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Missoula Elk Herds In Trouble?

Missoula, Montana area biologist Liz Bradley is noticing that elk herds around the suburban areas of the city have been in decline for the past three years with a total of 216 animals being lost from one of her counted herds just this Spring. This decline begs questions… is it due to too much pressure from predators, both four-legged and two or is the lack of elk simply a result of the animals seeking “greener pastures” due to these open lands being suburban in nature and therefore exposed to elevated levels of human encroachment throughout the year?

Another disturbing trend Bradley is recording is that along with the decline in numbers she is also noticing the remaining elk are having fewer calves, thus impacting recruitment numbers for the herd. This fact also begs impact questions as healthy, unpressured elk herds presumably do not suffer this issue.

FWP is not committing to resolute answers just yet but Bradley’s stance on handling the decline is apparent in this statement penned by Missoula Current reporter Laura Lundquist… “FWP is still committed to maintaining Missoula’s suburban herd, Bradley said, and the only thing she can do is control the human contribution to decline.” Lundquist, L. (2019, May 31). Missoula-area elk herds show dramatic population decline. Missoula Current. 

What say you? Do you think that the decline in these herds is due to solid harvest numbers for this hunt the past couple of seasons? Is it predator impact? Or could the paucity of elk in this area simply be that the animals have moved to more lightly recreated habitat? Time to chime in and let us know where you stand and while you’re at it, maybe give MTFWP in Missoula a holler as well.

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Todd Helms

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14 comments

  1. I am not sure about the human interactions being the culprit. I have watched the Elk herd in and around Estes Park Co for most of my life. The herd there has declined too. However the Elk seem to have migrated to the west Loveland suburbs where they seem to be on the increase exponentially. Before you say they don’t do well around humans you need only visit Estes Park and you will still see them everywhere in town. Perhaps Montana FWP should see this for themselves .I also recommend a study of their Elk migration.

  2. Is the elk herd really having fewer calves or are there fewer calves surviving? That’s a big difference. It’s easy to say that they only have control over the human element but numerous studies prove that predators take a very heavy toll on young calves. We all know that there is no lack of predators.

    • I suspect it is both. Pressured elk have fewer calves and those that are born are subject to predators.

      • Cow harvest numbers have been high on this herd. MPG ranch has documented some of the impact this has had. I think cow tags need to be allocated more selectively or we need to do away with cow harvest in this area altogether. With shoulder seasons, cows in this unit are being hunted 186 days a year.

  3. My son and I just got back from hunting MT Spring Black Bear near Missoula. We talked to several locals who attribute the decline largely to the thriving wolf and bear population. It was commented that the local herd declined IN HALF from last year! Another local (logger) stated an aerial wolf survey was done this winter and 52 wolves were seen in one pack! This isn’t confirmed by any DOW written info that I know of but what if it is actually true? We did glass up several elk, not nearly what we expected to see. We also saw no less than a dozen deer killed and eaten on the logging roads, most recent kills. Too bad we didn’t see bear. This is a great example of why we don’t need wolves planted here in CO!

    • I’m a local, and my neighbors love to blame everything on wolves. But cows in this unit can be hunted 186 days a year with shoulder seasons. The cow harvest on this herd has been way too high.

      Also, the 52 wolf story is nonsense.

  4. Missoula Region 2 FWP management is in love with predators-especially mountain lions. When FWP did the elk sudy in the Bitterroot- lions were the number 1 predator for elk calves. The study collared a number of newborn calves for the study. They ran out of calves and had to collar older calves just to finish the study. In the nineties fwp lion quotas were 90-100 each year. The quotas have been cut to just 30 for the whole Bitteroot. One adult lion will consume 10,000 pounds per year of biomass. After the elk study a lion study was conducted. They determined there were 176 lion in just 2 hunting districts HD 270 and 250. So, the math is simple for anyone to see except FWP.

  5. Somehow we need to tie FWP expenditures to revenue sources. That’s the only way to change the priorities of wildlife management. They have all got a fixation with predators and a deep bias. Big game produce a large majority of their revenues but they really don’t give rip about them. Make them spend the majority of their revenues on big game and pretty soon all of those fancy lion, bear and wolf biologists will be looking for something else to do!

  6. Well let’s see, Liz Bradley was the states wolf coordinator for Montana before this new job so that should set the tone, most fall in love with the job and the animal they study, and the state has leaned in favor of hiring non hunting bios so that should be another clue, we in the Bitterroot of Montana have been thru several studies, first was the lion density study in the upper Bitterroot that showed over 175 lions in two hunting districts and they were finding new lions every day at the end of the study, we know from many lion studies from all over the US and Canada that somthing is going to hit the dirt every 7 to 10 days, the Bio mass equals 10 thousand pounds per lion per year, got a Calculator ? Porcupines Are close to being extinct In the Bitterroot, very few skunks hit on the road anymore, both favorite food sources as alternate pray species, then we did a calf mortality study in the same two Hunting districts 250 and 270, it showed over 60 percent mortality in the first year of life, so yes it’s not recruitment it who lives to be more than a year old, what would finally put a end to all speculation About the impact of predation would be a mule deer mortality study in the same hunting districts of the Bitterroot as mule deer are the number one pray species for lions, the study also showed bear predation was significant in the calf mortality study, and then of course you have the wolf, so do you really wonder about predation mortality, if common sense would prevail we would certainly be doing better, having hunted the same ground for over 30 years the one big change is the elk no longer want to be in the trees by light, instead they hang up half way and lay up on open ridges on the inter face on private land where they can see all the predators both 2 and 4 legged. And this has led us to shoulder seasons because of crop damage so everything loses in the end. Just another 2 cents worth!!!

    • Same thing in Colorado, the governor appoints the commissioners on the CPW Colorado Parks and wildlife and he and his husband are 1000% anti hunting. He is trying to destroy Colorado’s heritage, wildlife and economy. As per the Sierra club wildlife viewing brings in 1.2 billon per year ( no way to verify that,but) hunting brings in 919 million. So polis wants to take over 2 billon dollars out of the economy yearly??? The eco- terrorist group the Sierra club put up $600,000 to elect Polis. Polis wants to ban all predator hunting. The CPW killed more bears than hunters last year because of the spring bear ban in the 90’s!

  7. I am from out of state but hunt in montana and have personally seen wolves take down a cow elk and another time a large calf

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