The supposed highly negative effect of wolves on the elk populations in the upper Clearwater River area of North Central Idaho has long been a talking point by Idaho Fish and Game and a number of local hunting organizations and public officials.
I predicted wolves would be blamed when the elk population dropped off in the early and mid 1990s. There were very few wolves in the area until about the year 2000, however. They certainly got blamed, however, as well as all other carnivoires. The non-agency biologists I knew said the problem was a severe winter, maturation of the habitat (back to like when Lewis and Clark came through and almost starved to death) and the spread of the noxious non-native pest plant, knapweed onto what winter range remained.
I got this information today from the Wolf Education and Research Center.
As far as the Lolo goes – unit 12 has had a population problem since 1985 – Wolves did not have a foothold (according to IDF&G reports) in the area until 2000
Unit 12 Total Elk Pop 1985 = 4767
1997 = 2667
2006 = 1658
Unit 10 on the other hand has had an increase in elk since 2003 with an increase in c/c ratio to boot.
Total Elk 1989 = 11507c/c = 29.9
1998 = 5079
2003 = 2643
2006 = 3452 c/c = 29.4
This is from IDF&G 2007 Sightability Report that I got out of the Lewiston [Idaho] office from Clay Hickey.
There has been an increase in hunter harvest in the entire zone (units10 &12) since 2000. IDF&G W-170-R-30, 05/06 Elk Survey
1998 total hunters = 1533 total harvest =277
2005 total hunters = 1590 total harvest = 329
Note that “the Lolo” is the part of the area which has been perhaps the most controversial. It is in Unit 12. Unit 10 is adjacent to the west.
Elk today numbers are not anything like the 1970s (when it was predicted this elk decline would happen). However, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious “wolf appearence” effect on harvest or numbers (both have increased).
I understand the South Fork of the Clearwater (Elk City) shows even more improvement for elk.