Reintroducing Wolves to Wyoming
An Historic Conservation Achievement
Wolves and Elk
State elk and deer populations have been relatively unaffected by wolves.
According to Wyoming Game and Fish Department statistics, hunter harvest numbers for elk rise and fall from year to year, but the overall success rate has remained relatively consistent since wolves were reintroduced. "Elk are probably at an all-time high historically, "Bill Rudd reported in 2007; Bill is the assistant chief of the wildlife division for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cheyenne. Furthermore, Northwest Wyoming is seeing good numbers of deer and antelope, Rudd said. [Source 1]
Many ecologists believe that, rather than affecting elk population counts, the restoration of wolves to the northern Rockies may have affected elk behavior. Alert to a new predator on the landscape, elk may be more wary than in recent years. This may cause them to linger less frequently in open meadow and riparian zones, as well as altering traditional migration routes to avoid wolf packs. In essence, elk appear to be returning to a more "wild" behavior pattern from a time before wolves were eradicated from the northern Rockies. [Source 2]
Researchers have confirmed that wolves tend to prey on the most vulnerable deer and elk, which includes weak, diseased, injured, very young calves (that appears to be largely compensatory as overall elk calf survival has remained steady), and older adult cow elk that are beyond their reproductive prime. Hunters, on the other hand, tend to kill cow elk that are in their reproductive prime. [Source 3]
As for the effects of wolves on Wyoming's largest elk herd in Jackson: the cow-to-calf ratio in the Jackson herd has fluctuated over the years, but has been holding steady since the return of wolves. In 1995, before the reintroduction of wolves to the region, wildlife managers recorded a low of 19 calves per 100 cows, whereas in 2007 the ratio was 25 calves per 100 cows. The annual winter classification for the Jackson herd was recently completed. The number of elk in February, 2008, increased by a thousand to 12,795, compared with 11,790 in 2007.
At the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, the annual count totaled 7,950 elk in February, 2008. This is the ninth consecutive year that wildlife managers have met or exceeded the refuge population objective. At the end of 2007, of the seven elk hunting units overlapping the Wolf Trophy Game Area, only two are below herd objectives, and one of these is by 48 animals while the other is about 500 below desired levels. The seven units in total are 7,151 animals, which is almost 20% above the desired herd objectives. [Source 4]
(1) [Wyoming Game and Fish Department;Game and Fish proposes additional hunting licenses to offset forage shortage, Jackson Hole Star Tribune
(2) [The Oregonian, Oct. 29, 2006;
(3) Wright, Peterson, Smith, and Lemke. August, 2006. The Journal of Wildlife Management 70(4).
(4) Wyoming Game & Fish Department; 2008 Big Game Hunting Season Recommendation Summary by Wyoming Game and Fish Dept.