US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



13(3) • Summer 2005 Yellowstone Science


This document is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


In the ten years since wolves (Canis lupus) were restored to Yellowstone National Park (YNP), elk (Cervus elaphus) numbers have substantially decreased. The northern range elk herd is the largest elk herd in Yellowstone, and constitutes the majority of the park’s elk population. During 1994–2005, early winter counts of northern Yellowstone elk decreased from 19,045 to 9,545. Also, during winters 2000–2004, calf:cow ratios declined from 29:100 to 12:100, and were among the lowest recorded during the past several decades. Though many factors (e.g., predation, hunting, and drought) likely contributed to this decreasing abundance and low recruitment, several state and federal legislators continue to speculate that wolves are the primary reason for the recent decrease in elk recruitment rates, and have called for the immediate delisting and liberal control of the abundance and distribution of wolves. Because both wolves and elk are culturally, economically, and ecologically important in the Yellowstone area, it is vital to determine the basis for the decline in the elk population. To help this effort, we initiated a three-year study of northern Yellowstone elk calf mortality in May 2003. Our study was designed to follow up on Dr. Francis Singer et al.’s baseline pre–wolf restoration elk calf mortality study (1987–1990).