Wyoming Addresses Declining Yellowstone Elk Herd

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Calf production and bull counts have been declining in parts of eastern Yellowstone, in particular the Cody elk herd unit. The situation has become serious enough that hunter permits may be restricted. The Casper Star Tribune has a write up on the herd and what's being done to address the situation.

While the agency plans to study the issue and conduct elk counts before the 2011 hunting season, Nesvik said, it appears that elk numbers in portions of the Cody unit have fallen to levels not seen since the Yellowstone fires in the 1980s. “The thing that’s changed since then is that we have a much higher density of predators in those backcountry areas,” Nesvik said. “What we speculate is, the elk moving in and out of the park have lower calf ratios, which is potentially the reason we see fewer bulls.

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GooseHunter Jr's picture

Glad to see a state ge ahead

Glad to see a state ge ahead of the problem before it get bad that they do ot know what o do or then it really starts to affect the helath of the herd nd thenwhicj effects gte hunting industry.

hunter25's picture

I really have nothing to add

I really have nothing to add to this one other than to say I agree with the other guys and good job to Wyoming for tryining to get ahead of things instead of trying to fix it when it's nearly too late.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

I wonder if the pregnancy

I wonder if the pregnancy rate can also be explained by stress.  What i mean is, if there are many more wolves than there used to be, and the elk are always running around, on edge, could that be a cause?

I know humans are similar that you hear alot of stories about couples not being able to conceive, and when they finally give up, adopt, whatever, they get pregnant.  They think it's because they relaxed and forgot about trying.

Anyway, whatever the reason, It's good to see, as jaybe said, that they are paying attention. 

Has anyone watched the show on National Geographic about the wolf pack in that Valley in Yellowstone?  It was a great documentary on the pack, from reintroduction, to when they were finally run off by another competing pack.  The amount of elk they showed in there getting taken down weas amazing.

jaybe's picture

A few things that I found

A few things that I found interesting in this article:

(1) They say they are concerned that there is a lower rate of pregnancy in the cows, there is a lower calf ratio, and there are fewer bulls. It seems to me that those may all be part of the same issue. Fewer bulls may mean that some cows are not being bred, which will result in fewer calves, which leads to fewer bulls in the future. It just keeps going around.

(2) They have a higher density of predators, with wolves and bears being mentioned (I didn't notice that cougars were a factor, but they might be). I would imagine that coyotes could also be involved in that figure, since they are very able to prey on the calves soon after they are born. Once again, these need to be kept in check or the scales can tip very quickly in favor of the predators. A large predator population not only means that more game animals will be killed, but the predators themselves will be healthier, meaning that they will have more offspring - another vicious circle that just keeps going.

(3) I thought it was instructive that they also said that overall, the elk herd was pretty healthy, and they are slightly over their population objective. This tells me that they are really watching it closely, and are hoping to be able to take action to keep the herd healthy before it gets out of hand.

Three cheers for Wyoming Fish and Game for being proactive in addressing this slight decline in the elk population!