Elk Numbers Skyrocketing

bull elk

October 6, 2009

According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, elk are flourishing.  Just exactly how good is it?

“The elk population in the Northern Rockies has skyrocketed in the last twenty-five years, notwithstanding the reintroduction of wolves in the mid-1990s.  Wyoming’s elk population has grown 35%, Idaho’s has grown 5%, and Montana’s a whopping 66%.” 

Those are amazing numbers yet hunters continue to complain wolves are decimating  elk.  So why all the whining from hunters?  Is it kabuki theater to bolster wolf hating dogma? Is it due to elk changing their browsing behavior,  making them  harder to hunt because of dispersal by wolves?  It’s probably a mix of  both but  it’s a specious argument that wolves  must be  “managed”  because of ungulate declines.

Montana and Idaho hunters do your homework!!  There are 105, 000 and 166,00 elk in the two states combined, they may be harder to find but they’re out there.

bull elk 2

There is one hunter talking truth about elk.  He shot the first wolf killed in northern Montana, so I can’t say I’m fond of the guy but having a hunter admit the truth about elk is something to note.

“Do wolves affect elk?  Absolutely.  But in my opinion, the story of the wolves going into a basin and decimating the elk herd just isn’t true.”…..Dan Pettit

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Honesty From A Wolf Hunter About Wolves And Elk

Matt Skoglund

Wildlife Advocate, Livingston, Montana

Posted September 23, 2009

wolf and elk

In an article about the first wolf killed by a hunter in northern Montana, the hunter that killed the wolf, Dan Pettit, offers some surprisingly candid commentary on wolves and elk in the Northern Rockies.

One of the most common — and most erroneous — gripes from the anti-wolf community is that wolves have annihilated the elk population in the Northern Rockies.

When asked about wolves and elk, Pettit gave an honest answer:

“Do wolves affect elk?  Absolutely.  But in my opinion, the story of the wolves going into a basin and decimating the elk herd just isn’t true.”

Pettit is right, the “wolves have decimated all the elk” argument isn’t true, and it’s encouraging to hear a wolf hunter admit that.

What are the facts?  According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which is certainly not a wolf-loving organization, the elk population in the Northern Rockies has skyrocketed in the last twenty-five years, notwithstanding the reintroduction of wolves in the mid-1990s.  Wyoming’s elk population has grown 35%, Idaho’s has grown 5%, and Montana’s a whopping 66%.

So, how have wolves affected elk?  Simple:  the presence of wolves on the landscape has made elk act more like . . . well, ummm . . . elk.

When wolves, a native predator to the Northern Rockies, were eradicated from this region in the 1930s, elk lost their primary predator and stopped behaving like wild elk.  They became less cautious and over browsed streamside vegetation, which negatively affected beavers, songbirds, and coldwater fish species like trout.

The reintroduction of wolves has been an ecological boon to the Northern Rockies.  So much so, in fact, that scientists hope to restore wolves to other ecosystems for purely ecological reasons — chief among them the ecological devastation caused by overbrowsing elk.  An article about the need to restore wolves to Olympic National Park in Washington noted:

Most famously, [two ecologists] showed that within three years after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and elk populations fell, pockets of trees and shrubs began rebounding.  Beavers returned, coyote numbers dropped and habitat flourished for fish and birds.

It was an “explosive” discovery, said David Graber, regional chief scientist for the National Park Service.  “The whole ecosystem re-sorted itself after those wolf populations got large enough.”

The elk population in the Northern Rockies is strong — stronger than it was a quarter century ago — but elk use the landscape differently with wolves present — they use it in a more natural, ecologically friendly way.

And that means hunters have to hunt elk differently.  They need to cover more ground and move around the landscape more.  In essence, they need to hunt.

Pettit admitted that, too:

Wolves, he said, surely have changed the way deer and elk act in the wilds, and that’s changing the ways hunters must hunt.

Sure, hunters need to hunt differently nowadays, but the elk are still here, they’re here in great numbers, and hunters can still find them, as evidenced by Petit’s recent trip into the backcountry:

“But in that same small basin, on the same morning we saw the eight wolves, we also saw seven cow elk.  Right there in the same little drainage with the wolves.

The very next day, in fact, one of his hunting partners shot a five-point bull elk in the same area.

NRDC and other groups fought hard to stop the premature wolf hunts from proceeding, and it’s difficult to read about Pettit or any other hunter killing a wolf.

But it’s refreshing to see a wolf hunter finally talk straight about wolves in the heated debate over how they should be managed.  I hope others take notice.



Photos: Wiki

Categories posted in: biodiversity,  gray wolf

Tags: elk flourishing among wolves, gray wolf, wolf intolerance

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The other reason for wolves being hunted is the argument that they overpopulate: a notion that is grievously flawed yet somehow accepted by the general populace. Wildlife management, at least what what it stands for publicly, is when people try to fix what isn’t broken – then wonder why things go so wrong and then want to be patted on the back for not solving the problem but perpetuating it.

    Admittedly its great to hear some words of honesty but that does not take back what Pettit did nor his justifications for doing so – if there were any aside from his personal pleasure in killing an apex predator. If anything it makes him a hypocrite. If he truly believes what he said, he would not have bought the tag in the first place. A smug grin and a wolf skin to wipe your feet on… nice show of respect there Dan.


    • You’re so right. I really hesitated to even use Pettit’s words but I wanted to demonstrate the total disconnect hunters seem to have from the facts. If elk numbers are increasing, why are wolves being killed? Why do they need to be managed in the first place? Because of mostly preventable livestock depredations? Is it worth it to dispose of one fourth of Idaho’s wolves because ranchers won’t protect their flocks and herds? Or because the federal government refuses to stop handing out public land allotments like candy to ranchers, which cause so many of the conflicts between wolves and livestock? The wolf is not an intruder on our public lands, livestock is, yet Montana and Idaho continue to direct the wolf “management program” around the wants of a few to the disdain of the many.

      Anyone that bought a wolf tag is supporting the killing of an apex predator purely for sport and blood lust. Was the wolf reintroduced, after being brought back from the brink in the west, only to face the same attitudes and guns that silenced them in the first place?

      We have to fundamentally change attitudes towards gray wolves in the lower forty eight. I hope when and if Judge Molloy restores their ESA protections new policies will be put into place, allowing them to fully recover, encompassing their entire range, not just a fragmented population in the West. We need a complete overhaul of the bad policies and management that is directing these hunts.


  2. I do hunt elk and deer and think people maybe missing the point, wolfs do impact deer and elk populations, but what people are upset about is the impact on many small towns and businesses that lose there livly hood from lost hunting opportunitys, I dont think people hate wolfs they love elk and deer.


    • Hi Ronald,
      I do have to disagree with you about people hating wolves. There are many people that hate wolves in both Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. That hatred is real and palable. The hunts have only deepened the diivide among wolf supporters and wolf detractors. Extending the hunting season in Idaho was not a good decision. It makes Idaho look bad. Especially when wolves are being hunted so soon after their delisting. In Minnestota they have 3000 wolves who are still protected. They have stated they wouldn’t even consider a hunt for five years after delisting with long periods of public discussion. It’s pretty sad that with the land mass of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming we can’t live with 1500 (now 1300 wolves sadly) It’s embarrassing really.


  3. thats kool i guess i need betta pictures cuz my sister dont know wat elk r so im goin to show her


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