Yellowstone National Park’s abundant carnivore population has meant a continued decline in the northern Yellowstone elk herd, according to a Feb. 18 aerial survey by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the National Park Service.

“Yellowstone is as predator rich as it’s been in 100 years,” said Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s wolf biologist, although the park's wolves number 83 this year, only 20 of which are living in the northern range.

“I think they’re low because there’s fewer elk,” he said.

The elk herd, much of which migrates into Montana in winter, declined 6 percent from a count of 4,174 last year to 3,915 this year. In recent years, the average decline was 8 percent. Also, more elk as a percentage of the herd – 77 percent – migrated out of the park than at any time in the past.

“In the old days, 30 percent would leave,” Smith said. “It could be there’s just more room out there to go into.”

The northern herd, which is only a portion of the park’s entire elk herd, has declined from a high of more than 19,000 before wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1995. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks also allowed an aggressive hunt for cow elk that migrated out of the park until 2005.

Smith noted that it’s also more difficult to count elk within the park these days because they are in smaller groups often hidden in the trees.

“In the old days, I’d see 300 to 500 elk out in the open,” he said. “That’s due to predation. A smaller herd is harder to find.”

Smith said park studies have shown the existing elk are “leaner and meaner,” with wolves killing fewer elk and shifting more of their attention to bison. Cow elk are getting pregnant at a rate of about 90 percent or higher, yet few calves are living to adulthood. Many are likely being eaten by bears, coyotes, mountain lions and even golden eagles.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks counted only 11 calves per 100 cows last year, said Karen Loveless, an agency biologist based in Livingston, Mont.

“That’s really poor,” she said. “As long as we have calf survival that low, I’m still really concerned.”

To maintain the elk population, she said, calf recruitment would have to double to about 20 percent. To increase the herd, the recruitment rate would have to rise to 30 percent. The northern herd has been below that 30 percent rate for more than a decade, she added.

“Our objective for northern range elk wintering in Montana is 3,000 to 5,000,” Loveless said.

Wolves have been blamed for much of the decline in the park’s elk numbers. Yet Smith noted that the northern range wolf population hasn’t been this low since 1996. The park’s wolf population peaked in 2003 at 174 animals. At the end of 2011, the number had declined to 98 wolves. Twenty Yellowstone wolves were shot by hunters when they ventured out of the park into Montana and Wyoming this hunting season.

Although Montana hunters would like to see more elk on the landscape, Loveless is busy right now scaring elk off agricultural lands in places like the Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone. The work is part of the state’s plan to keep elk, some of which carry the brucellosis bacteria, from mingling with cattle. The disease can cause an animal to abort.

Loveless said the department will hold a hunt to remove 10 elk in an attempt to disperse one group. On other property, the department is helping to repair fences, fencing haystacks and firing nonlethal cracker shells to scare elk away from cow feeding areas.

Loveless said the herds of elk vary from groups of 100 up to 600 on different ranches. The work will continue until June 15, which is considered the end of the time when bacteria transfer between the species is likely to occur.

(32) comments

normal
normal

Geez! Is that really the best explanation that can be served-up by our experts? The elk that are surviving are "leaner and meaner..." They're hard to count because they have be decimated by wolves and don't exist at historic levels. Well, we're eliminating brucellosis in Wyoming cattle! Mission accomplished!

reality22
reality22

The people that pimp these disgusting animals should be held accountable.

Anne28
Anne28

No, you'll be held accounting to the rest of the world for killing animals that are more human than it appears most of Wyomings population is .Because you .are causing your state to lose love and respect across the world.

reality22
reality22

This is what Anne28 supports without limits.... http://washingtonwolf.info/livestock_attacks.html
Like I said above disgusting people pimp this disgusting animal. Real wolf lovers understand the limitations of this animal! The rest pimp this disgusting animal because they have a biogoted hate for ranchers and sportsman!

reality22
reality22

Smith would be smarter to just keep his mouth shut..... Based on this they new last years cow to calf ratio but, didn't publish or print it like they didn't print it in this article for this year.....funny how they hide that stuff ...... just like the moose count! We haven't seen that count since the winter of 2009/2010! When it was headed south of 100 of the once 1200 herd. Now the last few years it has "NOT BEEN A PRIORITY" to count the moose. Yet, getting a collar on every darn wolf is!

Wyomingsportsman
Wyomingsportsman

Its time the states sue the federal government for introducing the wolves and destroying the ungulate populations. Maybe Wyoming and Montana should cut off all of the roads to Yellowstone until they get rid of the wolves.

Just remember people when you hunt wolves use a small caliber rifle and shoot for the guts so they go off and die and you don't have to claim them. The same holds for the wolf lovers.

Foreigner13
Foreigner13

Find professional help - you really NEED it, and somewhere out there HAS to be a psychiatrist being able to get you the proper medication for your condition! A psychosis like yours should not be left untreated.

Wyomingsportsman
Wyomingsportsman

Maybe we can transfer all of these wolves to the backyards of Foreigner, Annie, Pops, spirit and Richard and let them eat their kids and grandkids, it would be no loss to humanity.

Pops
Pops

You, my sports minded friend, are among the worst of the "clones" of which I speak. Your posts, give good reason, to baning the anonymous posting you abuse.

Wyomingsportsman
Wyomingsportsman

Pops if your head wasn't so far up your backside you might deserve a response.

Pops
Pops

Wyoming gets a poor reputation because of no-mind postings of clones like yourselves.

Anne28
Anne28

and it gets worse by the second. When I tell people how evil this state has shown itself to be , I just have to share their own comments.

spirit of the wolf
spirit of the wolf

Wyoming gets its reputation by killing off the wildlife in your state. Lets blame everyone except those who kill, and trophy them.

Anne28
Anne28

It is so sad that our countries amazing wildlife , including our beloved wolves are in this awful state . To think I used to love Wyoming. I brought what you vile people are doing to Yellowstone at Petsmast today . I ended up with 8 people coming up to me wanting to know about the atrocity your committing. You are adding even more reasons to stop eating beef, and to stop visiting a state we can no longer stomach , If you think your state can survive on elk outfitters alone , destroy what makes Wyoming wonderful to millions .

conservation know it all
conservation know it all

Where else would the wolves, elk, moose and other wildlife live if not in Wyoming? Yellowstone is federal land, so what are the vile people of Wyoming doing to Yellowstone? I think it is clear that you mean the vile people at the federal government making the decisions in Yellowstone. I'm confused on what makes Wyoming (specifically Yellowstone) wonderful to millions, is it the decimated elk population (20% of it's high) that now hides in the trees, is it the decimated moose population that is now at an amazing 8% of it's high, or is it the wolves that no one ever sees? Of course Wyoming can't survive on elk outfitters when wolves kill all the elk for kicks and giggles.

spirit of the wolf
spirit of the wolf


It just kills you hunters to admit that your elk herds are declining for other reasons than the wolves. Why do you think you know everything? Why do YOU not ever listen? Wolves chase down the weak, old and sick elk. Its obvious there is other reasons for the elks decline. Sounds like you might have a serious problem with sickness of the elk. Hmmmm...kinda of coincides with the wolves decline over the last couple of years since they were delisted. I don't think you people want to know the real reason. It gives you a chance to trophy hunt the wolves. Why live in a state so beautiful if your going to destroy what makes it special..The Wildlife..You so called " hunters" just me sick.

Foreigner13
Foreigner13

To those who blame the wolves for elk decline, moose decline, this decline, that decline AND eating little girls in red outfits: Learn something about NATURE! Running around in it, armed to the teeth and shooting at everything that moves, does NOT make you an expert in environmental issues, natural balance or complex self-regulating systems. The (re-)extermination of a species that had been around for thousands of years without wiping out it's prey will not solve your elk-problem!

conservation know it all
conservation know it all

What if we are only armed to the belt, only walk and don't shoot at everything that moves? Never stepping foot in nature doesn't make you an expert in environmental issues, natural balance and complex self-regulating systems. Yellowstone was self-regulated before the introduction of wolves in 1995. Getting rid of wolves actually would dramatically increase the elk population. Sometimes the evidence is so clear a person just can't deny it. This evidence does not mean that we should exterminate wolves again in Yellowstone, it's only evidence and comes down to priorities. All you have to say if you advocate for wolves is, "I recognize wolves kill elk and moose at a rate much, much higher than initially projected. I do not care about those consequences and I only want the original pre-human ecosystem to remain in place just like it exists in my back yard and in Central Park."

reality22
reality22

Foreigner... You're the one that needs to learn about nature..... Nature is the highest of highs and the lowest of lows....to think that this bogus predator pit YOU have created in Yellowstone represents nature in any form at all is just plain WRONG. For 10,000 years people in North America have been hunting wolves and bears. If you think that they first started hunting these animals when the white people arrived your ignorant & have fallen victim to wolf science. The old shipping manifest back to England and France are quite clear about what was being traded & it wasn't Tofu!

Foreigner13 is the perfect example of what Dr David Mech recently had to say. Mech (world renowned wolf biologist) recently accused scientists and the popular news media of “sanctifying the wolf” by disproportionately covering the positive impacts (or benefits) of wolves.

normal
normal

I know it's hard, but let's focus on the topic. We're not talking about little girls in red coats and the horrible hunters. READ THE FIRST PARAGRAPH!!! In fact, try reading the entire article before commenting.
"Predators cull out only the sick and weak...? Predators are declining because their food source is declining...? I should get out in NATURE and see the truth...?" Wow, intelligent stuff there.
Anne28: Click your crystals and follow the yellow brick road, your Shangrila exists somewhere out there!

Anne28
Anne28

Lol , please try to find a functioning part of your brain and reread my posts . I'm not the one who wrote that. .

spirit of the wolf
spirit of the wolf


normal...which I doubt...You give us no answers ?? I read the article. I read the comments. All I seen you contribute to this is..name calling, copying peoples earlier posts, and just being an idiot. I would like to know your reason for the ongoing decline to the elk population. Cant be the wolves ,you trophy hunters are wiping them out. What could it be?? How about an intelligent conversation instead of your stupid comments. That is , if you have any thoughts.

Richard Garrett
Richard Garrett

I'm profoundly disappointed that trib.com allows 'Wyomingsportsman' to repeatedly urge the killing of human beings. Would the print side of the house tolerate such advocacy?

Rawhide
Rawhide

Dick...you might have a point....IF...we could determine that wolf lubbers were in fact HUMAN...

reality22
reality22

Rawhide....., Gee, I take it that the people that pimp this are more "HUMAN".

http://washingtonwolf.info/livestock_attacks.html

No wonder Montana bill hb73 passed UNANOUMOUSLY ..... the locals are just sick of you and the Michael Vick wannabees that run down to Lamar Valley to catch a glimpse of a wolf eating the hind quarters out of a half dead elk. Richard Garrett needs worry more about policing his own ilk......Dr David Mech said it best when he recently accused scientists and the popular news media of “sanctifying the wolf” by disproportionately covering the positive impacts (or benefits) of wolves.


ssmith1965
ssmith1965

What the national parks actually protect! http://www.seandavidsmith.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-rangers-actually-protect.html

normal
normal

Spirit: I thought my position was pretty clear, I guess I can be more specific to help clarify. Read the FIRST PARAGRAPH OF THE ARTICLE!!!! It begins, "Yellowstone National Park's abundant carnivore population has meant a continued decline in the northern Yellowstone elk herd..." Doesn't leave much room for interpretation, unless a person really wanted to be bias.
The rest of the article provides additional information detailing the studies, thoughts and concerns of the scientists that are qualified to diagnose the problem based on the data.

At least the information that we are now receiving has a different tone. A tone that is absent of the stress and demands of having to promote and defend an agenda. I think that since the State has now taken responsibility and control the information we receive will not be convoluted with propaganda.
Does that help or are you still dumb-founded?

Anne28: LOL...(can you hear me?) I was kind of referring to your hate and distain for the state of Wyoming and those of us who call it home with my comment about finding Shangrila. I was, well, oh forget it...

spirit of the wolf
spirit of the wolf

Ok normal..I've re read the article. I'm saying this in general now normal...still less elk ? Hundreds of wolves killed since they were delisted ? Elk migrate to Montana in the winter ? Most baby elk don't survive till adulthood ? Other predators..such as bears, mountain lions, and coyotes still gotta eat too ? Their carnivores right ? More hunters,maybe? Disease ? So, why so he[[ bent in killing only wolves? Why not all these other problems ? Why hate the wolf so much.. please explain....if you don't mind..and I wanna know YOUR opinion..not the articles.

Synergizerer
Synergizerer

Its funny how the number of wolves goes up, and the numbers of elk/moose/deer go down. I wonder if the two could be linked? I don't know... maybe the wolves are killing them off? Either way, I will be out in the trees with my gun waiting to gun a wolf down. I wonder if I could get a taxidermy discount to have three or four mounted if I come across a pack in an area they are not considered trophy game.

Whirlies2001
Whirlies2001

Anthropocentric humans think of themselves as God's stewards when, in fact, they are God' SEWER! God's balance is known as Evolution and the more the Interior Department under a ruthless rancher, US Fish & Wildlife Slaughter Service, NRA court case financiers and wolf hating hunters throw their self-serving logic out there, the more we will continue to support the non-indigenous species like cows. SOLUTION? Kick The Ranchers Off the Federally Leased Land and Let Nature Find Zits Own Balance! Quit pretending we're God!

Fen
Fen

Oh noes!!! The indigenous predatory animals of the north American continent are killing all the elk that I wanted to kill! How dare they kill and eat the elk whose head I wanted to stuff and put on my wall as a trophy! Don't these wolves know how important I am? Don't they know that all the elk belong to me? Stupid nature, creating predators through evolution. Nature should have just thought ahead and known that someday there would be hunters who wanted to make trophies of all the elk instead of allowing predators to fill ecological niches in the food chain.

brownb79
brownb79

Yep how selfish of a man to want one elk to provide healthy food to his family. We should be grateful the wolves are there to do such an important service and kill approx 16 elk per year per wolf. Just think of how much more cattle can be supported on that rangeland when all those pesky elk are cleared out.

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