The annual winter aerial survey of the Northern Yellowstone elk herd indicates the population has remained fairly stable since 2006.
Biologists counted at least 6,070 elk, under what were considered only fair survey conditions. This year's survey was hampered a lack of snow on the ground and some poor flying weather.
The herd winters between the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and Dome Mountain and Dailey Lake in Paradise Valley, Montana. Half of the elk counted this year were inside Yellowstone, while the other half were observed north of the park boundary. This population count is down significantly from the 9,545 elk counted during the winter of 2004-2005. The long term trend shows a 60-percent decrease in elk numbers since wolves were restored in the region. However, a significant reduction in both wolf numbers and wolf predation has been observed on the park's northern range. Biologists believe elk numbers have decreased in areas where there are higher numbers of wolves and grizzly bears, but have stabilized or even increased in areas where there are fewer predators and moderate population reduction due to hunting. In addition, fewer elk calves survive in areas where there are more predators. Just 100 antlerless elk permits per season have been issued by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) in recent years.
In order to increase the size of the elk population, FWP has recommended closing the Gardiner late hunt for the next two years. The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group will continue to monitor trends of the northern Yellowstone elk population and evaluate the relative contribution of various components of mortality, including predation, environmental factors, and hunting. The Working Group was formed in 1974 to cooperatively preserve and protect the long-term integrity of the northern Yellowstone winter range for wildlife species by increasing our scientific knowledge of the species and their habitats, promoting prudent land management activities, and encouraging an interagency approach to answering questions and solving problems. The Working Group is comprised of resource managers and biologists from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, National Park Service (Yellowstone National Park), U.S. Forest Service (Gallatin National Forest), and U.S. Geological Survey-Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman.