Latest is 4,635 elk, count is down 24 percent from 6,070 last winter-
Wolf population was over 100, 5 years ago; now down to 37-*
Update. Leader of the Yellowstone wolf team, Dr. Doug Smith talks about the elk situation on Montana Public Radio News. Note that it is not the first story in the “evening news.”
Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks – Contact: Karen Loveless
National Park Service – Contact: Doug Smith 307-344-2242
U.S. Forest Service – Contact: Dan Tyers 406-848-7375
U.S. Geological Survey – Contact: Paul Cross 406-994-6908
January 12, 2011
Winter Count Shows Decline In Northern Elk Herd Population
Wildlife biologists say increased predation, ongoing drought, and hunting
pressure all contributed to a decline in the northern Yellowstone elk
population from 1995 to 2010.
The annual aerial survey of the herd conducted during December 2010
resulted in a count of 4,635 elk, down 24 percent from the 6,070 reported
the previous year. There has been about a 70 percent drop in the size of
the northern elk herd from the 16,791 elk counted in 1995 and the start of
wolf restoration to Yellowstone National Park.
decline in elk numbers. Wolves in northern Yellowstone prey primarily on
elk. Also, predation on newborn elk calves by grizzly bears may limit the
elk population’s ability to recover from these losses.
Drought conditions experienced during the early 2000s appear to have
impacted the nutrition and abundance of forage, and may have lowered
reproduction rates in some elk.
The number of permits issued for the antlerless Gardiner Late Elk Hunt
declined from 1,102 in 2005 to just 100 permits during the 2006-2010
seasons. The late season hunt was eliminated altogether for 2011.
The number of grizzly bears seen on the northern range during elk calving
season has decreased slightly in recent years. Also, the wolf population
on the northern range inside Yellowstone National Park has dropped from 94
wolves in 2007 to 37 wolves in 2010. Biologists suspect predator numbers
may be responding somewhat to the decline in the elk population.
Biologists expect the reduction in the number of wolves and the elimination
of the late season hunt will result in some increase in the elk population.
The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group will continue
to monitor trends of the northern Yellowstone elk population and evaluate
the relative contribution of various components of mortality, including
predation, environmental factors, and hunting.
The Working Group was formed in 1974 to cooperatively preserve and protect
the long-term integrity of the northern Yellowstone winter range for
wildlife species by increasing our scientific knowledge of the species and
their habitats, promoting prudent land management activities, and
encouraging an interagency approach to answering questions and solving
The Working Group is comprised of resource managers and biologists from the
Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, National Park Service (Yellowstone
National Park), U.S. Forest Service (Gallatin National Forest), and U.S.
Geological Survey-Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman.
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*My note. This is the northern range, not the entire Park. There are a number of other elk herds that live in the Park all, or part of the year. Most of these other elk herds are in decline too, but not the largest, the Jackson Hole elk herd. The Park has slightly over 100 wolves at the end of the year. 37 of them are on the northern range. The Park wolf population has been declining in size too.
People focus on the northern range because it is the best known of the Park’s elk herds, is the best elk habitat year round, and it has been the focus of controversy for over a hundred years now. The number of deer and pronghorn are stable and bighorn sheep are increasing on the northern range. Ralph Maughan