Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yellowstone Elk Population Falls, Concern Grows

Data from a the latest aerial survey of the Northern Yellowstone Elk population indicates numbers continue to decline. The overall count of 3,915 elk is 6 percent lower than the 2012 winter count of 4,714.  

A Yellowstone-sponsored report from the mid-1990s stated "Fifteen North American wolf experts predicted that 100 wolves in Yellowstone would reduce the elk by less than 20 percent, 10 years after reintroduction." In reality, that number turned out to be 44 percent. If you look back at the elk count of 1994, the year before the start of the wolf reintroduction program, the size of the elk herd is now down by 80 percent!  

Year               Elk Population               
2012                3,915                      
2011                4,174                                     
2010                4,635                       
2009                6,070                   
2008                6,279                     
2007                6,738
2006                6,588
2005                9,545                   
2004                8,335
2003-02           9,215
2001                11,969
2000                13, 400 (prior to late season elk hunt)
1999                14,538  (prior to late season elk hunt)
1998                11,742
1997                 no count taken                                
1996                 no count taken               
1995                16,791 (when wolf reintroduction began)                    
1994                19,045 (year before wolf reintroduction)                          

Below are comments from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen:

About the nicest thing I can say is this trend continues to disappoint in major proportion. While wolves are certainly not the exclusive factor for the dramatic decline in this once showcase herd of elk in world; there is no denying a correlation of this herd's decline with the introduction of wolves in the greater Yellowstone region. All the rhetoric in the world will not change this issue.
David Allen

Combine this decline with all the other issues elk face in this region including other predators, habitat issues and man's growing presence causes one to consider where and when this does change, how does this end? Additionally, we have environmentalists now calling on Congress to consider re-listing wolves in all states stating that "science supports this..." The manipulation of this entire wolf restoration program into a "fundraising" tool has to be seen for what it is. 

The insanity of this has to stop and let state game agencies in all states do their jobs. Like it or not, a huntable, sustainable population of elk is critical to the long term existence of many state game agencies.

M. David Allen
RMEF President & CEO


  1. Living in Idaho and within a couple of hours of Yellowstone. I too have seen this decline in numbers especially as I hunt and spend time in the woods. It greatly concerns many of us out here. I wish that the Wolf re-introduction had never happened, as it was litterally rammed down our throats.

    Before we were involved in the managment of animals (before man showed up in the west in signicant numbers), the wolf had it's place as the natural check and balances of the elk, but we are now involved..... we must continue managing the Wolves.....anybody who says otherwise is campaigning on emotion over science and are the same loonies who say that we shouldn't be hunting in the first place.......

  2. I totally agree. I am here in Montana. I live to hunt and fish. Wolves like Grizzly Bears, Lions, etc are amazing wild predators. The other side need to know we know and appreciate ALL of it. However, we need to "manage"!!!! We cannot "not manage" any animal or resource. We are in the drivers seat. We need to manage and balance our wildlife. Yellowstone was overpopulated with Elk. The carrying capacity of an area is predicated on it's winter range capacity. We have fed hay, pellets, etc to the Yellowstone population for decades. We shouldn't have to. The yellostone complex will support thousands in the summer months but the winter range will only support a fraction of that. The populations of Elk in Yellowstone are now closer to a natural balance based on the capacity of winter range to support. I feel yellowstone will ballance out. It will hit some low's and hi"s then stabilize at a natural, sustainable number. We can't hunt in yellowstone anyway. The rest of the state is a different story. We "MUST" aggressively manage our predators to protect and mantane our Deer and Elk populations. I have witnessed bears hunting the tall grass for calves. We witnessed one Bear kill 5 calves in one afternoon. We don't connect the bear impact enough either. Add wolves to the equation and the odds of sustainable populations is bleak.... yikes

  3. There is no such thing as a "balance of nature".

    All wildlife management including the decision to do nothing while encouraging increased populations of large predators constitute a choice. Choices come with consequences, in this case the consequence is the decimation of the largest migratory elk herd on the planet.

  4. MR. Allen I work for Wolfn. This is a company that has started out of a necessity to preserve elk, deer and livestock. Wolfn is just begining to become an active voice to keep wolf seasons open both trapping and hunting. We also pride ourselves on factual reports and comments about wolf management. This being said Wolfn has contacted the RMEF about wolf management in the past and of recent and every time has been met with a no comment response!! Why is this? Wolfn would be aided greatly by the support that could be given by the RMEF. That support would strengthen our voice thus catch the attention of the FWP allowing us more say in the area of wolf management. Wolfn understands that RMEF must watch who and what they support but I also feel that you must side with wolf management groups of some kind who can help fight the battle to preserve our herds and our heritage. I ask that you please contact Wolfn!!!!! We can be reached on our Facebook page (wolfn) or mtwolfn@gmail.com

  5. The governor of Montana recently signed a bill into law that prohibits state wildlife officials from establishing protective buffer zones along national park borders, a measure that would have helped protect Yellowstone wolves.
    In Utah, anti-wolf extremists just passed a proposal out of committee. If finalized, this measure will allocate $300,000 of taxpayer money to anti-wolf lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. – aiming to strip the last shreds of federal protection for nearly all gray wolves across the Lower 48.
    In Idaho, state officials approved a proposal to pay Wildlife Services $50,000 to kill more wolves.
    And people are still able to hunt BOTH species. I'd say you have your balance. Don't hunt elk and that will certainly help take the human element out of the equation. When Elk numbers get low enough, wolves won't have their food source and their numbers will balance out as well. Science. It's amazing.

    1. I'm scratching my head wondering what science you're speaking of. You base you're theory on the premise that wolves only eat Elk...and the decimation of the Elk will result in a corresponding decline/dessimation of wolves....hhhhmmmm. So wolves won't just move on to other prey? Like deer or cattle? Hadnt heard that scientific theory before... sounds reasonable and well thought out.

    2. As David stated, "wolves are certainly not the exclusive factor for the dramatic decline" but the numbers also speak for themselves. Why is it that move wolves are leaving Yellowstone? Because they are looking for their favorite source of food.
      The science alluded to comes from the research that led to the reintroduction of wolves in the Northern Rockies. Basic agreed upon parameters were set in place based on that science and on social acceptability. Since then, some environmental groups continually sought/seek to file lawsuit after lawsuit in an effort to move the goalposts rather than allow proper state management, which was the goal of reintroduction in the first place, take its effective course.

    3. I believe that large predators fill an important and necessary role on the landscape, but I also agree with the need for management of wolves and other predators, and to allow for proper state management. I can't help but wonder if over 19,000 elk in Yellowstone back in 1994 was too many? What impact did that many elk have on the landscape? What did the vegetation look like then, and what does it look like now with far fewer elk? Are there now too many bison in Yellowstone?

  6. We visited last week (Sep 8, 2013). It appears that the devestation of the Elk in Yellowstone is about complete. This is what we get from Washington Lawyers and a Montana judge (also a lawyer, no doubt) making game management decisions. Too bad your children won't get to see Elk in Yellowstone. The Bison are doing well, though...apparently they can kick butt on wolves. Well the good news is we can expect a major die off of the wolves now that they ate themselves out of house and home.

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  8. To be quite honest, I'm just getting sick of hearing what's natural to an environment anymore. It's as if human's are not even considered part of the environment. News flash folks, we are the dominant predator on this planet. And I for one, enjoy hunting.
    There simply is just no good reason to have wolves anywhere outside of the Park in this day and age. People eliminated them for a reason, and that same reasoning will soon return. Though the wolves killed in the lower 48 I recall never were found to be over 100 lbs. But that's another issue. I really don't enjoy the fact that I have to pay money to people who have lost livestock to these predators with tax funds.
    The whole issue makes me want to barf. Wolves need to be classified the same way coyotes are outside park boundaries.

  9. September 2014 update: The Elk devastation in the park appears complete. Saw only three nervous cows in the trees on last week's visit. This compares to hundreds in the meadows in times before wolves. Our grandchildren will never see them. I don't get how someone can claim one wolf is worth 20 plus dead Elk per year, or 200 over the wolves lifetime. And horrible deaths at that.