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Doris Lin

Don't Blame Wolves for Elk Deaths

By June 1, 2011

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A new study confirms what animal advocates have been saying all along: Don't blame the wolves for killing elk. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game conducted studies on collared elk in 11 study areas, and examined the causes of death. According to the Times-News, "Though statewide numbers have dropped some, claims that wolves are wholly responsible for declining elk populations aren't holding up . . . Biologists found that wolves killed significant numbers of collared elk in only one area." What were the other causes of death? Severe weather, bears, cougars, and hunters. In two of the 11 study areas, hunters were the number one elk killers.

Last year, Idaho Fish and Game wanted to kill 40-50 wolves in their Lolo zone because of their perceived effects on the elk population, yet they offered 1,492 elk hunting permits for that same zone.

These findings contradict hunters' claims that wolves are to blame for a declining elk population. Ecologist Scott Creel of Montana State University pointed out that the reintroduction of wolves may create an illusion that there are fewer elk, because the presence of wolves means that elk are less likely to stay out in the open.

Populations of wild animals go through natural fluctuations. When the number of prey animals drops, the number of predators will also drop. This leads to a recovery of the prey species, which leads to a recovery of the predator species. It's important to understand this, because hunters will often call for more hunting of whichever species is rising at the time, regardless of the fact that these populations will stabilize and fluctuate naturally.

Given time, Creel said, he thinks both populations would stabilize. He noted population sizes are only considered "good" or "bad" based upon arbitrary ideas of what the size should be. "No predator has ever eliminated its food," Creel said. "Change is always the most dramatic at the beginning, then population numbers settle."

Of course, there is also a problem with state wildlife agencies intentionally keeping populations high for hunters. And I have to be suspicious of Idaho Fish & Game's motivations for publicizing this study. Their survey of out-of-state hunters found that "three in 10 didn't plan to visit Idaho because of the perceived effect of wolves on elk populations." Is this study an attempt to draw more hunters to Idaho, which will lead to more sales of hunting licenses? Or is that just a happy coincidence for Idaho Fish & Game?

H/T to @Annieluvswolves for tweeting the Times-News article.

Alan & Sandy Carey / Getty Images

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June 29, 2011 at 1:07 am
(1) Justin Forte says:

Finally, the truth!

June 29, 2011 at 1:51 am
(2) Ann Sydow says:

Excellent article ! Love the point about not reducing elk hunting tags in the Lolo zone after all their whining about severely declining elk numbers there!

June 29, 2011 at 9:07 pm
(3) josh says:

This is not the truth these are twisted words and studies made to calm out of state hunters and convince them to waste there money on tags that they will never fill

June 30, 2011 at 10:35 am
(4) Photogirl4u says:

The Science is determined by the funder. Whoever is funding the study, has predetermined the outcome. Sorry to sound pessimistic, but this is consistently the case

June 30, 2011 at 11:02 pm
(5) SleepingMonster says:

To Photogirl:

If that were true, then please tell me why you’re alive? I’m sure the vaccine studies are false and twisted too, and the food market for organic food are actually slipping arsenic in your peppers and lettuce. Oh. And why haven’t you been eaten by a bear yet?

To josh:

Ever heard of comas? And evil? Must I always point out there’s no such thing as evil? Of course everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Though I do find it irritating when people close their ears and eyes and say weird stuff.

It’s true that wolves only cull the weakest and sickest of the heard of elks. Quit whining just because you want an easier time killing elks for fun.

September 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm
(6) Idaho_Roper says:

Photogirl is correct….science has been dead for decades. There is so much garbage science out there it’s amazing.

The author takes some liberties with the truth.

Here is a little common sense for the shallow thinkers. Considering that our elk herds were healthy and growing prior to the wolves being dumped on them, and considering they (wolves) are the only addition to the ecosystem, and now the elk are crashing everywhere the wolves move into, how can you logically claim any other cause?

Most of the data out of IDFG is simply put out in an attempt to cover the rear ends and hide the fact that they made some serious mistakes.

And a little detail that Creel (another wolf propagandist) fails to mention is that wolves will in fact eliminate species. While technically true, they will not remove their entire food base, in a multi-species ecosystem, wolves will eliminate species. That is a proven reality.

One has to consider that most of the wolf ‘science’ was created on Isle Royale, an environment that only contains one prey species and one predator species, it has nothing in common with any other ecosystem in the lower 48, which makes all of the science there irrelevant in attempting to apply it to any place else.

Follow the money……..

October 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm
(7) Stephen Pruitt says:

I have heard that the Elk population has declined because of overgrazing cattle in the elk habitat and come Jan and Feb these farmers are givin 1000 tags to kill elk in their fields for crop damage because the elk are hungry because of the cattle eating their food. Now if they are Cow elk that would be actually killing 2000 because most of them are pregnant. Now isn’t there a refuge or something to feed the Elk can live on through the winter to help repopulate? I know there are many refuges in wyoming

October 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm
(8) evin says:

Yellowstone Park Elk population; before wolves 19,000 elk in the Park; after the experimental Canadian wolves were introduced, 7,000 remain. I don’t believe their are any hunters located in the Park.

November 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm
(9) John_Doe says:

Bogus article. Don’t believe this. “Severe weather, bears, cougars, and hunters” have always been a part of the size of the elk population. Wolves have not.

Wolves are perfect killing machines. They have it all, Sight, Smell, Sound. Not to mention incredible stamina. And they kill in packs which makes it impossible for they’re prey to escape. I’ve heard a single wolf will kill (not eat) 2 elk a month. That’s unconfirmed, heard it from a neighbor. However, if that’s close to accurate…well do the math. Elk don’t have much of a chance.

Didn’t we rid ourselves of wolves many years ago? Too bad we couldn’t remember why.

December 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm
(10) hawkins says:

I have seen wolves take down 10 head of elk two got away. They kill for sport Idaho is already over populated.

December 10, 2011 at 7:53 pm
(11) Livesin_ID says:

I actually live in Idaho and can tell you that since wolves were illegally introduced here, entire elk herds have just disappeared. We have went from being a state rich in wildlife abundance to having our wildlife destroyed by an irresponsible liberal experiment. Even the northern herd in Yellowstone which was 19,500 elk prior to wolves was less than 2000 inside the park last winter. Just don’t let liberals come to your state and “fix” your wildlife management program or you will end up with a disaster just like Idaho. By the way, the reason I state that the wolves were illegally introduced, is that according to our constitution every individual state has the authority and the right to manage the wildlife contained within it’s borders. Idaho was doing a fantastic job of wildlife management before the liberal hippie biologist goons showed up. Most of us Idaho residents never believed any of the hype during the illegal introduction, but still had to suffer through years of false forecasts and promises. Wolf introduction in Idaho has been nothing but a total disaster.

February 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm
(12) Cindi says:

To Livesin_ID – so you’re saying they 1,000′s of elk killed by hunters don’t count toward the declining population. I think the only reason people are after the wolves is because they are closet serial killers who are just starting out and need something to practice on. How anyone with a soul could intentionally kill these beautiful creatures is beyond me. I believe there is a special place in hell for child abusers and animal abusers.

April 9, 2013 at 9:58 pm
(13) Shea says:

I have spent my whole life in between Idaho national forest, the wilderness, state ground, and tons of private land from northern Idaho to southern Idaho. I have guided hunts for outfitters, guided horse packing trips, hunted and hiked hundreds of miles in the great state of Idaho. I can tell you right now that most people that are posting comments on this don’t have a clue about what these non native wolves have really done to the wildlife numbers. Please get all the facts from both sides before posting a comment that you have no clue what your talking about unless you have lived in the areas being affected my these “perfect” predators. The hunter spends only at most 2 to 3 months hunting game animals and wolves, bears, and cougars are out there hammering away at the elk, deer, and anything else they can eat 24/7 now you get the real numbers and do the math. These are not some predators like on Twilight or some other mystical animals in the forest that are just so majestic. They will not talk to you and frolic in the forest with you people. They would, given the chance, eat your #ss.
The wolves need to get taken out of the lower 48 states and put back where they were taken from which was Canada. The native wolf is nothing like the Canadian wolf. Do your research. I am not going into facts. The different state game departments could of had breeding programs like for the condor and re-intoduced the native wolf to the lower 48 instead of bringing in a non native wolves that turned the local wildlife into a “buffet”.

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