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

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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.

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mskoglund/honesty_from_a_wolf_hunter_abo.html

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Photos: Wiki

Categories posted in: biodiversity,  gray wolf

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

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