The annual count of elk on Yellowstone’s northern range is in. It remains low compared to years past, but is about the same as a year ago — 6,738 elk compared to about 6600 in the last count, 9 months ago.
The Northern Range herd has always been controversial with its numbers called wildly excessive in the past. It reached at record high of 19,359 in late 1993. It was 17,290 in late 1994. Wolves were reintroduced 3 months later. Then, unfortunately were no elk counts until Dec. 1997 when the population was 13,400. It was known there was a great winter die-off in Jan-March 1997, but there no count made in 1996 or spring of 1997. Since then the population has had its ups and downs, but mostly downs, to the present.
By late 1997 critics had changed from saying the herd was excessively large to alarmed critics saying that wolves were killing off the herd. Some of the decline in the period 2000-2005 has been blamed on a multi-year drought. It is also pretty clear that predators are keeping the herd down in size
The herd has a greater variety of predators that any in the lower 48 states: grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, cougar, coyotes, humans (there is a hunt outside the Park), and the herd is not just a Park herd, despite the name. One elk was even killed by a wolverine. A 3-year study showed the major predator of elk calves in the herd was grizzly bears.
This is one herd probably limited by predation. The size of the human take was been reduced greatly in recent years by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
This northern range herd is one of 8 elk herds that use Yellowstone Park. Some people seem unaware of this.