Wyoming elk herds have grown too large

Wyoming Game and Fish Department offers extra elk licenses-

Now that Wyoming has gained the authority to manage wolves and will soon have a wolf hunt, the much lamented lack of elk due to those “insatiable packs of killing machines” — wolves — has suddenly turned around and there are said to be too many elk . . . just like that.

 Brian Nesvik, chief of the wildlife division for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says “in many areas of the state, those herds have simply grown too large.”  Therefore, the state has made an emergency order providing for an extra, reduced-price cow elk and elk calf license in some of the areas with too many elk.  In fact, Game and Fish is trying so hard to get more hunting in the larger elk herds that they are offering special elk hunts on private lands. They are even encouraging elk hunters to buy three elk tags in some parts of the state.

It seems more than passing strange that there have been too many wolves, and then start talking of too many elk; all this quick as you can snap your fingers.

It seems like a contradiction, but you can tease out a sensible explanation of this seeming contradiction by reading this story, Wyoming Game and Fish Department offers extra elk licenses. By Christine Peterson. Casper Star-Tribune.

The Wyoming Legislature is dominated by ranchers who have always lorded it over the Department of Game and Fish. Elk eat grass and forbs that cattle could eat. While cattle are always allowed the lion’s share of the range, sometimes elk herds grow big enough there are some ranchers who are short of feed.  As a result ranchers don’t like the elk, except for maybe those ranchers who do a bit of hunt outfitting in the fall.

Of course, wolves do kill and eat elk, and sometimes they even appear to hold elk numbers in check. Sometimes wolves even reduce elk numbers. But ranchers don’t like wolves either. This is because their tradition is to hate wolves, and they don’t like the people who support the wolf restoration any better. The desired policy is to kill both of them — wolves and elk both.

The only thing that remains to be explained is why some hunters can’t figure this out.



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  1. Joseph Allen Avatar
    Joseph Allen

    How coincidental…..nothing like making the Rocky Mountain west more safe for livestock. I wonder how many tourists would come to Wyoming to see cows rather than wild animals?

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      Seems they could raise bison and do both, huh.

    2. KASansone Avatar

      I know this tourist goes to Wyoming for one reason only,the chance to see and marvel at the wildlife, not the cattle.

  2. Nancy Avatar

    “Of course, wolves do kill and eat elk, and sometimes they even appear to hold elk numbers in check. Sometimes wolves even reduce elk numbers. But ranchers don’t like wolves either. This is because their tradition is to hate wolves, and they don’t like the people who support the wolf restoration any better. The desired policy is to kill both of them — wolves and elk both”

    And THAT pretty much sums it up Ralph.

    A little tolerance could go a long way here but that might require using the brain for something other than “bossing” dumbed-down cows around 🙂

  3. HAL 9000 Avatar
    HAL 9000

    According to my understanding, it’s not so much the sheer number of elk, but the areas elk a moving into.

    The article gets it half right, in that regard, it does boil down to at least the perception of conflict with cattle ranching.

    The simplest explanation is this: Wolves are pushing elk farther down and farther out in to the low and front county than they’ve been in recent memory. That, of course, is causing them to frequent more ranch country.

    Now, whether ranchers should be expected to just sit back and not complain while more and more elk congregate on their property is another matter.

    1. Jay Avatar

      Actually, according to the MTFWP et al., elk generally don’t come down and hide out on private land until the human hunters take to the field. Until then, they are willing to stay out on the range and take their chances with the wolves–they are much easier to avoid then the 2-legged predator that can kill you from 500 yards away. Your assertion that wolves are “pushing the elk” out of the hills is bunk. I hear this crap all the time…”the elk are really high right now, wolves must have pushed them up”, followed by “the elk are really low, wolves must have pushed them down”.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Ranchers live and work in wolf and elk country. They can graze their cattle for next to nothing outside of their own property. No, they really shouldn’t be complaining except when it has been proven their livestock has been taken – it’s like complaining about rain and the weather. Elk are migratory animals – I don’t think you can blame their activity entirely on wolves. If so, it’s the way nature made both of them. I doubt the elk could damage grazing areas any more than cattle have. I’d say sit back and shut up, personally. 🙂

    1. HAL 9000 Avatar
      HAL 9000

      How ignorant and cold of you, I think.

      Many of the elk in question are starting to frequent private property. There is also concern over brucellosis being spread from elk to cattle. That might sound like hype to you — but it isn’t to Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota and other states, which have said they will refuse any cattle from Wyoming, should its “brucellosis free” status be lost.

      And your answer is simply “sit back and shut up?”

      I’m all for ecology and wildlife advocacy. And the sins of the cattle industry are many.

      But when it reaches the level of simply not caring a crap about other human beings, or trying to sanctify animals above people — that’s the point when I get angry and offended.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yep. We’ve heard it all before. These people need to get a new scriptwriter.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          My apologies for the duplicate posting if the moderator needs to delete one!

          Let me claify what I meant by “shut up”. It’s a little “pot/kettle” to be calling people ignorant and cold under the circumstances. I meant that yes, I realize that brucellosis is a serious concern, but it’s always the same thing. Why wasn’t it an issue before now? It is the same reasoning that leads to killing the bison no matter how many times they are tested and come up clean.

          I guess “sanctify” is the new buzzword designed to shut down all argument lest those who would like to see wildlife preserved all be thought of as misanthropic nature freaks. I would say that “demonizing” wolves and wildlife is the more appropriate term.

          1. HAL 9000 Avatar
            HAL 9000

            Ida, please don’t answer the supposed hyperbole of the ranching industry, with a dose of your own.

            I’m not talking about demonizing wildlife, or every rancher getting everything he wants.

            I’m talking about refraining about falling back on the same old stereotypes about ranchers — and expecting them to just grin and take it as more and more elk congregate on their, private, land.

            As far as the rancher/bison issue on the Montana side of Yellowstone, I admit only a passing knowledge. I do know, as with any issue, a lot of press is given to extreme opinions on either side. As usual, I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

      2. Mike Avatar

        Spare us the melodrama, Hal.

        1. HAL 9000 Avatar
          HAL 9000

          No melodrama, Mike. I’ve just noted, in only the brief period I’ve been frequenting this otherwise superb site, that some posters here can seemingly barely contain their outright contempt for those with whom they might disagree — and some comments do seems to spin toward putting animals ahead of people.

          I don’t take such a dim view, and will never consider any idea to be more important than any human being.

          1. Mike Avatar

            ++ don’t take such a dim view, and will never consider any idea to be more important than any human being.
            Reply ++

            Is one of 1200 grizzly bears in the lower 48 more valuable than a member of the Taliban?

  5. ramses09 Avatar

    Interesting. Geez, Wyoming should get a clue. Really, now there comes a report that there are toooooo many Elk. We have wolf hunting that is going on as we speak, humans are stupid – I just can’t grasp the whole idea that these people don’t get it. So close minded.
    I was chatting with a friend from work yesterday, he has been to Yellowstone 3 times ….. WHY – – – to see what you cannot see here in the mid-west – Wolves, Buffalo, Elk, & other beautiful species that live in that specific area.
    Especially WOLVES.

    1. HAL 9000 Avatar
      HAL 9000

      Knowing somebody who made three visits to Yellowstone is enough to qualify you to declare the people of Wyoming “stupid?”

      Next time, ask your friend to spend a week or two with a ranching family.

  6. TC Avatar

    Sheesh – settle down a little. Most of these extra elk tags are being offered in areas far from any wolves. These elk herds far exceed quotas (or, if you prefer, carrying capacity) and are doing damage not only to private lands (including ranches and non-ranch properties), but also to their own breadbaskets (their own habitat is suffering). I posted this somewhere else on this site. The problem with many of these tags is that the elk are on private land, or run to private land once hunting starts – then it becomes a question of access (and sometimes paying exorbitant outfitting fees to private landowners). This really has very little to do with wolves.

    1. Mike Avatar

      And everything to do with greed.

  7. cindy Avatar

    This is the letter to the editor I wrote to the local newspaper after seeing the article about the 3 licenses. It was published:
    As a resident of Teton County for over 40 years, and a pro wolf advocate, I found the article in Saturdays Daily concerning the new licensing of elk permits interesting. Having listened to anti wolf folks talk about the decimation of the entire elk population here in Northwest Wyoming and beyond, I found Mr. Obrecht , spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish, enlightening to say the least. Sounds to me as though the very competent agency put in charge of overseeing elk, their prey and all wildlife here in our area, are conveying the fact elk populations may merely be redistributing, not being decimated by wolves and bears. It also sounds as if the elk are once again thriving as they did for thousands of years, on their natural landscape, which of course included predators like wolves and bears. The coexistence has proved over and over to keep all populations healthy and strong. I hope folks, who are admittedly against the natural flow of predator and prey populations when it comes to elk in Northwestern Wyoming, are truly happy the elk aren’t going extinct, they are simply harder to find! I am quite knowledgeable about the elk/wolf controversies here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As an admirer of elk, wolves, bears and frankly ALL wildlife, I hope together, we can welcome this news. Animals are instinctive creatures and it’s great to see this important species finding ways to not just survive but thrive. It seems as though the very word “redistribution” makes a lot of folks hot under the collar these days. And I’m sure it will be the same when referencing the elk population. For me I see these shifts and changes in their movements to other habitats as smart strategy. It is certainly going to change the look of our long withstanding elk hunt areas, but isn’t the most important fact to take from this decision by Wyoming Game and Fish, that elk are doing just fine? We all have to adjust to change sometimes right? You, me and the elk population living right outside our door.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Cindy – if you can find a copy of Game Management in Montana or /Idaho/Wyoming from the late 60’s, its well worth the read.

      Kind of like a “who’s on first” read:


      Chapter 26 Predators –

      Control programs have reduced coyote populations in specific areas but indications are that other predators increase following coyote removal.

      Game departments agree that MOST
      PREDATOR CONTROL PROGRAMS have little or no effect on game populations.

      And this little ditty –

      The “disappearance” of the wolf from the State was due to the wolf’s inability to adjust to civilization and not necessarily to control efforts.

      Hello? Who’s on first?

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        The “disappearance” of the wolf from the State was due to the wolf’s inability to adjust to civilization …

        Especially when civilization is armed to the teeth! 😉

        I guess we might as well face the facts that at some point, most of the western wildlife will be gone in favor of human interests – fuel, mining, ranching. What a boring world that will be then. Ranching is a part of the West as much as anything, but don’t you guys want to preserve your Western heritage? You don’t know how great you have it, and you don’t want it to turn into a wasteland like some of our more urban areas.

        I’m not against hunting and ranching, but I think the National Parks and buffer zones around them should be left alone. It seems a fair exchange, doesn’t it?

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        There is one additional factor likely playing into the “shortage of elk” theme — too many outfitters. Folks should note that in addition to what might be a surplus of legal outfitters, there are a number (always) of renegade or bootleg outfitters too.

        The perception of the abundance of huntable elk depends not just on the supply of elk, but also on the demand.

        1. WM Avatar

          I will suggest there are other factors at play as well. The concept of “too many elk” is dynamic. It also depends on what happens during the next reaaallly bad winter, with little to no winter range or some that has been previously overgrazed by cattle. With climate change bringing wider variation in extremes it may be more difficult to predict how things are from year to year. Of course one bad winter can depress local/regional populations of elk or deer for several years. The landscape can change from “too many” to “too few” in the blink of an eye.

          One might suggest knocking elk populations down some now in each of these units might help dampen losses for such an unpredictable event in which there are too many elk eating too little grasss or browse come February.

          Another aspect might be adjusting grazing permits downward on AUM’s to help out the wildlife that rely on the winter range – good luck with that.

  8. rork Avatar

    “The only thing that remains to be explained is why some hunters can’t figure this out.”
    So vague I can’t even criticize it.

  9. cindy Avatar

    Not everything about the “60’s was COOL:)

  10. Mike Avatar

    Of course we won’t hear a peep from hunting groups on these sorts of contradictions.

    There are far, far too many people in the woods hunting animals in the Rockies. To create a truly healthy, balanced ecosystem, tags are going to have to be reduced for all.

  11. John Avatar

    Has anyone figured in the range conditions to the increased amount of tags? In years like this it is often necessary to reduce elk numbers going into winter to limit winter kill numbers. This article does not go into depth on “why” the numbers are too large only that they are larger than the fish and game would like. In drought years ranchers have to worry more about elk congregating on their meadows. Furthermore you are assuming that this article is referring to all elk herds in Wyoming. The only elk populations cited in this article are around Cheyenne, far isolated from the wolves in yellowstone. The fact is that these overpopulated areas have nothing to do with wolves, these elk have never seen a wolf in their lives. Your only option to control elk in these areas is hunting, unless you suggest introducing wolves across the state.

  12. Carter Keegan Avatar
    Carter Keegan

    So if wolves could buy hunting licenses, it would be all okay? It is about making money.


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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