Honestly I try not to use this as a rant page but the next two posts will be just that. Sorry…I really need to vent! The second one will be posted once it gets edited by someone who is an expert on legalities and what I can or cannot say…she’s already taken a fair bit out so I guess I got carried away. Both these blogs are a lot longer than I normally post but I’ve summed up most of it in my first paragraph…the remaining contains a bit more info and links to where I got my information.
This entry addresses a half-truth headline that I am getting so tired of seeing pop up as justification for the slaughter of a species.
“80% decline in the Yellowstone elk population since the wolves were re-introduced.” On some sites it’s been reduced to “80% of Yellowstone elk killed by wolves” but people who have half a mind will realize that logistically this is impossible…especially when you do a little research.
It’s just another misleading headline…more of a time-line really, nothing more. It’s another example of how some folks pick a semi-stat that suits their purpose without presenting the back-story and expecting people buy into the inference (that being that the wolves are solely responsible for the decline). Yes wolves kill elk but let’s get real…they obviously aren’t the only reason for this decline. The YNP elk herd was already beginning to have detrimental issues in the early 90s (prior to the wolf “planting”) with unusually low calving numbers which will affect later adult herd numbers. Since then age, disease, unseasonable climate conditions, increased predation by bears and cats has also had an impact on the elk population. In fact there’s never a mention that, for various reasons, pretty much the entire eco-system in the area has undergone changes over the same period. What this “headline” also fails to point out is that while the elk population continued its mathematical plummet the wolf population also declined by sixty percent. Over half the wolves gone yet no significant change to the pattern. Also not mentioned (obviously) by the hunters is the number of elk that foolishly wandered out of the park and became “fair game”. One infamous hunter claims that several thousand animals from the park herd were “harvested” most seasons in the 90s. Coincidentally (using at-time numbers) this is the period where over fifty percent of the herd disappeared. Apparently last year there were “only a few hundred” harvested by hunters but they still consider it a banner year (all the while whining that those damn wolves were killing off all the elk). So hunting is at least partially (if not equally or more) responsible for what has happened but like I say, you’ll never read about it. It’s much easier to resort to the childish activity of blaming someone (or something) else for a problem you helped to create. Simply…I don’t believe anything that comes out of that camp. Read it and research…generally you’ll find there’s little actual fact to back it up. Of course that also applies to all that I have mentioned here:
“According to Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department, there has been a 70 percent decline in migratory elk calf production in Yellowstone since 1992. For years, researchers suspected predatory wolves were to blame. Now, a new study details a more complex set of circumstances that account for the low calf numbers.
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies post-doctoral fellow Arthur Middleton led the study. “Wolves aren’t the most important predator of calves. Grizzly bears are,” he said. “And Grizzly numbers have grown really dramatically. We also found a strong drought effect that reduced elk pregnancy rates. So, that basically means that fewer calves are born in the first place.””
“CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Drought and increased predation, especially by grizzly bears, have taken a toll on elk that migrate between Yellowstone National Park and areas to the east where their calves are born, a study finds.”
“Meanwhile, the calves faced increased predation, especially by grizzly bears. Grizzly numbers in the Yellowstone ecosystem have been soaring in recent years. Wolves were less responsible for the predation.”
There is another stat that most choose to ignore. The wolf population of YNP has also declined (nearly sixty percent) over the last six years. Going by the misguided logic that only wolves are responsible for the decline of Yellowstone elk then shouldn’t the elk population have climbed a bit instead of plummeting even further?
“Park-wide, the number of wolves in Yellowstone declined from 171 in December 2007 to 82 in December 2012 due to the same reasons. There are currently 4 packs of wolves in northern Yellowstone and 6 packs in the rest of the park that use the park for the majority of the year, but occasionally move into surrounding states.” Obviously due to a few hunter encounters this past year the numbers have once again dropped. One estimate was less than 70.
Another contributing factor to the decline of the YNP herd that you don’t hear too much about is (prepare to be surprised)…hunting. Bill Hoppe has echoed the comments of many hunters whether it be elk or wolf that “if it wanders outside the park it’s fair game”.
“Bill Hoppe, an outfitter near Gardiner, said harsh weather in the park in late November pushed many of the animals to lower elevations in Montana. He estimated several hundred bull elk from the herd were killed by hunters in the last part of the season – one of the most successful harvests in years. Yet in the 1990s, several thousand elk were killed in some years. Hoppe believes the herd’s best days are gone, and a local hunting industry that already was ailing will collapse.”
Several thousand in some years? Oddly enough part of the period to which Mr. Hoppe refers is included in the Yellowstone and WS published numbers from 1994 to 2002 when over 50 percent of the elk disappeared (19,045 – 9,215). They recovered slightly in 2005 (9,545) and from 2006 to 2010 showed no significant loss (in fact gaining in population in 2006 and 2007). It has steadily declined since for various reasons but according to the studies I referenced there isn’t much to indicate that, while bear and cat depredation has increased, wolves (percentage-wise based on their now lower numbers) have taken any more elk that they ever have. We must face facts though and address the real concerns of Mr. Hoppe and the rest that want to rid us of these wolves. If wolves take an elk in Yellowstone then that’s one less elk that might foolishly wander outside the park and become “fair game”. And that’s really what this is all about isn’t it?