Elk numbers trend down in Rocky Mountain National Park

A story in the Denver Post indicates that the National Park Service believes that the number of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park has dropped, possibly affecting the number of elk they may need to manage. Click here to read the story.


30 responses to “Elk numbers trend down in Rocky Mountain National Park

  1. Question Marion, How did the natives, moose, wolves,and grizz in Alaska make it through “eons of time” without helicopter gunning of wolves and grizzly bear?

  2. It is good to see that you back up your unsubstantiated yellowstone moose claims wtih unsubstantiated alaska moose claims. It is all about the numbers. You cant make a charge statement like wolves are killing all the moose in yellowstone without telling me that they started at X and now they are at Y. Otherwise it is just your opinion.

  3. Actually moose seem to be easier. That is the big problem in certain areas of Alaska the wolves are decimating moose to the point that no subsistence hunting can be done. So then whose right is more important, those who want unlimited carnivores or the natives who have depended on subsistence hunting for eons of time?
    One only has to figure the number of wolves x 1.7 or 1.8, that is the number of elk eaten per month by wolves, according to FWS. I don’t know why folks argue the numbers, the wolves were brought in to decrease the elk, the origianl thought was about 300 scattered thru 3 states in 10 years, we have many times that, there are half that many in Yellowsotne alone, so how could it be otherwise? They are not the only major carnivore, we also have 2 kinds of bears, lions, and coyotes. And with single digit calf survival rates the herd cannot replace the deaths of adults.
    My point about Foreign visitors is that the bulk of National Park expenses are paid for by taxpayers. So even though we are subsidized to a point, we also pay taxes to help. That is not true of foreign visitors, they pay only the subsidized fee. It is up to the rest of us to make up the balance for them. That includes the family working 2 jobs, buying their clothes at thrift stores or yard sales trying to save the money for a trip, they are subsidizing not only you and I, but also the rich foreign visitor who is spending thousands to fly here. No prejudice except making even low income people pay for their trip.
    By the way that is why if I had any clout I would scrap the present income tax and make a flat sales tax across the board. The only exemptions would be milk, bread, meat, and fruitsand vegtables, plus perhaps the first so much of utilities and fuel each month. Bare necessities in other words. It wouldn’t matter how much money the Kennedy’s and Kerrys sent over seas to protect it from our taxes, they would be taxed on what they spent. And so would anyone visiting our country.

  4. What about the moose? How can you make a statement about moose in yellowstone without telling me any numbers? Seems to me that moose would be harder to bring down than elk. Why is it necessary to put in a statement about “foreign visitors”. I am sure that the business owners in gardiner, jackson hole, west yellowstone etc. are more than happy when anyone spends money. American or otherwise.

  5. I read the report. Nowhere does it say that 300 is a maximum as you make it sound. Where can I find info on this wolf subspecies with such a slow rate of reproduction? How does this subspecies know to stay out of people’s yards? Are they extra smart? How small is this subspecies? 10% smaller than the introduced wolves? 20%? I find it VERY hard to believe that you wouldnt be thumping your chest against naturally recovered wolves killing elk and livestock.

  6. http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/FR11221994Yellowstone.htm

    This is the original classification and intent to reintroduce wolves under the experimental, non-essential classification.
    This is the original number of wolves required, which is 10/100 for each state or 30/300 for the three states, that is packs/total wolves.
    First of all we don’t even know for sure how many wolves were in Yellowstone when the bigger wolves were brought in, and what was the hurry to get lots of wolves, except to appease special interests? There is NO historical record of anything approaching the number of wolves presently in Yellowstone. There was a total of 136 wolves killed over a period of 42 years, 80 of which were pups. Since there was a bounty on them it is highly unlikely that anyone hid the wolves they killed.
    Yes that is how anything is subsidized, the amount it costs to maintain it versus the income generated. Yellowstone visits are certainly subsidized, including foreign visitors. But I was referring to recreational use of forests being subsidized.
    I thought I had answered the question of artificially introduced wolves versus a natural colonization, obviously I would not have a problem with a natural colonization. Certainly they would not be in people’s yards if they had been allowed to progress normally.
    Honestly my problem is with people from somewhere else deciding they have the right to use other people’s personal property for their own desires, and limiting the owner’s use. I feel the same about “the mouse”, even though I personally live far north of where they are artificially protected.
    I feel the griz would have done better without the government’s help, but of course that cannot be proved one way or another. It is a matter of record that they were doing ok in this state until the feds decided to improve things. They would have done fine, and will be fine without a bunch of city folk calling the shots on something they know nothing about.
    By their nature grizzly are not going to be the problem that the rapidly reproducing wolves are, now if they start trucking them down from Alaska to speed things up, that might change. There is limited space for all of us, including predators.
    I lump the wolf populations together because we know wolves travel hundreds of miles. The wolf killed in eastern Montana was a breed of Great Lakes, Canadian/Alaskan and “lower 48” which is the Rocky Mtn wolves as far as I know. Wolves are being seen in the Dakotas, whether from the Rockies or the Great Lakes I don’t know. Could be either or both.
    There are no historic numbers of moose as far as I know, and there is no count now. In fact only the Northern elk herd is counted regularly, although a study was being done until a couple of years ago on the Norris elk herd which had dropped from a steady population of 600 to 240 with a calf survival of 0-6 per hundred cows. Grizzly are tracked, and I don’t believe anything else is being followed. I asked a year or so ago about black bears since it is now more common to see a griz thatn a black bear, and was told they aren’t worried and have not counted for 20 years.
    I think the wolf introduction was a big mistake from a biological standpoint that should consider all wildlife, but my problem is with the assault on private property, and the taking of (the use of) private property without just compensation, to say nothing of making the victims pay for it.

  7. I left a good link about rancher subsidies (what they are getting) for you on here about a month back. Did you read it? How is a visitor to yellowstone subsidized (how much it costs to maintain the park vs # of visiors?) Never said ranchers wiped out the griz. Never even commented on how they became endangered. I said the feds were necessary to bring them back from the brink. Seems like you read what you want to read. What are historic moose numbers in yellowstone? I have seen them the last three times i was there (as far west as little america). Lase june I even saw a moose chasing an agate wolf. Amazing site. Your pup theory would hold if pup survival was 100% which isnt even close… I fail to see how genetically a couple of wolves wandering yellowstone would have built a healthy pupulation. Also, I ask you for the millionth time, would you have as big problem with wolves had they reproduced naturally instead of being reintroduced? I think you would whine just as much. how can you lump the great lakes wolf population with the yellowstone population? What is 30/300? Can you link me to the original wolf plan you keep referring to? Was it just a minimum guideline?

  8. I absolutely do believe that the wolves would have recolonized, they already were in the park, that is documented. There were and are approximately 60,000 in Canada that were already relocating. They had to change the justification from none to not a breeding pair to justify what they were doing. And who knows if even that was true.
    The eagles were saved by banning the pesticide that softened their egg shells. Now we have the idiotic situation that even an American Indian cannot pick a road kill eagle up much less anyone else.
    As for the grizzly, read Track of a Grizzly by Craighead. It was management by politically correct government biologists that decimated the grizzlies, not ranchers. It was a money maker for them though, they are spending millions each year following them.
    The ranchers report is a matter of record now. I’m not sure why you doubt him….just because you do not want to believe that wolves will wipe out moose? Remember whatever studies they might have done on the effects of wolves were predicated on 30/300 in 10 years for all three states. We have close to 5 times that.
    Over and over I hear that wolves will not completely wipe out their prey, I have yet to see any animal count to see how much food was left.
    Exactly how much goes to subsidize ranchers, and what is it they are getting? I know you feel that they should pay “market price” for grazing, and I’ve said this before, ranchers do the fencing cleaning water supplies, controlling weeds, etc. that they would not do on private range. In addition they provide winter feed for tens of thousands of animals in the aggregate. Depending on the size of the ranch how many and what kind. Recreation is subsidized too, do you feel you should pay whatever it would cost to have a similar experience commercially? What do recreationalists give back? Piles of human waste?
    The moose are gone from Yellowstone except for a few around the NE entrance and Tower. NPS has removed the moose viewing information kiosk in Willow Flats that has been there forever. There are no more moose there. What few elk are left in that area calve in those willows. I can see them from the road hiding in the willows that have gotten tall enough to hide them since the moose are gone.
    Last summer I saw a moose and calf along North fork, and some motorcyclists stopped and looked at them until they ran into the trees. Anyhow they asked me if that was really moose, and I told them yes, they said they had always heard about moose in Yellowstone, but never saw one during the week they had just spent there. Needless to say they were thrilled. Apparently those two are still alive and well, someone saw them just a couple of weeks ago.
    Read Kathie Lynch’s report on Ralph’s site and see how many litters of pups are being born, and think how many elk it is going to take to feed them, to say nothing of the bears and lions, and there just aren’t many left.
    Right now there are close to 6000 wolves spread across the northern part of the country from here to Minnesota, and it isn’t enough. The lawsuits are flying to keep the Great Lake Wolves listed.

  9. Do you honestly believe the wolf would have recolonized the area, that the bald eagle would have been saved and that the grizzley bear would have been saved if the federal government hadn’t stepped in? The reality of life is that we all pay a rediculous amount of taxes. That money goes to a lot of things, many we support and many we don’t. I lose a chunk of my paycheck every week to pay for subsidizing ranchers, they are taking a financial hit to subsidize my love of wildlife…
    Also, spreading unsubstantiated claims about wolf damage is hardly productive. When stories of dead moose for example get passed from person to person it is natural that the facts change and get overblown. Pretty soon it will be 50 dead moose. The same things happen when people (i am not accusing you of saying this) say that they see 200lb wolves.

  10. Part of the problem is that those who forced the wolves on us said we had to raise 30/300 between the states. Now that we have many, many times that, suddenly they think we won’t keep our word, excuse me who lied?
    Only someone wearing blinders can go to Yellowstone and not see that the elk have virtually disappeared. They are not even releasing the March count, I suspect they are afraid it will cause even more friction. The elk calf retention rates are so low that the herds cannot build back the numbers.
    I see the problem as a problem with the ESA, and it’s single species focus to begin with. Secondly they wanted lotta wolves so much that no one tried to figure out how they could keep them within a reasonable number.
    Enviros may indeed force ranchers off the land, but they will not give the land to those who caused them so much grief, they will sell it to either developers or big corporate ranches that have enough money to fight.
    Last night, I heard one rancher talk of finding 15 wolf killed moose along Gooseberry creek, another wintered a couple thousand elk, and now half are gone, another has gone out in the morning and found 4 dead calves lying in the pasture, wolf kills, not eaten. She had a lot of photos on an exhibit board, and I wish I could show you.
    The states were told their G&F could manage the wolves if they would come up with an acceptable plan and take over the cost while this works thru the courts. As one Idahoan reminded them, when it was all said and done, they said nope they could not manage the wolves to save another species, in the case they requested permission to control the wolves it is an elk herd, but they lied.
    The people of Wyoming and the other states have played by the rules, and gotten kicked in the teeth and called names for our efforts. If you think it would not have been possible in wide open remote country like this to have kept the wolf numbers similar to Arizona/New Mexico, you don’t know reality. Instead we have growth that exceeded anything any of the experts predicted, and we are told we can’t manage the wolves, we can’t be trusted. We are being judged by the enviros by their own standards of truthfulness, it seems to me.
    As the crowd was reminded last night, the black foot ferret was saved, not by an environmental group, but by a Wyoming rancher….and they didn’t have to raise funds and go to court to do it!

  11. This blog is meant to provide a source for news, commentary, and (civilized) debate. If you read through the posts during the past several months, you’ll see that the debate has been, often, lively. To date, I’ve not deleted or otherwise censored any posts, and I aim to keep it that way. Nonetheless, Sinapu is an organization that is rooted deep in the belief that we have an obligation to give a voice to the needs of Nature; wherever possible, we will do that with the backing of thoughtful scientific inquiry. For it is no small task to stand tall against the voracious appetites of humanity, while at-the-same-time recognizing that humanity is part of Nature.

    So it is that we provide a room in cyberspace for all to learn, to question, to debate, and to go away wanting more. If you post here and I happen to come along and place an editorial note within your post, know that if I had the chance I’d be patting you on the back and offering you a beer as we wrestle with these ideas. There is room here, and moss enough to invite the sitting. Stay awhile.

  12. Steve-
    No one loves Nature more than a hunter. All walks of life have bad apples.
    I came to this website not for the environmental news, but the advertised Conservationist news. There is a vast differance.

  13. JW, I didn’t mean to make it seem like all hunters are bad. There are a portion of hunters who give you all a bad name. I personally do not support hunting things that you don’t eat, that is all i was trying to say. I guess whether or not this is an extremist site is your own opinion. I, personally just love wildlife and the outdoors, wouldnt consider myself an extremist. Unless my belief that hunters and ranchers can coexist with wolves without them being nearly exterminated in idaho and wyoming is extreme… I come to this site and sites like it because i find the environmental news stories compiled here very interesting.

  14. Steve-
    I believe your characterization of hunters shooting at anything that moves is grossly in the minority and you speak as though it might be in epidemic proportion. Most state game agencies encourage the shooting of coyotes. If coyotes appear be shot and left for dead it is probably because they were able to evade the hunter after the wounding shot and the hunter couldn’t find the animal for proper harvesting. I came to this website because it advertises as “Conservationist” and because I have a fondness for Wolves, but I’m coming to believe this is another environmental/animal extremist rights website.
    I should have guessed Sniapu’s radicalness sooner when you are based out of The DDR of Boulder.

  15. JW, I have respect for ungulate hunters. You shoot it you eat it. I think they have many of the same goals and recognize many of the same threats to our lands as the “enviros”. It is the “shoot anything that moves” hunters who I have no use for and who really make it hard for me to support hunting in general. When I was an undergraduate I studied radiocollared coyotes. We had a number who were shot by hunters and left for dead, just because they were there…

  16. Ahhh, Steve, never said I didn’t accept them your ample citations. Cite them when you say them. Lighten up. Are we conservationist or anti-hunters here?? I love the wolf and don’t want it delisted, but I also love hunting elk.

  17. JW, if you follow this site regularly you would see ample citations supporting the views of the editor of the site. Whether or not you choose to accept them is your choice.

  18. It was a little disturbing. I get pretty uncomfortable whenever someone makes it look easy to get close to unpredictable wildlife (grizzly man especially). If replaying howls do keep wolves away from livestock then they would not associate that sound with actual wolves. At least the ones that have never seen a wolf. I am also sure that the sounds of gunshots would also scare livestock.

  19. Mr (or Ms) Editor-
    When you claim assertions made by others fly in the face of scientific evidence, please provide citations to your evidence. Thanks.

  20. I tried, but it just got too weird for me. Chewing on a carcass, and licking tongues with the wolves was a little more than I can deal with. I wondered if he even went to the sniffing that canines do.
    His theory is interesting, it would be nice if it worked, but wolves fight each other all of the time for territory. In fact last spring one of the resident packs in the Lamar lost both litters of their pups when they were invaded by another pack, dubbed “Unknowns”. I’m sure howling was going on all of the time.
    The other consideration is the fright to the animals that listen to the howls. It seems that both sheep and cattle are already very very frightened and losing weight if they are being harassed by wolves. I would think that this might make them even more afraid to eat and drink.

  21. Not to change the subject, but did anyone see the national geographic special about the guy who lived with captive wolves? He is trying to develop a very interesting method of keeping wolves away from livestock. If ranchers play recorded wolf howls through loudspeakers whenever wild wolves are heard howling it is theorized that the wild wolves would stay away thinking that a wolf pack is already living there. Just shows that if we use a little imagination and stop being so stubborn that we can find a way to coexist.

  22. Rob, there are a couple of problems that I see with this, it does not address the extremely low calf retention rate, which would impact the herd markedly even if there were no wolves eating adult elk. Without calves the herd will continue to decline. I am aware the bears are the majority taker of calves during the first month of life, unfortuately we never heard the results of any winter predation study, if they did one.
    It mentions hunting although the licenses dropped from about 2500 pre wolf to 100 a year ago, and I don’t know if there were any this year, or ever will be again.
    I believe the wolves average 1.8 elk per month per each, so for 136 wolves known to be in the park, which is almost 2500 head of elk. The 21% decline anually in the size of the herd seems about what is happening, which is much higher than orginally predicted. The original plan predicted a decrease in the herd at close to 30% total, of course it is much higher. I’m not sure how they arrived at the 1035 number, but that is less than 10 elk per wolf, which would be less than 1 per month. Maybe they used the 13,000
    drop in herd size and divided by the 11years.
    Certainly the elk counts and the report are written by wolf biologists working in Yellowstone, so that would seem scientific.
    One of my concerns is the fact that Wyoming will be required to keep 8 packs of wolves in Yellowstone as a part of the plan the FWS wants. I question whether there is enough prey for that many wolves and the bears and lions too. What is going to happen if Yellowstone cannot support that many wolves and yet Wyoming is required to as a condition of keeping them delsited…..providing of course they are delisted someday?
    This area is unique in that it is the only area anywhere in the lower 48 to have all 5 major predators, and they all need to eat.
    I’m really not trying to be argumentative, but there are some real concerns that affect everyone of us living in the area.
    I really do appreciate you allowing me to post some of these concerns for discussion even though I know we disagree.

  23. Marion, the FWS wolf weekly reports are not science, and as far as I can see, they do not implicate wolves in the decline of the elk population. The most recent peer-reviewed scientific information on this topic, published in the journal of Ecological Modeling in 2006 indicates that the combination of wolf predation and hunter harvest will have a stabilizing effect on the Northern Range herd.

    Here’s the entirety of the abstract from that paper, with the citation at the end.

    Ecological models have their greatest potential for conservation in the context of adaptive management, but there are few examples where models have been updated as new data have become available. We update a predator–prey model built to anticipate the consequences of wolf (Canis lupus) reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park, with new data accumulated since wolves were released in 1995. Observed response to wolf recovery allows us to evaluate our ability to predict system dynamics and thereby address concerns about future impacts of predation on elk (Cervus canadensis) numbers and harvest by hunters. Structural assumptions of the model include a dynamic carrying capacity for elk, Kelk(t), varying as a function of winter severity and summer forage production. During severe winters the aerial extent of Yellowstone’s Northern Range gets smaller resulting in density-dependent migration of elk outside the park where they are subject to hunter harvest. The updated model predicts that hunter harvest of elk will cause a decline of mean herd size relative to that expected without harvest. Wolf predation results in a further 21% reduction in elk herd size with wolf consumption averaging approximately 1035 elk annually. Elk harvest is reduced by wolves yet annual hunter harvest was sustained at an average of 1089 elk. Predation and hunter harvest is density-dependent providing a stabilizing influence that reduces the risk of severe elk population decline. Using simulation models in adaptive management of the wolf–ungulate system in Yellowstone reinforces agency management policies, especially the density-dependent harvest quota for elk.

    From: N. Varley, M.S. Boyce / Ecological Modelling 193 (2006) 315–339

  24. Editor’s Note: See the post below in answer to this post]
    Please compare these reports on Yellowstone (which is what I specifically addressed) and remember they were hot to get wolves to control the numbers because there were 19,000 elk in the northern herd.
    I welcome having my errors pointed out. It is true that they did not count the elk the first year or so after the wolves were brought in and there was a major winter during that time. So that has to be factored in, however the calf/cow rate has remained in the teens and some cases single digits for some years now. It is thought the calf/cow ratio needs to be in the 30-40/100 to maintain a healthy herd. The herd numbers have continued to decline since that time.
    You will note the 06 report states they did no population count in 2006, while the January 07 report says they counted 6588. I would appreciate knowing why the discrepancy if anyone knows.

    The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group conducted its annual late winter classification of northern Yellowstone elk on March 23, 2006. A total of 3,649 elk were classified as bulls, cows, or calves. Estimated sex and age ratios were 24 calves and 20 bulls per 100 cows. The overall ratio of 24 calves/100 cows is higher than the 12-14 calves/100 cows during 2002-2005 and within the range observed the previous 6 years. The working groups’ annual winter population trend count for elk was unable to be conducted this past winter because of lack of snow and unusually windy conditions

    This year’s count of 6,738 elk was similar to the count of 6,588 elk in March 2006, but significantly lower than the 9,545 elk counted in January 2005. “This decrease in counted elk likely reflects the continuing effects of predation by wolves and other large carnivores, as well as decreased detection of elk within Yellowstone due to anti-predation behaviors

  25. [Editor’s note: Once again, our friend Marion comes through with unsubstantiated assertions that wolves are decimating the ungulate populations in Wyoming, and once again, these assertions fly in the face of much scientific research to the contrary. Nonetheless, in the spirit of free seech, here it is:].
    Surely no one in Colorado want to see as few elk as they now see in Yellowstone. I met some Colorado photographers last fall who had not been to the Park for a couple of years, and they were shocked at how few elk they saw.
    Since the wolves are an endangered species even when they are “experimental non-essential”, they are managed for maximum increase irregardless of the impact on the prey species. Over 60% of the Yellowstone elk are gone, but the wolves are thriving.

  26. Human hunting is controlable, wolf hunting is not.

  27. The bulk of scientific evidence indicates that hunting is always the best means of wildlife control.
    [Editor’s note: We ask our readers to help increase the nase of knowledge by providing citations for assertions of scientific fact. This post fits the bill. Please provide cites that show that hunting is better than naturally regulated populations. Thanks.]

  28. The best predatory balance to controling the RMNP Elk would be HUNTING!

    [Editor’s Note: That is one opinion, though the bulk of scientific evidence indicates that huntimg/culling will not solve RMNP’s problems. Rather, the only long-term solution to the problem is to have a restored wolf population moving the elk around as they have for millenia.]

  29. Well put! Sadly however, I doubt we’ll see wolves here in Colorado (other than the occasional drifter) for a while.
    I do want to note though, that not once did the article present the possibility that numbers are declining because the elk have eaten themselves out of a food source. That also shows that predatory balance needs to be restored.
    I am hoping that wolves come in on their own, and make it to ‘The Park’. Then they’d be protected.
    But, unfortunately, I think they’d probably come in on the side of Colorado that hosts a lot of ranchers. That could spell disaster.

  30. One of my favorite quotes from the Yellowstone National Park web-site:
    “Following Rush’s (1932) assessment of the northern range as overgrazed, the National Park Service began monitoring the range annually, and frequently calculated carrying capacities (Tyers 1981). In 1933, for example, National Park Service staff estimated the carrying capacity as 6,565 elk; U.S. Forest Service personnel estimated it as 5,341. In 1935, it was estimated as 7,000, and because the estimated population of elk was 12,000, a reduction of 5,000 was recommended. Similar numbers were repeated later in the decade. By 1953, a winter population of 5,000 was suggested for a three- to six-year trial period to test research hypotheses, similar to estimates made by the Soil Conservation Service in 1963 (Cooper 1963). From 1954 through 1968, an average of 1,324 elk were shot in the park annually, and elk counts averaged around 5,370 through 1968, when in-park removals stopped (Houston 1982). In 1964, the National Park Service issued a report summarizing the goal of elk reductions:

    When beaver can be restored to the Lamar Valley and find ample willow, aspen and cottonwood for their dams and food, and when bighorn populations regain vigor, then some Park officials believe the desirable balance will have been achieved. It will not remain static, it will fluctuate, but Park visitors will have a richer Park experience because of wise management (quoted in Tyers 1981).”

    A couple of interesting points about this statement: First, the willow, cottonwood and aspen did not start making a comeback until wolves were re-introduced. Why? Because this recovery had nothing to do with the NUMBER of elk, but rather the HABITS of elk. It took the return of the keystone predator to alter elk HABITS. The second interesting point: How incredibly close the estimated northern range carrying capacity back then is to the actual population today (@6800), and not anywhere close to the 19,000 elk we had for one year only in 1994.
    Is history about to repeat itself in RMNP?