Gray Wolves Impact Elk

Yellowstone-wolves-impact-elk

Photo by Steven Robertson

 

 

How wolves in Yellowstone have impacted their environment is an evolving story, but federal biologists have tried to match what they predicted a decade ago in an Environmental Impact Statement, with what’s happened regarding ungulate populations, hunter harvest, domestic livestock, and land use. Their research was published in the winter 2005 edition of Yellowstone Science. Authors include P.J. White, the park’s ungulate biologist; Doug Smith, the park’s wolf biologist; Terry McEneaney, the park’s ornithologist; Glenn Plumb, the park’s supervisory wildlife biologist; Mike Jimenez, the Wyoming wolf project leader for the U.S. Fish %26 Wildlife Service; and John Duffield, a professor of economics for the University of Montana.

Here are some of their findings:
–Wolves are altering the abundance, distribution, group sizes, movements and vigilance of elk. There are some indications that these interactions may be causing new growth in willows as elk are kept on the move by wolves and don’t stay to browse in any one area very long.

–Elk are the primary prey for wolves, comprising 92 percent of kills during the winter.

–In the early stages of wolf recovery (1995-2000) predation effects were not detected because the elk count was similar to 1980-1994.

–Counts of elk decreased significantly from 16,791 in winter 1995 to 8,335 in winter 2004 as the number of wolves on the northern range increased from 21 to 106. Factors contributing to this decrease include bear and wolf predation, increased human harvests, winter-kill (1997), and drought’s impact.

–Wolves have not reduced mule deer or bison populations. Mule deer remain within 1 percent of a 17-year average of 2,014 deer, while the bison population grew 15 percent. There are no reliable estimates of moose populations following wolf restoration. Moose represent less than 4 percent of wolf diets in winter and only 26 instances of wolf predation on moose were recorded in Yellowstone during 1995-2003.

–Kill rates by wolves in winter are 22 ungulates per wolf per year – higher than the 12 ungulates per wolf rate predicted in the ESA.

–Since 2000, wolves have caused 45 percent of known deaths and 75 percent of predation deaths (not including human harvests) of radio-collared female elk on the northern range. By comparison, human harvest and winter-kill accounted for 30 percent and 8 percent respectively of the known deaths.

–The average annual harvest of 1,372 elk during the Gardiner late elk hunts from 1995 to 2004 was higher than the long-term average of 1,014 elk during 1976-1994. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has reduced antlerless permits by 51 percent from 2,882 to 1,400 during 2000-2004 and recently proposed 100 permits for 2006 – a 96 percent decrease from the 2,660 permits issued in 1995.

Comment Feed

27 Responses

  1. I am sickened by what is happening to our elk herds in the Rockies. Decades of restoration to get the herds to where they were in 1995 only to have this devastation turned loose on them. Thankfully we now have them delisted so we can regain control of this wildlife disaster. Everyone involved in the release of the wolves should be ashamed of what they have done.

  2. The title is incorrect. It is “Gray CANADIAN Wolves”

  3. The title is incorrect. It is “Gray CANADIAN Wolves”

  4. Kayt is it a certainty they were Canadian rather than North AMERICAN Wolves

  5. In all honesty, the wolves are benefiting the elk in all aspects. Yes some are dying but it’s not like human hunters that just take what they want and leave the rest. The elk were–and are too populated in many areas. They are eating themselves into starvation by destroying their only food sources. Since they aren’t used to having a predator, such as the wolf, the elk don’t migrate as much, therefore their browsing lands don’t get the resting time they need to regenerate and keep healthy. So, the elk are the problem; the wolves are the solution. Plus, would you rather have something natural like a wolf taking down elk in smaller quantities or would you rather have Park Sharpshooters going in with silencers to cull the elk in mass hoards? Your choice. You, Russell, should be “ashamed.” I like elk just as much as the next person, but I also LOVE a healthy ecosystem. Without the wolves or some sort of natural predator, the ecosystem will die. Then who’s shoulders would it be on, Russell?

  6. 5.In all honesty, the wolves are benefiting the elk in all aspects. Yes some are dying but it’s not like human hunters that just take what they want and leave the rest. The elk were–and are too populated in many areas. They are eating themselves into starvation by destroying their only food sources. Since they aren’t used to having a predator, such as the wolf, the elk don’t migrate as much, therefore their browsing lands don’t get the resting time they need to regenerate and keep healthy. So, the elk are the problem; the wolves are the solution. Plus, would you rather have something natural like a wolf taking down elk in smaller quantities or would you rather have Park Sharpshooters going in with silencers to cull the elk in mass hoards? Your choice. You, Russell, should be “ashamed.” I like elk just as much as the next person, but I also LOVE a healthy ecosystem. Without the wolves or some sort of natural predator, the ecosystem will die. Then who’s shoulders would it be on, Russell?

    Look at the bigger picture instead of just one thing.

  7. You better read a few of the other studies done where wolves are left alone Tyler. With your attitude, you will no doubt see the extermination of elk in yellowstone. It is happening already. Elk are no where close to holding their own in any sense of the word. When the last elk is gone, the wolves will move on, and we will have to deal with that situation also.

    We could talk moose, but there are very few left now…thanks to the wolves. They may already be gone.

    A better solution overall would have been to have some permit hunting in yellowstone. If they did that with bison, we would not have a bison problem, either.

  8. wolves are a burden on eco systems, im from alaska and i have seen the impacts of them first hand. Take my word once a food source runs out they will move on. i have seen it. i just wish i hadnt seen wolves hanging around our local elementary school in eagle river alaska…..just saying sir just saying

  9. I have a qustion. If wolves are such a burden to and always destoying ecosystems, why is it that wolves,wapiti,moose,bears,buffalo,and beavers could all live together happily during and after the ice age, but today they all have to be “managed” by humans. Please stop posting about things you don’t know about and LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE!

    Wolf LoverMay 6, 2012 @ 6:48 pm
  10. wolves were in ecosystems with elk long before humans came along, and those ecosystems were in perfect balance for thousands of years before humans came and killed the wolves. The elk obviously were not exterminated then, so why would it happen now when the wolves were reintroduced?

  11. Exactly!

    Wolf LoverMay 7, 2012 @ 6:32 pm
  12. It would not be a problem if the right species of wolves were introduced.

  13. There are thousands and thousands of square miles in the intermountain West of forest and vegetation, infinitely more than any herds of ungulates can digest.

    And the popular notion that predators only take the sick and wounded is false. Wolves, with their great stamina, take down the strong and the weak alike.

    To achieve a true balance, there needs to be a hunting season on wolves as well as other animals.

  14. After doing a significant amount of research, it seems to me that wolves aren’t really the main cause of the decline in elk population- however, it would be wrong to say that they have no effect at all.

    Another point brought to my attention is that most of the anti-wolf campaigners have one thing in common- they all hunt elk!

    This – to me – shows that they are only interested in having elk there for the human hunters to kill.

    Maybe a ban on hunting for a year or two could help boost numbers? Just a suggestion.

    Please don’t get up in arms against me, as I am trying to look at this from an unbiased viewpoint. From my findings, there seems to be a lot of scientific evidence supporting the view that wolves are not hugely responsible! Again, however, it would be false to say that they do not influence elk populations at all.

  15. Hey folks,

    just thought I’d chime in from a non-hunter wolf-loving perspective. There are a lot of factors that have to be considered when we look at the decline of any wild or game animal population. The first and most important factor to consider is the elimination of a species’ habitat. Habitat loss is the number one cause of game species decline in the United States. It’s also a huge factor in the wolf / elk interaction because the Elk herds of the post-ice age were not confined to any specific area but were free to migrate wherever they chose (or better said, wherever the Wolf population was low). With the elimination of natural habitat, the introduction of roads, etc, we’ve drastically shifted the balance in favor of the wolf. They are much more highly adaptable, breed at an alarming rate, are capable of surviving off of household garbage, etc. Elk traditionally inhabited lowlands until white settlers drove the smart elk into the mountain ranges. Elk no longer have the option to remain in the lowlands as human over-crowding has displaced them. Unlike the wolf they are not capable of adapting so readily to the human bi-products. How many of you have had Elk digging through your garbage lately? Or as Jerry hinted, eating school children? Elk eat grasses and foliage, something which isn’t that easy to get in the high country (trust me, I’ve been there). With the pressure from humans driving the Elk into non-choice feeding grounds, the impact of wolves (who do NOT eat the entire kill btw), there’s no wonder the Elk are dropping in numbers. So John, in a post-ice age environment with little human pressure the wolf would be able to balance the Elk population and maintain a healthy eco-system ‘perfectly’. However unless we’re willing to drop our impact to that of the cave-man (who incidentally was most likely an elk hunter ;-), it’s unlikely that there will be room in this eco-stystem for the wolf at any population density. The big point to consider is that the idealic eco-system for the wolf / elk interaction doesn’t exist and is unlikely to exist again.
    In reference to the statement that ‘hunters just want the elk for themselves,’ I’d like to say this. Shame on you! Shame on you that the only people here who actually care about the Elk population are hunters. Did you know that the majority of funding for Washington State Fish and Wildlife department comes from Fishermen and Hunters? Washington State hunters by their own request now pay a tax on ALL hunting related purchases (such as camo, etc.) to further fund WSDFW? That means that hunters and fishermen are paying for the maintenance and management of all of our game herds here in WA. I assume and hope that the same level of respect and integrity for wildlife is carried out by local hunters in all 50 states. So yes, of course hunters want some elk to themselves. If I had the choice between feeding an apex predator that was imported from another country or my family of seven, I’d choose to feed my family. Wolves don’t pay trailhead fees, or licensing fees, or taxes…wolves don’t pay government salaries, hunters do. Responsible hunters also hunt surplus population (which has dwindled significantly here in WA) and would NEVER depopulate the breeding stock (as established by fish and wildlife). So, to sum all of this nonsense up…Wolves used to be the apex predator and put the majority of pressure on Elk population…grazing land and migratory patterns were HUGE before ‘man ever came around.’ Face the facts people, man came around and we’re here to stay. Our population is growing and will only put more pressure on the elk population simply by building our homes, driving our priuses on roads made of asphalt, and putting up fences. Hunters are the least of the Elk’s problem, in fact I think they’re the only ones looking out for the Elk at this point.

    Seriously though, wolves are awesome creatures, they’re certainly worthy of our respect. But as responsible stewards of our land and wild game populations we have to take everything into consideration. This is not the stone age, and never will be…time to open our eyes and realize that we can’t recreate everything we’ve destroyed…let the wolf go.

    James from WAJuly 17, 2012 @ 10:07 am
  16. Very well put James!

  17. The major hit to elk populations came in the exact years of the spike in hunting permits, 1995 to 2004. And of cources there’s the permitted grazing of the park by ranchers as well as illegal grazing that the park service has been budgetarily prevented from halting. Also, logging increased, there’s drilling and mining at the fringes of the parks and within at places. But, oh no, a hundred wolves are to blame for a regional problem. That’s, at best, irrational thinking.

    John SteinerSeptember 2, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
  18. The moose are mostly untouched by wolves. If any animal is capable of fending off wolf attacks it’s moose. The reason the elk are dying is more due to domestic cattle grazing, pollution of the water table by mining and drilling as well as excessively high hunting permits.

    John SteinerSeptember 2, 2012 @ 1:16 pm
  19. Wolves are the keystone species that enhance ecosystems. As ninety-seven percent of Alaska is open to oil drilling maybe you should look there for the sharp drop in wildlife populations.

    John SteinerSeptember 2, 2012 @ 1:17 pm
  20. I take it you don’t know about the hazzards to genetic health of a species when their numbers are too low. A hundred wolves is a number so low we biologists call it a disaster. The obvious answer is less human hunting, less domestic cattle grazing, less mining, less logging and less drilling.

    John SteinerSeptember 2, 2012 @ 1:21 pm
  21. No, you’re absolutely correct. Furthermore, wolves are disinclined to go after a major and healthy male elk, yet those are the individuals suffering the most in the years described. So unless the wolves got really clever, got thumbs and used rifles we can’t point to them as the cause.

    John SteinerSeptember 2, 2012 @ 1:25 pm
  22. It seems that there is a lot of nonsense being talked here. It’s as though people are just writing their opinions and ignoring the facts in the article.

    1. Wolves kill, on average, 22 elk each per year. That means that 100 wolves in Yellowtone will kill 2200 elk per year. The current elk population, which is now down to less than 5000 elk cannot sustain that.

    2. Blaming the hunters is nonsense. Even with licenses down to 100 per year, the elk populations are still falling. Also, hunts can always be quickly adjusted to accommodate elk numbers. Wolf predation cannot.

    3. I just spent 2 days in Yellowstone last week. I saw only one group of elk. It had 6 adult females, but only 1 calf. Who do you think is killing the calves. Certainly not the hunters. And since calves are not radio collared, but are killed by wolves, the real number for elk deaths by wolves is likely higher than 45%.

    4. The habitat argument is also a false one. I saw meadow after meadow in Yellowstone without a single ungulate. The grass was deep and rich and not an elk in any of the thirty or fourty large meadows that we passed. The one group that we did see were in the deep woods. Many of those meadows had streams running through them and they would have been perfect moose habitat. But we didn’t see a single moose in Yellowstone. The only moose we saw was about 2 miles outside Jackson on the elk reserve.

    For James from WA – I live in the Denver suburbs. We see elk walking around our neighborhood from time to time. In Estes Park you can see them walking all over town in September and October. And they are not stressed. The take their time, browsing on lawns and tree foliage as they go.

  23. I think you need to take a look at “the bigger picture” the wolves that were released in 1995-1996 were from the the subspecies C. l. occidentalis, a significantly larger animal, over 30% larger than subspecies C. l. irremotus (the native wolves to yellowstonen). These larger wolves are killing almost two times as many elk each year than what was originally estimated! The elk population was cut in half in just 9 years!!!! (dropping from 16,791 to 8,335 as the number of wolves on the northern range increased from 21 to 106)!!! These are hard facts supported by the parks service!
    Your false, ignorant and misinformed comment about “hunters that just take what they want and leave the rest” is so far off base I shouldn’t even respond to it but I believe it stems from a lack of education about hunting and ethics. It is illegal to shoot any animal and just take what you want and leave the rest! Hunters are the worlds most active and dedicated conservationists!
    My main point in this comment is to encourage more people learn about what the wolves are really doing to our elk populations and how much money it is costing the states to keep them around. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposed only 100 elk hunting permits for 2006 which is a 96% decrease from the 2,660 permits issued in 1995 for the areas around Yellowstone! That is a 96% cut in revenue that was generated by those hunting tags that could have gone to other parks programs.

  24. These wolves are native to areas close the arctic circle, they evolved hunting caribou which is much more adapted at evading the canadian wolf. The original Idaho wolf was more comparable to the Mexican wolf in size and behavior. The canadian wolf weighs from 120-180 lbs and hunts in packs of up to 40(witnessed in a yellowstone pack). The original Idaho wolf weighed 80-90 lbs. and hunted in PAIRS. The difference is huge, it is an invasive species and going to upset the ecosystem.
    http://rliv.com/pic/Smithsonian%20Study.pdf

    I’m a native of Idaho and I want wolves there, but it would be nice to get a wolf that is comparable to the original Idaho wolf.

  25. As I have researched the wolfs and impact on Elk. It really dis hartens me to see we as outdoors men and women pay for the habitat and health of all wildlife that roams our state. We as sportsman flip the bill and are being controlled by people that never invest one dollar into habitat. Yes hunting is the second largest income into the state of colorado, second to the ski industry. Their are many small towns, farms, and people that rely on this to just pay the bills and it is being taken away by a group that doesn’t invest into the wildlife that surrounds all of us. Yes the wolf has migrated to colorado as I have seen them already. I also work in the hunting and fishing industry and enjoy the fact that their is a tax on goods to go to the wildlife of our state, and preserves the open space for the free ranging animals. I am also curious as to how many of these people that have supported the re introduction of the wolf actually go out to see wolfs. I would have to guess less than one percent ever even steps out in the wild country. As I live months at a time out their. Yes the population growth of humans has limited the natural land that was available to all free ranging animals. But us sportsman and women pay for additional lands being purchased. It is also obvious that the wolf has greatly impacted the number of elk in such a short period of time. The wolf will adapt its diet and start praying on other species to survive when elk numbers fall to the point of no return which is already happening. This wolf is already taking more elk than predicted and won’t stop their, as an alpha male wolf will chase off the other males, to move and start his own pack and that process will continue. So I guess the USDA will have to start to look for other income sources to continue to operate. So I ask the non sports person are you truly willing to substitute that income. As in history they have not and will not. So lets controll the wolf population so it doesn’t take our lifestyle away from the sportsman and women that truly flips the bill for all free ranging species. Other wise you will never see a deer or elk in the wild. What a shame.

  26. 1 Source The Check Enterprise jump manual [clipsmusic.ru] Background
    check sector underneath examination simply because earnings grow the jump manual Recognised Employment Record
    Verification Providers how to jump higher (Erma)



Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.