one of the results of not hunting the property has been what happens in the spring. Starting about this time of year, the cow elk come in to use the place as a nursery and if you go out there in another few weeks the place will swarming with cow elk and their calves and you can walk right through them. By late June, almost all of them will be gone, up into the high country, and you’ll think the place has no elk at all.

  15. Robert R says:

    Nancy FYi it was after the general hunting season, and the excavation company runs year around. I know a few large land owners in the Big Hole and they can tell you the same about the elk but its not what you want to hear or believe. In the years of being around ranch equipment and or heavy equipment game animals will tolerate it because there is no threat, they just keep there distance during operation.

    • Nancy says:

      Well Robert R, if the excavation company runs all year round, surely you must of noticed the 100 plus elk (not sure how many more were on the other side of the hill) hanging out on the ranch just across from the county yard outside of Wisdom for the last month or so?

      I understand this rancher doesn’t have a problem with them “hanging” out.

      Noticed them out there last year too even though rumor has it, elk don’t winter in the Big Hole 🙂 Early arrivals?

      Not sure I follow you with the “but its not what you want to hear or believe” remark, as I said, I don’t have any problem seeing lots of elk, even from the highway, certain times of the year.

  16. Robert R says:

    Just to clarify that we were there on the Northfork side until the third week in December. I do think the elk numbers have declined since 1986. I guided four years in the Sand Lake country both summer trips and hunting season and spent three summers on Fishtrapp Creek and Mudd Creek and stayed in Wise River with friends.


April 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey