Study: Wolves Cause Drop in Some Elk Populations

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A study released Friday by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says the elk population in some parts of the state has dropped dramatically because of wolf predations but warns that the trend does not apply to all areas.

The study found that since 2004, wolves killed more elk than hunters did in the northern Yellowstone National Park herd. Since 2005, wolves killed more adult cow elk than hunters, and in all but one year since 2002, wolves killed more bull elk than hunters.

The findings have led to an FWP prediction that the population of the Northern Yellowstone elk herd would continue to drop unless the wolf-to-elk ratio changes.

Researchers in the seven-year-long study also found that the elk numbers in some areas of southwestern Montana have dropped rapidly, mainly due to the loss of elk calves targeted by wolves and grizzly bears.

But the same study, led by FWP and Montana State University, found little apparent influence by local wolf packs on elk populations in parts of western Montana.

“One-size-fits-all explanations of wolf-elk interactions across large landscapes do not seem to exist,” said Justin Gude, FWP’s chief of wildlife research in Helena.

The study notes that habitat, weather patterns, hunting, and the presence of other large predators and livestock also play a role.

About 1,500 gray wolves roam Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah. That includes about 400 in Montana, 780 in Idaho and 350 in Wyoming. There are about 130,000 elk in Montana.

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