About Elk….

This is a repost from 2009, it could have been written yesterday. We’re still stuck in the same paradigm as we were three years ago. The only thing that’s changed is the viciousness of the campaign to exterminate the wolf.

December 3, 2009

The wolf debate has become intrinsically tied to elk numbers and endless conversations and arguments revolve around this subject. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation trumpeted, in an April 09 press release, that wild elk populations were higher in twenty-three states then they were twenty-five years ago, when the organization started.  YET, those facts don’t sit well with some people, who refuse to believe wolves aren’t decimating elk.  I can’t recall  how many times I’ve heard elk hunters say……Well elk may be thriving in one part of my state but their numbers are down in another area.  Or elk are harder to hunt….etc.  I agree elk are harder to hunt because they’re on high alert, acting more like, ELK.  They browse and move, browse and move. It makes hunting them more difficult but when you have a high-powered rifle and the advantage of surprise I’m not going to feel sorry if you don’t bag an elk.  It’s not the responsibility of wildlife viewers to be concerned about the success of elk hunters.

Wolf recovery and wolves presence in the Northern Rockies is not about elk hunters or hunting in general, although many people want it to be.  It’s about wolves fulfilling their role in our wild places. It’s about tolerance and allowing the wolf to be the wild animal, apex predator they are, to do their job in culling ungulates and making herds stronger, what they’ve been doing for millenia.

“The dance of life and death between predator and prey makes many of us uncomfortable, and yet, prey species are also benefiting from the return of the wolf. Unlike human hunters who target healthy adult animals, wolves cull the sick and elderly from elk, deer, moose and bison herds, reducing the spread of disease and keeping the prey population as a whole healthier.”

“It’s important to remember that predators and prey evolved in lockstep together over millions of years,”

It’s also not about conducting polls to see if  hunters are happy with wolves, or whether hunters think there are enough elk. It may be important in their world but the majority of Americans don’t hunt.

US Fish & Wildlife 2006 figures report there were 12.5 million hunters nationally with expenditures of 22.9 billion dollars.


Wildlife Watchers numbered 71.1 million and generated 45.7 billion dollars. Does it make sense that wildlife watchers have so little input in how wildlife is managed, when wildlife viewers outnumber hunters by such a large margin and generate more revenue?

Wolves have been persecuted for well over a  hundred years in the West, they were exterminated once for ranching interests by the feds.  It wasn’t until the advent of the Endangered Species Act that wolves slowly began to recover. Now the ESA is being attacked, with threats to re-write it and exclude gray wolves. The war against wolves knows no bounds. This is a perfect example of why wolves must be protected against scapegoating and persecution.

It’s constantly repeated wolves were forced on Idaho and Montana by the reintroduction program in 1995 but wolves dispersed to Glacier National Park  long before they were brought back to Yellowstone and Central Idaho by the feds.

Almost any discussion about wolves is accompanied by a critique of elk or livestock. If by some miracle we could move past these two issues and realize the wolf is a top predator that has a role to play in nature.  If emotion was replaced with science that tells us the  disappearance of apex predators around the world is causing ecosystem collapse, the science that shows the benefit wolves bring to ecosystems they inhabit, we could make progress in ending this battle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like elk, they are beautiful creatures.  Of course I like my elk living and breathing but the material point is, it’s not about elk.  It’s about wolves and what’s in their interest. They’ve been so demonized but in reality wolves are animals, the direct ancestors of our beloved dogs.There is no reason to assign motives to their behavior.  They are doing what they were born to do.

Somehow the focus must be shifted from elk, hunting, ranching, livestock and outfitters to the benefit of having apex predators on the landscape.

The dialogue concerning elk declines or increases is irrelevant to most Americans. What’s important in nature is balance, not picking one species over another. By manipulating elk numbers state game agencies have elevated elk to a god like status, woe to any predator that dares to interfere with their mission. Their transparent dislike for wolves is palpable. Neither USFWS nor the states have shown the wolf any consideration, which is evident in the way they kill entire packs including puppies. As long as this outdated mindset continues to dominant “wildlife management”, where the only priority seems to be how many prey animals are available for hunters to kill, wolves will never be safe or any predator for that matter.  What will it take to deliver the message to tone-deaf “wildlife managers’? It’s not about elk.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons and kewlwallpapers.com

Posted in:  elk flourishing among wolves, biodiversity, Canis lupus

Tags: wolf recovery, dispersing wolves, wolf myths, elk

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 1:57 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. right on. excellent assessment.

    i killed an elk in the same area i’ve been successful 4 of the last 5 years evev though in the past 2 seasons the place has become loaded w/wolves and wolf tracks. even though the hunt is definitely harder i love having other full-size predators in the elk woods with me. amazingly i saw a wolf 3 hrs before harvesting this year’s tasty old cow. we were worried the meat we left overnight might attract the great hunting dogs, but a few precautions must have worked and now we’re loaded w/prime elk meat.

    let’s get wolves in more places, but hunt the hell out of them to keep numbers stable. i’m not into killing dogs but they’re prime breeders and need to be kept scared and scarce.


    • Hi Elkamino,
      I’m glad you were successful with your hunt and that you don’t oppose wolves living and roaming free in their native habitat but I’m going to take issue with hunting them. I don’t believe in wolf hunts, I think wolves are natural dispersers and can manage themselves quite nicely without interference from game managers. But thanks for reading.

      For the wild ones,


  2. Nabeki, On Ralph’s site,there is a piece about how scarce the big game is along the Gallatin River. ***http://bozemandailychronicle.com/articles/2009/12/04/news/200elk.txt***** Can I ask you a question?There has to be other factors why the big game is low besides wolves eating them all,which I do not believe . Are you familiar with that area?


    • Hi Rita,
      Here’s some info on the Gallatin River

      Frankly as wolf advocates I think we should stop worrying about elk numbers and game numbers. To me it’s just side tracking us and getting us into discussions that are a waste of our time. That’s one of the reasons I wrote that post called “About Elk” cause I was so tired of hearing about elk and cows. I don’t think hunters and ranchers will ever be happy while wolves are out there. Wolves will be blamed for every drop off in game or every cow that’s killed when ranchers lose 90 percent of their cows to weather, reproduction, disease..etc.

      Sometimes there are drops in game populations, which can be part of a natural cycle. I do know elk numbers are up in twenty three states. Individual areas may be affected for many reasons, most of them having nothing to do with wolves.

      Hope that helps.

      For the wild ones,


  3. Nebeki,Thank You. It helps.I feel that nature takes care of itself. For the wild ones. Rita.


  4. I think we as wolf advocates need to get back to being on the offensive, for the wolves’ sake. Just completely talking about the good things they do… observations from yellowstone etc. I was in Yellowstone once and saw a pack of wolves from afar. A man from Wyoming (!) was watching and admiring them and let me view through his telescope… they were playing with pine cones. Jump on the tree and wait for the pinecone to drop, then play with it! My heart melted…


    • You are so right g. We need to stop being defensive and be offensive. I am really sick of talking about elk and cattle. It’s a way to change the subject and make wolf recovery about elk hunting and livestock. I don’t eat meat, so I’m not interested in cattle. I think all cattle should be off our public lands and as far as elk go, I think they’re beautiful and enjoy watching them.

      That must have been great watching the wolves. The are amazing social animals, so much like our pet dogs. Dogs descended from wolves 16,000 years ago as you know. I can’t imagine what goes through people’s heads that want to kill them. It boggles my mind.


  5. Yes, the psychology behind that is weird… killing wolves but love your dog. Maybe they don’t exactly love their dog…
    I have changed already to the offense.. factual info and how beautiful they are every chance I get. Now I need to do more than armchair advocacy…
    Have you seen up close on an elk – they have a “collar”? I think it is the male that has a big, furry collar around his neck, by the whithers. Kind of neat. I admire my dogs little fur collar on his neck. It puffs up sometimes..


    • Great g…
      I’m also trying to keep my focus on wolf positives. It’s so much wasted energy to sit around arguing if wolves should be allowed to exist in peace. I think of all the agencies that are involved in harassing them with collaring, tracking. They are never left alone. I’m not sure any other animal is so closely watched.

      I think elk are really amazing to look at, especially the bulls, you’re right, they do have that fluffy collar…

      Too funny on your little dogs furry collar, I always notice that my dogs fur will stand up on his back when he’s upset. Or even funnier, cat’s tails will fluff out when they’re scared or surprised.


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