Q.Will wolves affect game populations like deer, elk and moose?
Yes. How much, where, and how varies through space and time. Wolves-like mountain lions,
coyotes, and bears-eat deer, elk, moose and other game animals. Research in Montana and elsewhere
has shown that predation may influence deer, elk and moose populations through changes in the
survival of young and adult animals or a combination of both.
In Montana, elk numbers in some areas have declined, due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other
areas where wolves and elk interact, elk numbers are stable or increasing. Habitat, weather
patterns, human hunting, the presence of other large predators in the same area, and the presence
of livestock seasonally or year round are important factors, too. Wolf predation by itself does not
initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate them or lengthen periods of prey
Research in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere has shown that elk use habitats differently
since wolves have returned. One study showed that when wolves are in the local area, elk spend less
time in open areas and more time in forested areas. Hunters may need to adjust their
They probably will in some places, but there are no clear answers that apply across the board.
Different combinations and densities of predator and prey species, terrain, vegetation, climate,
land ownership patterns and land uses result in different ecological relationships and different
opportunities for hunters.
In mountainous areas with harsh winter weather conditions, multiple predator species including
grizzly bears, and less productive vegetation, wolf predation seems to be more influential than in
areas where livestock are present seasonally or year round. Lethal wolf control to resolve
wolf-livestock conflicts may buffer potential effects of wolf predation by affecting local wolf
densities (wolf distribution) and overall predator densities.
Biologists now consider wolf activity among the many factors potentially affecting big game
populations and hunter success. After weighing all the factors, biologists must adjust hunter
opportunity accordingly, as they have always done.
One example is FWP's decision to decrease hunter opportunity for antlerless elk in some
mountainous hunting districts of the Gallatin Range north of Yellowstone National Park because of
several years of poor calf recruitment. Yet in a few other districts just northwest of West
Yellowstone, hunter opportunity for elk was expanded because populations were over management
FWP earmarked money from the federally-funded wolf program to increase big game monitoring
efforts to keep closer tabs on those prey populations. Additional surveys will supplement existing
effort. In addition, FWP is actively involved in various projects that are researching
predator-prey relations, population dynamics of black bears and mountain lions, large carnivore
monitoring techniques, and wildlife diseases to name a few.
FWP is also asking hunters to help monitor wolf numbers and distribution in Montana by
forwarding their field reports of wolves and/or wolf sign. Over the years, many new packs have been
discovered based on hunter information. That information helps FWP better manage wolves and
contributes to the effort to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Hunters can go online,
mail a pre-printed postcard available from FWP offices, contact the wolf program staff, or call any
Ultimately, habitat is the key for all wildlife in Montana. FWP continues to work with
interested landowners to protect traditional farm and ranch land, and to preserve wildlife habitat.
A variety of funding sources enable FWP to protect seriously threatened habitats and provide
recreational opportunities through purchased or donated conservation easements and purchases of
land. About $4 million from several sources goes to fund projects selected annually by the FWP