The USGS Investigates Elk

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Elk are one of the largest of the “Cervidae”, the deer family, and are one of North America’s largest mammals. Cows weight about 225 kg. (500 pounds) while bulls weigh about 320 kg (700 pounds). They are magnificent animals in the wild, and in addition they have another very important feature. They are … well … umm … no socially acceptable way to say this in a world containing vegevores but to say that elk are delicious, as many wolves or mountain lions can testify. As can I. This has not worked to their historical advantage.

Originally there were elk over much of the US. However, because of the “delicious” factor, many of the species of elk were turned into elkburger by short-sighted humans of the melanin-deficient variety. The situation in the southwestern state of Arizona is fairly typical. There, to use the lovely language of biologists, the local elk species, Merriam’s Elk, was “extirpated” just prior to 1900.

Arizona is usually thought of as a hot desert state. But the northern part of the Arizona is mountainous. I rode a freight train through northern Arizona in winter one time, and I hope to never be that cold again in my life. But the elk didn’t mind the cold, at least until we ate them all.

However, everything is not lost, humans can also repair mistakes or at least ameliorate their effects. Groups of a different species of elk were imported from Yellowstone Park from about 1910 to 1930. At first the herds were small, but nature is nothing if not fecund, and we’ve killed a lot of the elk’s natural predators (bear, wolf, mountain lion), so the main problem now is to keep the herd size down. And it is not an insignificant problem. The size of the elk herds is putting pressure on a variety of resources, both natural and human, all over the state. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish (AZDFG) has an elk management plan that lays out all that it is doing to keep the elk numbers down, and they have a big job on their hands. Their methods include regular hunting seasons; special hunting seasons; hunting seasons designed to drive elk out of a specific area; “antlerless” hunts for female elk; special permits for farmers to shoot elk that are eating their crops; hunts designed to preserve winter forage for the winter, and the like.

This is a recurring problem with large herbivores all over the planet, particularly where we’ve killed the large carnivores. There’s not a lot of food in your average blade of grass. A big animal like an elk has to eat lots and lots of vegetation just to stay alive, and even more to gain weight. And this, of course, means that wherever elk go, they will change the local ecology big-time. A herd of elk is natures mowing machine, only they’ll also mow down small trees.

Why is all of this of interest to climate science?

Figure 1. Snowfall in Flagstaff, Arizona. Pale red squares show the 17-year centered Gaussian average of the data. The airport gets more snow than the town, and as a result I have adjusted the town data so that their averages agree during the period of overlap. As you can see the match is good. The black bar shows the 95%CI for the error of the Gaussian average at the boundary of the dataset. DATA SOURCES: “History of Flagstaff,   Flagstaff Airport  Town Adjusted 

Well, some University of Montana folks, along with the US Geological Survey, have just published a paper called “Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal–plant interactions”, by Thomas E. Martin and John L. Maron, paywalled of course. (“Impacts2011). The authors make the  claim that human-caused climate change in the form of reduced snowfall around Flagstaff and in other mountain areas of Arizona is allowing the elk population to graze higher in the mountains in winter, and as a result the local ecology is changing.

This, of course, brings up several related questions:

1. Does an elk eat in the woods?

2. Has the snowfall in the Arizona mountains gone down lately?

3. Are there other factors that might push elk up into the mountains?

4. What other parts of Arizona are the elk moving into?

Question 1. Yes, elk eat in the woods, a herd of elk is a tree-trimming and mowing machine par excellence. But as is far too common in these kinds of studies, the authors can’t resist gilding the lily. Here are their photos showing what the elk can do …

Figure 2. ORIGINAL CAPTION e,f, Photos showing the decline in understory plant density in the same area of a study drainage from May 1985 (e) to May 2011 (f).

Now, I’ll buy that elk can do that kind of damage, because elk do eat in the woods, and they eat most everything. But I won’t buy that those photos are taken from the same location. They are careful to say that they are in the “same area”, but they are presented as a “before and after” combination, when they are nothing of the sort. For all I know, photo “f” may have looked like that for the last quarter century. A small point, I know, but that kind of thing rubs me the wrong way.

In any case, it is obvious to anyone who has been around them that elk eat in the woods, that they eat a lot, and that trees and their inhabitants suffer as a result. Bad elk, buncha cervine eco-criminals. Or as the authors say:

We excluded elk from one of two paired snowmelt drainages (10 ha per drainage), and replicated this paired experiment across three distant canyons. Over six years, we reversed multi-decade declines in plant and bird populations by experimentally inhibiting heavy winter herbivory associated with declining snowfall. Moreover, predation rates on songbird nests decreased in exclosures, despite higher abundances of nest predators, demonstrating the over-riding importance of habitat quality to avian recruitment.

So the authors have proven that yes, elk eat in the woods, and yes, they eat trees and understory of all kinds, and yes, when the elk do that, songbirds suffer. I would not have thought that it would take a scientific study to establish that, but I suppose it is good that they did. I would note in passing that one man’s ceiling is another mans floor, and if songbirds suffer, surely some other creature gains from having cleared out understory, and that includes fire protection for all the forest animals … but I digress. According to AGw supporters, climate change can only bring negative outcomes and no benefits, it is well known.

Regarding the second question, I see no evidence of any unusual decrease in snowfall. They do a typical AGW thing in Impacts2011, in their Figure (1a, not shown) they show only the snowfall from 1985 onwards. As you can see in Figure 1, 1985 was somewhere near the peak of the recorded historical swings. Overall, there is no such sign of decline in snowfall. There is a slight upward trend in the Flagstaff snowfall since 1948, but the trend is not statistically significant, nor is the level of modern snowfall historically unusual.

In addition, they provide absolutely no citation for their snowfall numbers. The closest that they come is when they say:

Snowfall at our study area has declined over the past 25 years (Fig. 1a), typical of what has occurred across western North America and other mountain regions of the world 1,7,8.

Reference 1 is the IPCC Bible, except of course they have neglected to give us the chapter and verse of the sermon. Heck, they don’t even say which volume contains the information, whether it is Working Group I, II, or III.

They are saying that supporting evidence for their claim is somewhere in the thousands and thousand of pages of the AR4 report somewhere, and by gosh, it is the reader’s responsibility to ferret it out. I despise this type of citation, and it is all too common in climate science. If I had tried citing a thousand page document with no page numbers in high school, much less college, my teachers would have had me for breakfast. Yet the authors are college professors, and the reviewers stay schtumm and don’t inquire too closely into the antecedents of the “facts” inhabiting the report.

The only good news? If someone does that, if someone puts the entire IPCC report as the very first citation for their paper without a page citation, you can rest assured that they are activists, not scientists.

Reference 7 for declining snowfall is “Effects of temperature and precipitation variability on snowpack trends in the western United States“.  You’d think with a title like that they might actually look at the snowpack trends. Instead, as the Abstract to that paper says:

In this study, the linear trends in 1 April SWE [snow water equivalent -w.] over the western United States are examined, as simulated by the Variable Infiltration Capacity hydrologic model implemented at 1/8° latitude–longitude spatial resolution, and driven by a carefully quality controlled gridded daily precipitation and temperature dataset for the period 1915–2003.

Here’s what they did. They took some real snowfall and temperature data. Then they “gridded” it, that is to say averaged it by gridcells on the map. Then they adjusted the temperatures for altitude using the moist adiabatic lapse rate. Oh, they also adjusted the precipitation based on the topography. They do not say whether they have infilled cells which contain no data or how they handle missing data

Then they’ve used that averaged, adiabatically compensated, gridded, topographically adjusted, and perhaps infilled dataset to drive a model, a model which outputs using a much smaller grid than the input data, a grid of about ten miles on a side. The paper is about the results of that model.

Sorry, not impressed. I’ve written too many computer programs, I have a good idea of the errors inherent in that process.

Reference 8 for decreasing snowpacks is Attribution of Declining Western U.S. Snowpack to Human Effects It was written in 2008, yet it only uses data up to 1999. This is a huge red flag for me. The reason, in this case, is that it is the usual attempt to have climate models place the blame on humans, and the model runs end in 1999. That’s convenient for alarmism, it turns out, since snowfalls have increased in the last decade. My favorite line from that one is from the abstract, viz:

Estimates of natural internal climate variability are obtained from 1600 years of two control simulations performed with fully coupled ocean–atmosphere climate models.

I had to rub my eyes at that one, natural variability obtained from models?? I looked further, to find that’s what they mean:

… Only if changes are both outside the likely range expected due to natural climate variability and consistent with the changes ex- pected due to anthropogenic forcing can it be concluded that human activity has a role in reducing winter snowpack.

We use 1600 years of control run data from fully coupled global general circulation climate models (GCMs) to provide estimates of natural internal variability

And how do they determine the “human fingerprint”? More computer runs, this time with GHGs and aerosol and the whole Cirque Du Soleil. They go on to explain that step.

Multiple ensemble members of two GCMs run with estimated historical changes in well-mixed GHGs, aerosols, and ozone supply the expected response of snowpack to these anthropogenic forcings. We statistically downscale the GCM results to 1⁄8° resolution then use the downscaled fields as input to a fine-resolution hydrological model. The hydrological model calculates the SWE values as well as soil moisture, runoff, and other variables in the hydrologic water balance used in companion work

So first they are using climate model control simulation runs to give an estimate of “natural” internal climate variability, so they can rule out natural fluctuations as a cause of the change in snowfall … these guys would be hilarious if it didn’t cost us so much time and money to fight this nonsense.

Then they compare that “natural variability” to “anthropogenic” climate model runs with greenhouse gases and aerosols and the lot. To do that, they “downsize” the results of the climate models. These are typically on 5° grids or so, pretty large. They divide each gridcell into no less than a hundred little “mini-gridcells”, and “constrain” the numbers in the downsizing process by comparing them to local observational data. (As far as I know, there is no evidence that this process does better than chance regarding preciptation … but I suppose that doesn’t matter in any case, because in any case the GCMs being downsized are known to do no better than chance on precipitation.

Those thousands of mini-gridcells are then used as input to yet another model. This final model calculates the snowfall that allegedly results from the human influence … anyone care to give me some serious error estimates for that process?

Again, not impressed by the putative fingerprints. It’s models all the way down. Reference 8 is a joke, a downsizing of models known not to work for precipitation.

So their evidence of declining snowfall is both weak and out of date, as snowfalls have generally increased in the western US in the last decade. In the Flagstaff record there is nothing to suggest a human influence on the snowfall. And more to the point, current Flagstaff snowfalls are well within historical norms. During the twenty year period between the world wars, the snowfall was quite low compared to the period they studied. Makes one wonder what the elk were up to then …

Regarding the third question, of what else might push elk up into the mountains … well, duh, population pressure. This pressure comes from two sources—the elk population numbers, and the human population numbers, particularly the number of hunters. There are some issues of interest there. One is that this is not the historical elk population, which had its winter and summer ranges figured out for thousands of years. These are modern transplants whose numbers are increasing, figuring out how to survive in a plotted, parceled, complex ecoscape of natural and human forces. Are we surprised that some group of them might take to eating places they haven’t eaten before?

A second issue is that we have replaced their historical predators with human predators. One of the largest differences between the types of predation is that natural predators preferentially take the aged, the young, and the weak. Human predation preferentially takes adult males. This changes the social structure of the animals. Another difference in predation is where we hunt. Wolves hunt where they live. Humans hunt where we can get to easily, because packing out a big elk, that’s a quarter ton of meat to shlep out of the forest. So we drive the elk into and out of different areas than did the other predators. Again, should we be surprised that they are pushing up into the area of the study?

Finally, question 4. What other areas are they going into? Here, it gets interesting. The AZDFG document cited earlier says:

History and Background:

Elk did not historically occur in southeastern Arizona and are an unplanned addition to the native wildlife found there. Early elk sources such as Murie’s 1951 “Elk of North America” correctly noted that elk were not native to southeastern Arizona. However, later sources (Bryant and Maser 1982 – Elk of North America) erroneously extended the historic range of elk far in to Mexico based on unsubstantiated rumors, a report of a pictograph, and a report by Edgar Mearns’ camp cook of 2 “large deer” crossing the border into Mexico. Archaeological evidence fails to provide any evidence elk were ever in Region 5 in historic times. No evidence exists of elk remains in the fauna lists at Native American sites in southeastern Arizona.

Another large herbivore grazing on the region’s arid and fragile desert ecosystems would probably come to the detriment of other native wildlife. Elk currently occur in Units 28, 31, and 32 and can live quite well among mesquite and prickly pear. There is no doubt they would become established in many areas of southeastern Arizona and have the potential to greatly impact other native wildlife such as desert mule deer, pronghorn, and many grassland and riparian obligate species.

So in addition to elk moving up into the mountains, they are also pushing out into the desert areas.

I can hardly wait for the next study by the USGS and the University of Montana, the new study that conclusively proves that elk are moving into the desert as a result of climate change …

My best to everyone,

w.

[PS—dang science takes a while, as I was researching and writing this Anthony posted about the study here ... curse you, masked man!]

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126 Responses to The USGS Investigates Elk

  1. Babsy says:

    Smothered elk steak! YUM-MEE!

  2. Luther Wu says:

    “Elk… can live quite well among mesquite and prickly pear.”
    _________________________
    Mequite- broused braised elk.
    Smoker not required.

  3. ghl says:

    Hi Willis, nice article.
    Another question occurs to me, did they open the exclosures spring to autumn, or did they stop summer grazing as well? Sorry if it is obvious.

  4. Sean Peake says:

    It’s good to see some of the points I raised in an earlier post mentioned and expanded upon by Willis. (“I am so smart… S-M-R-T”, h/t Homer Simpson) As for these critters being delicious, fur traders in Canada we not as enthusiastic. The subject of my two books on the Fur Trade in Canada was David Thompson, and he found elk fat melted in the pan for cooking was unpalatable because it stuck to the teeth as it cooled. Bison were the animals of choice, and i fact were the fuel for the fur trade.

  5. Jeff in Calgary says:

    Very well written.

    I hate the “appeal to authority” arguments, especialy when use as a principal assumption that the whole paper is bassed upon. “Since we all know that the snow pack is decreasing due to AGW…” Really? Better check your premise! All your models may show that, but reality shows different.

    Believing that models are reality is kind of like believing Reality TV is reality.

  6. Impressive critique, Mr. E. There is often a “Hound of the Baskervilles” quality in your analysis by not only observing what is before you, but making careful remarks about what should be there but is missing — the dog that didn’t’ bark.

  7. Damage6 says:

    Only disagree with one minor little point. There IS a socially acceptable way to say that Elk taste good. It’s “Elk are delicious” Especially wrapped in bacon and braised with mushrooms and red wine sauce. If the vegans don’t like it tough. I always chaps my hide to see this attitude that the vast majority of people who eat meat should somehow feel the need to be embarrassed to the tiny, tiny minority of those who don’t. Those canine teeth and binocular vision didn’t evolve by accident.

  8. Brian H says:

    Bring back the wolves!

  9. Lew Skannen says:

    “elk were turned into elkburger by short-sighted humans of the melanin-deficient variety.”

    Is there any evidence that elk meat can act as a cure for sunburn or myopia?

    I can just imagine what the headlines will be when a hybrid-shark journalist gets hold of this….

  10. Fred Allen says:

    Wow! The logic is stunning. Do the researchers mean to say that if I put a fence around my vegie garden and keep the deer out, the vegies have a better chance of growing to maturity? Can I extrapolate elk to deer and reach this conclusion?

  11. Matt says:

    The fastest way to increase the number of elk is to convince enough people that they can profit from elk being delicious. The large mammals with the highest populations world wide are the ones we eat the most of, cattle and pigs.

  12. John Cunningham says:

    Hey, what’s with knocking elk as food? if field-dressed properly, and well-prepared, elk is as good as caribou! Alaska has some elk herds introduced in the 20th century, they are few enough in number that only permit hunts are allowed.

  13. Al Gored says:

    Wilis,

    “A second issue is that we have replaced their historical predators with human predators.”

    This is true now, sort of, except where wolves have now been reintroduced.

    But to provide the full historical context of this story, the primary apex predators we replaced were other human predators, Native North Americans.

    Thus this only applies, sort of, to the modern era: “One of the largest differences between the types of predation is that natural predators preferentially take the aged, the young, and the weak. Human predation preferentially takes adult males.”

    Native North American hunters targeted the females because they were the best food.

    Moreover, wolves target bull elk after the rut when they are weakened by all that rutting, harem herding, and no eating. This is compounded by the fact that they cannot stay in the safety of large herds like cow elk because their nutritional needs are different, particularly after the rut, so they are usually found alone or in small groups.

    This lack of historical context is the biggest problem with all the bogus studies like this, including the assessments of so called ‘natural’ landscapes and wildlife populations. For the last 12,000 years the ‘natural ecosystem’ was dominated by Native people and shaped by their activities, most notably hunting and burning – and the latter is critical to understanding vegetation changes.

    You might want to look at this case study of Yellowstone which touches on everything covered by this paper:

    http://www.gardnerfiles.com/Yellowstones%20Natural%20Regulations%20Policy%2021-a.pdf

    It was done before the wolf reintroduction there but covers the basics. You might also want to google the author – Dr. Charles E. Kay – or better yet talk to him because he has been researching this for decades and is an absolute wealth of knowledge and new perspectives. The greenies have got him removed from US Senate hearings, done everything imaginable to bury his work and his books, and recently attempted to get him fired from his job.

    He did his PhD on Yellowstone, looking first at aspens, and everything led from there. Unfortunately, Yellowstone has been capital of politicized junk science since the 1960s so his work was not exactly welcomed there. The first rule of the postnormal pseudoscience called ‘Conservation Biology’ is to ignore and/or revise history to maintain the myth of the ‘pristine wilderness’ and Native people living in harmony with nature.

    Of course I know you prefer to ignore comments from people using pseudonyms but you really ought not ignore this one. You could really learn a lot by following this lead.

  14. Douglas DC says:

    I have Rocky Mountain Elk grazing on the Hill above me. Occasionally a big bull comes down into town.This is La Grande, Or. in the north east of the state. We had big herds if Roosevelt
    elk graze and lay on our lawns in Coos Bay. though they did get onto the street like the blacktail
    Deer did..
    Not at all surprising that Elk are that adaptable…
    Just had a tender elk steak last week…

  15. Mike D. says:

    The following statement in the article is wrong:

    Originally there were elk over much of the US.

    To be fair to the author, I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word “originally”. The fact is Elk are an Asian import, (migrating here over Beringia) and their populations have been subject to human predation for at least 13,500 years.

    There is no “normal” state of nature. All the theorizing about changes in Elk populations due to climate, without any consideration of their predators, is eco-babble nonsense.

    Here’s a truism you can take to the bank: population dynamics in Elk are governed by predator/prey relationships — not habitat, not climate, not magic crystals, not pies in the sky. Please let’s have some real science and evade the eco-babble trap.

  16. Lawrie Ayres says:

    In Australia the aborigines killed off our large herbivores 10000 years or so ago. Since then they relied on seasonal burning to encourage new growth for food species, ie. kangaroo. Now that the aborigines have retired to the cities and much of the bush is controlled by a PC National Parks and Wildlife Service ( National Sparks and Wildfires in the vernacular) who don’t do clearing or burning nor do they allow cattle or camels into the parks neither so every few summers the parks burn to the bare earth with consequential loss of habitat and life. If only we had a few million elk and if they did the (f) treatment above we would have much nicer parks and then people might even visit them.

  17. u.k.(us) says:

    Elk are big.
    Living as I do in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Where a herd of elk is restrained by fences in the local forest preserve, I reiterate, elk are big.
    It would appear that during the rut (November), if one stomps his foot he may cause a bull elk to saunter over and rub his antlers along the chain-link fence, and upon such close inspection of the size of said elk, it could easily knock down said fence. If only they knew :)
    That said, I look forward to reading Willis’s post.

  18. philincalifornia says:

    I don’t want to get you into trouble with the law Willis, so keep that gun in the closet would you, but there’s a large herd of Tule Elk pretty close to where you live. Grizzly Island – the other side of Mount Diablo. You have to approach it from the north via I80. Well worth the trip.

    http://baynature.org/places/grizzly-island-wildlife-area

  19. “The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.”

    That’s startling – if elk are prevented from eating plants, the plants aren’t eaten. They’ll be telling us net that if felling of trees is stopped, the trees continue to grow.You learn something new every day.

  20. Alan Watt says:

    Willis says:
    … that’s a quarter ton of meat to shlep out of the forest.

    I was all set to noodge you gently about the proper spelling of “schlep”, but I thought I should verify my research first. I found from here:

    Spelling of some of these Yiddish language words may be variable (for example, schlep is also seen as shlep, schnoz as shnozz, and so on).

    but maybe this could just be spellling revisionists taking over Wikipedia pages.

    This is indeed a worrisome development. Clearly we need to do some follow-up studies to determine whether climate change is affecting the taste of the elk. We need a large sample size to be valid. We’d also have to see whether the deteriorating taste of elk fillet is possibly balanced by an improving taste in elk roast. There are so many things we don’t know about the changing climate effects on elk; munch study is required.

    Anyone in a position to apply for a grant?

  21. Steve McIntyre says:

    The introduction of sheep in the southwest in the 1800s had a drmatic impact on understory of the same sort – see refs in McIntyre and McKitrick (E&E 2005),

  22. Sean Peake says:

    Mike D., the actual name is wapiti. Elk is used as a common name just as buffalo is used for bison. And for your viewing pleasure, I highly recommend you have a look at A Guy on a Buffalo series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ4T9CQA0UM

  23. Pat Moffitt says:

    So do the song birds have an environmental justice suit against the elk?

    If elk are in any way like whitetail then their browsing habits (what they eat) can change over time. Whitetails in my area 20 years ago NEVER ate holly -now its like candy to them. Same for daylillies. (Only 2 plants are 100% safe– daffodils and boxwoods) Adding more complexity to ascribing climate for browsing patterns.

  24. TedK says:

    Um, just how did those geniuses determine that elk did all of that browsing? Did they get dental prints or scraped elk snot off of the leaves for DNA testing?

    Sorry Willis, you did such an excellent review that I have no intentions of reading a document that will only make me angry. So I am not going to read the document to figure how they are absolutely certain that elk overbrowsed that plot.

    But that over-browsed picture just gets to me. Deer can eat anything up to what height they can reach when standing on their rear legs, which is roughly six feet for eastern whitetail (and is why my peach and appletrees are pruned to above six feet). I’d assume hungry mule or black tail deer will at least reach that height. I’d also assume that elk could reach a fair bit higher. Now, there are no markers to allow us to determine height in that picture, but it sure looks like that given the camera angle and distance none of those trees are denuded above 4-5 feet.

    Also, the only other place I’ve seen so completely denuded up to a certain height is where goats are kept. I’ve never seen deer do such a complete clearing of all greenery up to a certain height, unless the deer have no other recourse (penned, winter snowpack trapping them, etc.). Deer for all of their incredible appetite for our favorite plants are actually choosy about what they eat and rarely eat a lot in one spot. They browse and move on; deer, and especially elk, move to where there is easier food, even if it is in your backyard.

    Given the lack of facts, I suspect that overbrowsed picture came from a pen, likely where goats are kept.

  25. Steve Keohane says:

    1. Does an elk eat in the woods? Up here in far northeastern Arizona, also referred to as western Colorado, we have lots of woodlands near open fields/pastures that look just like the ‘after’ picture you show. And lots of yummy elk. Just walking around they are going to clear the lower branches, and they are probably not shy about rubbing an itchy shoulder on a tree trunk either. Cattle cause the same symptoms on trees as well. Surely they don’t graze cattle in the sage brush and pear cactus as they do here. I’ve seen migrating herds of elk over a mile long and as far across as one can see. A one night stay in a high desert area with a herd that size could have effects that last over a year.

  26. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Their paper, hidden behind a paywall, can not be considered as science, as it is not available to the people that paid for It.
    I agree with TedK, that set of pictures look to be a “cherry pick” propaganda set. pg

  27. Eunice Farmilant says:

    I live in Montana near the Lolo National Forest (the Clark Fork River is stone’s throw from my house) and when I ventured eight miles or so up the forest road this past summer for horsetail, yarrow and the like, I came across a delightful area of glorious old cottonwood trees, a delicate little stream and a rich lush undergrowth. A few weeks later, looking for hawthorn and wild rosehips, I returned..to find the area devastated. The shrubs had been trampled to death, the beautiful little stream turned into a muddy swamp and all the herbs were destroyed. The culprit? A herd of twenty or so cows, plundering the forest with great elan. Their huge cow piles littered the road.
    I will take the damage of elk any day over the sheer destruction of a herd of cows. The elk leave a much smaller footprint in the woods, believe me. And their calling cards don’t stick to your boots like fresh cow poop!!

  28. Jenn Oates says:

    I live in a city named Elk Grove, but there are no elk here, sadly, not for a very long time, probably because most of their groves have been paved over. Talk about thinning the herd (and no lie, our rival football team is the Thundering Herd).

    I’m all in favor of reintroducing Elk and other tasty animals to places where they no longer roam, let them get established, and then set the predators on them…fully licensed, of course. I see that as a win-win for those species. Not for the unfortunate individuals which end up on Willis’ dinner plate, but the species overall, and let the climate chips fall where they may.

  29. Al Gored says:

    Sean Peake says:
    January 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    “Mike D., the actual name is wapiti. Elk is used as a common name just as buffalo is used for bison.”

    First, I would like to congratulate you on your recent book(s), which is the most comprehensive and detailed account of the fur trade explorer David Thompson ever done. Just recently got them and I am totally impressed.

    Second, if we really want to put a proper term to ‘elk,’ the North American ones are now classified as subspecies of the Eurasian red deer. In Europe they call moose ‘elk.’

  30. Arizona CJ says:

    I live in Northern Arizona, and while I think Willis’s article is excellent, I’d like to add a few observations:

    #1, Fire. We have had massive fires in recent years (largely a result of diminished logging and successful fire fighting, resulting in fuel buildup). To me, that “before and after” pic looks as if the after one was taken after a ground fire.

    #2, we have loads of large mule deer, with dietary habits very similar to Elk.

    #3: Snowfall. I saw none used here by Willis, but I’d like to mention that one should be VERY wary of published anecdotal reports, for they are notoriously false in this area. The way it works is that if we have, say, a winter with many light snowfalls (say, a foot or so per storm) most people here consider it a “light” winter for snowfall. However, if we get walloped with a couple of heavy snows (4 feet or so from a storm) then they say it’s a “heavy” winter for snow. The total amount of snow is not really considered in this, just depth of the largest falls.

    #4, temperature. I’m at 7000 feet, and yeah, it gets chilly in winter. Zero F is not uncommon. But, we also get some huge (compared to lower altitudes) daily temp swings. It’s not at all uncommon to see a 35 degree difference between daytime and nighttime temps. Today for example (fairly mild for this time of year) had a high of 51 at my house, it’s now 20, and I’m expecting low teens or single digits overnight. This can have a major impact on snowmelt.

    #5 predators. We do have a pretty healthy supply of mountain lions. I don’t see them often, but I find their tracks on my property all the time. Same for bears (except the pesky bears also damage stuff. Absolutely unbearable, they are.)

  31. DeNihilist says:

    But Willis, it’s worse then we thought! According to this paper just released, plants emit a natural molecule, Criegee Biradical, that converts sulfur dioxide into sulphuric acid, which seeds clouds. So if the Antelope keep on destroying the plants, we may warm to Smithereens!

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/12/newly-discovered-molecule-criegee-biradical-may-have-cooling-effect-on-earth/

  32. ironargonaut says:

    What do you estimate the height of the undergrowth clearing to be? Now look up the height of an elk. Why would anyone think an elk did this? Maybe they discovered a new pygmy species. Called goats

  33. John F. Hultquist says:

    Mike D. says:
    January 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm
    The following statement in the article is wrong:

    “Originally there were elk over much of the US.”

    Come on Mike, lighten up. The nit-picking game is easy. For example, Willis uses “US” in the line you quote. Insofar as elk arrived before September 13, 1788 – the elk were originally here. {I’ve chosen a specific event for the date mentioned. March 4, 1789 would be an alternative. Others may claim another.}

  34. RobertL says:

    Actually, the “dog that didn’t bark in the night” was from the Sherlcok Holmes story, “Silver Blaze” – not “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

    The dog didn’t bark when the horse was stolen in the night – therefore the dog knew the thief.

  35. Ed Mertin says:

    http://www.pbase.com/compton_photographer/arkansas_elk

    Elk get really big in Arkansas & Kentucky! The food or browse is high quality. You cannot even tell if they affect the understory, and we have plenty of birds.

  36. Duster says:

    Oh. man! Roast elk, medium rare, venison chops, braised black bear, antelope stew (or chili), do they hold hunters’ return banquets any more. BTW, there is the Tuke Elk Reserve west of Bakersfield, Calif. There are also herds now around San Luis Reservoir in the California Southern Coast Range.

  37. Jessie says:

    Al Gore, thank you for the post @8.06pm. .

    Lawrie Ayres says: January 12, 2012 at 8:17 pm
    In Australia the aborigines killed off our large herbivores 10000 years or so ago. Since then they relied on seasonal burning to encourage new growth for food species, ie. kangaroo. Now that the aborigines have retired to the cities and much of the bush is controlled by a PC National Parks and Wildlife Service ( National Sparks and Wildfires in the vernacular) who don’t do clearing or burning nor do they allow cattle or camels into the parks neither so every few summers the parks burn to the bare earth with consequential loss of habitat and life.

    Tick for Parks and Wildlife Service. Apparently also the temperatures reached several metres underground by the Victorian fires were the equivalent (or more) of an atomic bomb.
    1200 degrees Celsius
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Saturday_bushfires

    Cross for historical ecology diatribe of hunter-gatherers.

    1. Where is the evidence of this ‘seasonal burning’ by a history of ecologically sound practices developed by hunter gatherers?
    Kangaroo and wallaby are notoriously difficult to spear, unless one is at a water hole, tracking an old, young, injured or rutting/preganant game. Or has deliberately fired up entire square kilometres of dry country with appropraite wind to instantly barbeque small meat [which can not escape] or thy enemy, or corral through flame.

    2. Lightening strikes in northern Australia are far more likely to be a natural occurrence prior to the growing season http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2002/12/10/2583008.htm

    Lightening strikes (with some rain) in the summer Dec/January months in the Central Desert are also far more likely to occur, thus a corollary to the myth of ‘fire’ harvesting.

    3. What vegetation (species) actually regenerates after fire in Australia? And what vegetation regenerates normally after the wet season (and fire) with rains in Australia? I do not know.
    However scientists in Western Australia have been publishing for some years on the effects of SMOKE on seed germination. Not fire (heat) but smoke.
    http://www.uwa.edu.au/people/gavin.flematti
    source: http://directory.uwa.edu.au/view?dn=ou=School+of+Chemistry+and+Biochemistry%2Cou%3DFaculty+of+Life+and+Physical+Sciences%2Cou%3DFaculties+of+Science%2Cou%3DFaculties%2Co%3DThe+University+of+Western+Australia

    There is absolutely no evidence of a [slash and] burn [agricultural] society in Australian Aboriginal society. There is evidence of slash and burn practices in settled, large village dwelling PNGers.

    Practically, if not having efficient technology, one would rely on a lightening strike to burn hectares and then walk through feeding of takeaway baked and smoked meats of goanna, skinks, echidna, marsupial rats, small lizards, native bee honey nests, birds and so on and on.
    Presumably this style of civilisation would allow ample time for leisure and the development of extraordinary skill in the arts and culture. And the rights of women. And politics. As suggested by our pre-eminent authors of Australiana history.

  38. kim2ooo says:

    Hmmm if they are moving…up – down whatever…doesn’t that mean where they were is gaining grass / tree cover?

  39. Jessie says:

    Apologies to the grammar police for my mis-spellings in previous post.
    Corrections
    pregnant x1
    appropriate x1
    lightning x3

    I will attempt to improve.

  40. Willis Eschenbach says:

    philincalifornia says:
    January 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I don’t want to get you into trouble with the law Willis, so keep that gun in the closet would you, but there’s a large herd of Tule Elk pretty close to where you live. Grizzly Island – the other side of Mount Diablo. You have to approach it from the north via I80. Well worth the trip.

    True, and there’s elk even closer, a herd of tule elk over at the Point Reyes National Seashore. I saw some up north too, when I hitched up to Oregon, there’s a herd up by the border. Awesome creatures.

    Thanks,

    w.

  41. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Steve McIntyre says:
    January 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    The introduction of sheep in the southwest in the 1800s had a drmatic impact on understory of the same sort – see refs in McIntyre and McKitrick (E&E 2005),

    True, and I’d forgotten your comments in that area.

    Thanks,

    w.

  42. Jimbo says:

    Regarding the human predators of Elk, I vaguely recall (though I could be wrong) that humans kill around 1,000 polar bears a year from their population of between 20,000 to 25,000. That’s 5,000 polar bears in 5 years! Nothing to do with global warming.

    By the way Willis here is something from early December 2011 which is kind of similar to the Elk issue.

    Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
    The Sahel, that stretch of harsh territory south of the Sahara desert, is a bleak region. I did some work there, in a couple three countries. I came away with the conviction that if every day, every person in the Sahel planted one fruit tree and killed one goat, in about twenty years it would be worth visiting……………………

    PS—I’m dead serious about planting trees and killing goats. The main cause of what desertification occurs in the Sahel is humans, but not by way of CO2. We do it by burning whatever will burn to cook our food, and by letting the goats destroy the rest.
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/13/to-sahel-and-back/

    Humans are having an effect on animals but it has very little, if nothing, to do with co2.

  43. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Arizona CJ says:
    January 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    I live in Northern Arizona, and while I think Willis’s article is excellent, I’d like to add a few observations:

    #2, we have loads of large mule deer, with dietary habits very similar to Elk.

    Thanks, AZ, as you might imagine I value actual observations and real measurements over anything else, so I appreciate the report. I was wondering how the study which fenced out the elk distinguished that from fencing out the deer. Then I was wondering if there were even deer in the area. Always more to learn.

    #5 predators. We do have a pretty healthy supply of mountain lions. I don’t see them often, but I find their tracks on my property all the time. Same for bears (except the pesky bears also damage stuff. Absolutely unbearable, they are.)

    Always good to hear of wilder places. My point was that over much of the elks’ range (and perhaps in your area as well) the numbers of all of the large carnivores are greatly decreased from their historical levels. This has had the usual result, that the herbivores need human predation to keep their populations in check. I suspect that their main predator back in the day was wolves, and they’re real thin on the ground these days …

    All the best, stay warm in the high country,

    w.

  44. Al Gored says:

    Re: January 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    “This lack of historical context is the biggest problem with all the bogus studies like this, including”

    To clarify, the bogus studies I refer to here is not this one but the original one which is critiqued.

  45. richard verney says:

    I do not know what the adjustments have been made to the adjusted data and there appears a significant step change around 1940/50 but with that caveat in mind and just eyeballing the snowfall plot (Figure 1), during the period 1890 -1940, the snowfall hovers around the 50 inch mark whereas between 1950 – 2010, it hovers around the 100 inch mark. It is difficult to envisage how anyone looking at that plot would conclude that snowfall in recent times has dropped and looking at that plot, it runs counter intuitive to the central meme of the paper.

    It all appears poor quality science such that one would be ashamed to put one’s name to the paper.

  46. Viv Evans says:

    @ Al Gored, January 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm:

    Thank you very much for that link to Dr Charles E. Kay’s study.

    It is chilling to read, especially in view of the devastation of riparian environments, thanks to overgrazing by ungulates. It is a striking example of ideology-driven eco-management, which uses pretty labels for the general public, while unintentionally and stubbornly destroying that which the profess to ‘save’.

    Other examples of that kind of ideology-driven devastation, this time due to cAWG, can be found across theplanet, no need for me to enumerate them.

  47. Mike Ozanne says:

    For clarity does ‘Elk’ refer to Cervus canadensis aka Wapiti? For many of our European readers ‘Elk’ would refer to Alces alces which would be ‘Moose’ in Yank-speak. Caused confusion when I worked in Sweden, ‘Moose’ being the Swedish phonetic rendering of a vernacular reference to the female pudendum. The question ‘do you hunt Moose being greeted with more laughter than I was anticipating.

  48. John Marshall says:

    The Yellowstone history shows that elk numbers will expand by large multiples without predation. Wolves have now been introduced and the elk numbers are declining as wanted. The wolves are thriving as well with several packs hunting.

    A drive through the park will show that elk eat anything. Browse marks 30ft above the ground show winter food of elk in this mountainous area.

  49. Damage6 says:

    Alan Watt says: “This is indeed a worrisome development. Clearly we need to do some follow-up studies to determine whether climate change is affecting the taste of the elk. We need a large sample size to be valid. We’d also have to see whether the deteriorating taste of elk fillet is possibly balanced by an improving taste in elk roast. There are so many things we don’t know about the changing climate effects on elk; munch study is required.

    Anyone in a position to apply for a grant?””

    I dunno but I’ll volunteer to be an intern. I’ll bring my own rifle.

  50. Nik says:

    There is a study by the RSPB in Britain which showed that the increase in red deer, about the same size as elk, has a detrimental effect on bird life. Browsing and undergrowth grazing reduces nesting cover and food sources for birds. Same happens due to rat presence. And all that with no reference to global warming.

    Global warming seems to have had a dumbing down effect on scientific thinking. It has become a “blame-all” insert everywhere tool.

    Nik

  51. JamesD says:

    “They are … well … umm … no socially acceptable way to say this in a world containing vegevores but to say that elk are delicious,” In order to take this country back, normal men have to quit talking like that. Where I am from it is perfectly “socially acceptable” to talk about killing and eating deer (we don’t have any elk). Do you really care if some vegen has a hissy fit about you hunting? Seriously? Then don’t pretend that you do. I have no problem if someone wants to eat only vegetables. It is none of my business. And it is none of their business if I eat smoke deer links with a little heat to them. /rant

    Anyhow, typical report from modelers. They put the cart before the horse, due to natural human laziness. A good modeler starts out with years of field experience. Then uses the model to interpret ACTUAL field observations. Here you have a bunch of office dudes playing with their model and reporting crap that doesn’t match the field. Typical in many industries.

  52. Stephen Skinner says:

    A good read. I don’t need to tell you this translates to all ‘observations’ where animal or plant behaviour has shifted in so called response to temperature. The disappearance of song birds, the over wintering of migratory animals, the shifting of plant growth boudaries etc are all as a consequence or some other large change that is not temperature related, but as you’ve shown here, is by: the removal of predators; the addition of predators; removal or change of a particular environment including access routes, and with the case of over-wintering, this is because we have provided food and shelter. In the case of this particular petri dish it is covered in big finger prints.

  53. Dr. John M. Ware says:

    My favorite Julius Caesar quote, slightly amended: “Veni, vidi, [BOOM!] venison!” In many places there are scheduled hunts to thin the deer population, and the meat is used to feed the poor. Where elk are too numerous, similar hunts could be held.

    Those of us who grow daylilies (and, I’m sure, other herbaceous perennials) always dread seeing deer in the area. Yes, fences work–at least 10′ in height, 12′-14′ being better, and if in double layers and with barbed-wire tops, better still. How high do elk jump?

  54. Halfwise says:

    I couldn’t read about elk without recalling the Flanders & Swann song in which the beast in the title insists “I hain’t a helk, I’m a g-nu.”.

    As to the study, isn’t this what post-modern science has become? Compare some model runs with runs of other models to explain incorrectly what was already quite well understood?.

  55. John Silver says:

    Just to unconfuse the foreigners:

    “The animal bearing the scientific name Alces alces is known in Britain as the elk,[2] and in North America as the moose.

    The British English word elk has cognates in other Indo-European languages, for example elg in Norwegian, älg in Swedish, Elch in German and łoś in Polish. Confusingly, the word elk is used in North America to refer to a different animal, Cervus canadensis, also known as the wapiti which is similar though slightly smaller (the wapiti is the second largest deer species), and behaviorally divergent from the smaller red deer of central and western Europe. Presumably early European explorers in North America called it elk because of its size and presumably because, as men coming from the British Isles they would have had no opportunity to see the difference between a member of the genus Cervus and an animal fitting the description of Alces at home, where the latter was nowhere present in the 17th and 18th century.”

  56. Mike Ozanne says:

    “Just to unconfuse the foreigners:

    “The animal bearing the scientific name Alces alces is known in Britain as the elk,[2] and in North America as the moose.”

    Wiki has it wrong here, due to US infiltration of culture and language, in Britain this animal would more commonly be described as a Moose than an Elk, It’s also entered the vernacular as an adjective for someone too ugly to attract a sexual partner (applies to both genders)

  57. Viv Evans says:

    @ John Silver, January 13, 2012 at 4:31 am:

    Thanks for the un-confusion. The British early settlers most certainly wouldn’t have come across Alces at home, but they should’ve known some Cervids, seeing that they still roam certain areas in the UK today.

    In fact, they are not difficult to separate visually. Look at this beastie:
    http://www.biolib.cz/en/taxonimage/id20960/

    and look at this one:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elk

    Not hard to see the difference, is it.

    Oh – here’s the ‘King of Exmoor’, our British ‘elk’:
    http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/17-pointer-Monarch-new-King-Exmoor/story-14114930-detail/story.html

    .. and then there was the Irish Elk … not an elk, nor a deer, nor strictly Irish, but definitely gigantic and sadly extinct:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Elk

    Camping wild in Roscommon, Ireland, at one of the numerous little lakes, one could well imagine this animal appearing through the evening mist, stepping out of a small stand of trees towards the reeds on the lake edge opposite one’s camp site …

  58. DaveS says:

    I’m surprised they had to fence off areas of woodland for 6 years to obtain these startling results. Surely they could have modelled the outcome :-)

  59. David L says:

    @Pat Moffitt:
    “Only 2 plants are 100% safe– daffodils…”

    Are you sure about that? Whilst most of the toxin in daffodils is in the bulbs I believe there is also some in the leaves and stems. Basically in my opinion all parts of the daffodil should be avoided as a food item.

    Be very cautious about stating what is and is not safe to eat.

  60. Speed says:

    Today’s (January 13, 2012) Frazz discusses the origin of the name Wapiti.
    http://www.gocomics.com/frazz/?ref=comics

  61. Coach Springer says:

    A new theory of Anne Elk:

  62. bacullen says:

    What kind of airships were being ported in Flagstaff before 1903???

  63. John Silver says:

    More confusion:
    The Eastern Moose, Alces alces americanus, aka the Western Moose:
    http://www.biolib.cz/en/taxon/id133528/

    Actually,
    European Elk: Alces alces alces
    American Moose: Alces alces americanus
    If you look closely you can find differences in appearances, like in the horns and beards.

  64. Pat Moffitt says:

    David L says:
    “Be very cautious about stating what is and is not safe to eat.”

    I was talking about plants resistant to deer browsing from the standpoint of home landscaping. Boxwoods and daffodils are two plants “safe” to plant and not be eaten by the whitetails.

  65. PhilJourdan says:

    But your analysis is much more in depth Willis! Well done.

  66. TedK says:

    In spite of wikirubbish…
    I am always curious why words are assumed to be “English” in origin. Consider that the territory most populated by elk and moose were first explored by the French (following of course the native peoples).

    From: http://www.etymonline.com

    elk late O.E., from O.N. elgr or from an alteration of O.E. elh, eolh (perhaps via French scribes), or possibly from M.H.G. elch (OED’s suggestion), all from P.Gmc. *elkh- (cf. O.H.G. elaho), related to the general word for “deer” in Balto-Slavic (cf. Rus. losu, Czech los; also cf. eland), from PIE *olki-, perhaps with reference to the reddish color from base *el- “red, brown” (in animal and tree names) (cf. Skt. harina- “deer,” from hari- “reddish-brown”). Greek alke and L. alces probably are Germanic loan-words. Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks founded N.Y.C. 1868, originally a society of actors and writers.

    Which, to me, reads as derived from the old English (Norse influence) but as used by the French (scribes)? I put scribes in parenthesis as in pre-colonial days that often meant priests or perhaps the trading post managers (often owned/run by the Scots/English but utilizing French trappers). That makes the American usage of elk derived from the old English but as verbalized by the French.

    moose 1610s, from an Algonquian language, probably Narragansett moos (cf. Abenaki mus, Penobscot muns), said by early sources to be from moosu “he strips off,” in reference to the animals’ stripping bark for food.

    “he strips off” may just add additional humor to those so inclined in Sweden…

    In America, the moose doesn’t browse as the deer and elk do. (Personally, I think that moose decides what’s good to eat based on if it is green or brown and wet, it’s good to eat). Deer and elk browse, not graze; that is, they take and bite, raise their head and chew while they scan/listen for predators and other scary things. Then the deer takes a step before taking another bite. Rarely do they stand in one place and chow down, though you will see a fawn eating something choice while the mother stands watch.

    The bovines, sheep and goats graze; that is, they eat everything within reach and then take a step. All of them are known to eat green things to the dirt surface. In America, deer and their relatives (except moose) rarely eat anything close to the ground. Even choice greens (like my garden) are only cropped to 20-40cm high. They will pick up really choice tidbits from the ground (like my peaches, apples, persimmons and occasionally white oak acorns), but generically they don’t like to crop so close to the ground as it lowers their scan apparatus too far below safe scan level.

    Arizona CJ says:
    January 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm
    I live in Northern Arizona, and while I think Willis’s article is excellent, I’d like to add a few observations:
    #1, Fire. We have had massive fires in recent years (largely a result of diminished logging and successful fire fighting, resulting in fuel buildup). To me, that “before and after” pic looks as if the after one was taken after a ground fire.

    1. Arizona CJ, you may have it right. I was looking at that sprouting green ground cover and was wondering just what ate everything to the dirt. I know goats will and that while cows don’t they do trample everything they didn’t scarf (you’re right also Eunice Farmilant, I’ve also stepped carefully through an area trampled/dimpled/fertilized heavily by the bovines), (I don’t have any experience with sheep so I can’t include them, but they’re suspect). A fast moving ground fire will clean the ground; wilt (kill) the lower leaves/branches and race on. Yes there will be charcoal where larger wood smoldered, but much of the smaller stuff burns to ash. One would have to get a close look at those tree bases to check the fire possibility. One thing though, in the American West, much of the greenery is very flammable even when green. Perhaps very isn’t the right word, explosively flammable is perhaps a better description. In the east a fire may climb a pine tree, the sparks plus heat will ignite the next and so on; in the west, that sagebrush, junipers and other understory literally seem to explode into flames which trigger the next and so-on. I believe that in the east, fires can travel faster than a man can run; in the west and Midwest however, they can travel faster than a horse can run (and can give a driver a good scare too, personal experience near the border of Oregon & Nevada)

    Native Americans practiced fire control in that they set burns frequently, for many reasons, usually food related. In the forests, burns controlled the understory; in the plains, the burns kept the grasslands from becoming tangled forests and allowed the Indians to “harvest” large quantities of quail, prairie chickens (grouse), rabbits and other little scurrying critters. The whole “set no fires” actions are a 20th century enviro-reaction and recently modern Americans are now just beginning to realize the benefits of controlled fires; even if we rarely have the stomach to perform the burns.

    Colonial America (Eastern North America) was a “virgin” forest landscape spotted by meadows. Indians burned the understory to ensure unhindered access through the forests which as a byproduct allowed trees to reach massive girth and height. Deer were NOT abundant, nor elk, or even the eastern bison. Turkey and squirrels were the chief meat sources. Grouse preferred upland meadows while quail preferred lowland meadows; deer and elk inhabited both along with the swamps and river bottoms. In the west, modern man has realized that preventing regular burning was also preventing sequoia trees (among others) from spreading seed. Sequoias require the heat of a fire to open their seed cones and allow their seed to spread. The recent ash from a fire provides a spike of fertilizer that helps jumpstart the seedling, even in a barren area. No fires means no new sequoia trees.

    My apologies for a lot of drivel, but there are obviously a lot of overlooked details in the study Willis reviewed (choked on).

  67. TedK says:

    I forgot to add (as I reread after the post). Deer and elk as part of the art of browsing will eat the buds and if starved, the bark of trees. That is they’ll eat the bark long after they’ve eaten every bud they can reach. Deer and elk never eat branches, they just don’t eat woody material. What is missing from that over grazed picture is everything but a mainstem below a fairly low height. That is not deer nor elk damage, they’ll leave all of the branches. Again, we’re back to goats or fire.

  68. Sean Peake says:

    @ Al Gored: Just recently got them and I am totally impressed.
    So you’re the one who bought them!

    @TedK: in the late 1700s, the Cree name for moose was “moosewah”, the woodland caribou “marthe moosewah” (ugly moose), barrenground caribou “Marthe tik” (ugly moose and wanderer)

  69. Jim G says:

    Pat Moffitt says:
    January 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm
    “So do the song birds have an environmental justice suit against the elk?

    If elk are in any way like whitetail then their browsing habits (what they eat) can change over time. Whitetails in my area 20 years ago NEVER ate holly -now its like candy to them. Same for daylillies. (Only 2 plants are 100% safe– daffodils and boxwoods) Adding more complexity to ascribing climate for browsing patterns.”

    Elk graze more and browse less than white tail deer. They are regularly seen feeding, and are hunted, in open meadows (called parks)in the mountains for this reason. Elk do quite well in the Powder River Valley of WY where there are virtually no trees other than Juniper bushes which are not high on their cullenary list. They do browse on grease wood and other bushes here as do the cattle. They, like deer, seem very adaptable and will eat ornamentals in people’s yards and crops. Just ask the folks in CO. They were, in fact, introduced or reintroduced?, to the valley several decades ago and have adapted well to the desert environment here to the extent that they are now hunted due to their population growth. The Montana study is pure nonsense. Retreating snow would open up more grassland (parks) as well as wooded areas and the elk would likely prefer the grass to the trees. This and the multitude of other factors noted in various posts here point out the unmitigated stupidity of the study in question.

  70. Pamela Gray says:

    Elk population and grazing patterns correlate with oceanic/atmospheric teleconnected oscillations. Dramatically. Given that well-known pattern, it behooves hunting regulators to tie seasonal permit numbers to what the ocean is doing in the Northern Pacific regions. They can safely ignore AGW. Its effect is too tiny to show up in the natural swings. This is also applicable to seasonal game fishing permits. Salmon and steelhead also follow these oscillations. Over hunting and over fishing can harm populations during the natural “down” phase of these decadel swings.

    That said, I have a solution to over-populated elk herds. They can come to Oregon, round up our also non-native wolves and ship them to Arizona to eat the non-native elk population there. Problem solved.

  71. jgo says:

    Elk carry brucellosis, a big problem in the several states around Yellowstone National Park (there’s been quite a bit of coverage in the Billings MT Gazette). It affects humans, dogs, wolves, bison and cattle, causing miscarriages. There are vaccines, but the vaccines for bison don’t work well and only a small fraction of them have been vaccinated. They’re more effective in cattle, but, again, only a fraction have been vaccinated. The elk vaccine seems to work, but only a negligible fraction have been vaccinated and it has proven impossible to contain the elk; they go where they want to go regardless of human efforts to the contrary.

    “David Bruce (b: 1865 d: 1931) was an Australian of Scottish descent who discovered the cause of sleeping sickness and Malta fever. When he isolated the bacteria of Malta fever it was renamed brucellosis after him, and the genus of bacteria causing it, Brucella.” — Duncan Bruce 1996, 1998 _The Mark of the Scots_ pg221

  72. Philip Peake says:

    So how did they design this enclosure such that it excluded only Elk, but still allowed all the other herbivores of the forest to graze?

    They didn’t?!?!????

    So how do they know it was only Elk causing the problem?

  73. Jim G says:

    Pamela Gray says:
    January 13, 2012 at 9:37 am
    “Elk population and grazing patterns correlate with oceanic/atmospheric teleconnected oscillations. Dramatically. Given that well-known pattern, it behooves hunting regulators to tie seasonal permit numbers to what the ocean is doing in the Northern Pacific regions. They can safely ignore AGW. Its effect is too tiny to show up in the natural swings. This is also applicable to seasonal game fishing permits. Salmon and steelhead also follow these oscillations. Over hunting and over fishing can harm populations during the natural “down” phase of these decadel swings.

    That said, I have a solution to over-populated elk herds. They can come to Oregon, round up our also non-native wolves and ship them to Arizona to eat the non-native elk population there. Problem solved.”

    Game management by state authorities unfortunately looks much more closely at the $500 to $1000 per out of state license fee than they do at oceanic/atmospheric occilations. Teleconnected? Is that like teleported? I do believe that coyotes can teleport when they are out of sight as I have experienced them dissappearing as soon as they are beyond human observation.

  74. FerdinandAkin says:

    Gee Mr. Eschenbach
    I do not mean to nit pick, but your lead graphic, Figure 1. Snowfall in Flagstaff, Arizona, has a blue ball labeled “Flagstaff Airport” that appears before 1900

  75. Mark N says:

    In Alston Chase’s book Playing God in Yellowstone he suggests the Elk were introduced to Yellowstone for hunting and sport. To understand the politics of US environmental movement and it’s early natural history I suggest reading this book cover to cover? I found out about it from the bibliography at the back of “State of Fear”

  76. Willis Eschenbach says:

    kim2ooo says:
    January 13, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Hmmm if they are moving…up – down whatever…doesn’t that mean where they were is gaining grass / tree cover?

    Um … er … well … please do not try to confuse AGW activists with logic.

    w.

  77. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Mike Ozanne says:
    January 13, 2012 at 2:15 am

    For clarity does ‘Elk’ refer to Cervus canadensis aka Wapiti? For many of our European readers ‘Elk’ would refer to Alces alces which would be ‘Moose’ in Yank-speak. Caused confusion when I worked in Sweden, ‘Moose’ being the Swedish phonetic rendering of a vernacular reference to the female pudendum. The question ‘do you hunt Moose’ being greeted with more laughter than I was anticipating.

    As a long-time moose hunter, let me say that these elk are “wapiti” or cervus canadensis.

    w.

  78. Dr. Dave says:

    I never thought much about elk. They have either been introduced or reintroduced to the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. I think they may even allow permitted hunts. I can’t be certain but I seem to remember reading about elk being introduced in Wisconsin as well. We have lots of elk here in NM and even more in CO. We also have mountain lions and black bear (not sure if black bear preys on elk). They have also reintroduced the Grey Wolf in this state (and in Wisconsin). Much to the consternation of ranchers the wolves have developed a taste for calves.

    While driving up to SW CO some years back to go skiing I saw huge herd of elk. A rancher had fenced in about 5-10 acres for his horses. It was good, sturdy stable fencing at least 6 to 8 feet high. The elk didn’t even break stride as they jumped his fence and helped themselves to his alfalfa feeder. This had to infuriating for the rancher. I had a horse back in those days and I remember forking over $4/bale for alfalfa. Today alfalfa is selling for about $10/bale because of the demand in Texas. I bet that rancher in Colorado has come up some better solution.

    When I lived in Texas we had a big house in a finger of the Palo Duro Canyon. It was a gated community but it was thick with deer. I’m not sure what species of deer but they were smaller than the big ones I’d see back in Michigan. Our three Golden Retrievers lived outside (they had a wonderful kennel) and their job was bark away deer (and skunks and porcupines). My wife and I divorced, she got the groovy house as part of the “post-nuptial agreement”. I took the female dogs and let her keep the big male who now lived inside the big, empty house with her. Within just a few months every speck of landscaping we had planted over the previous 4 years had been eaten down to the dirt by the deer. These deer were protected and their population artificially inflated. They had a year-round water supply and lots of tasty landscaping to munch on. In the wild I can’t imagine elk really being damaging to the environment. But, yeah…they’re a pain in the ass to hunt, but are real tasty.

  79. Willis Eschenbach says:

    JamesD says:
    January 13, 2012 at 3:37 am

    “They are … well … umm … no socially acceptable way to say this in a world containing vegevores but to say that elk are delicious,” In order to take this country back, normal men have to quit talking like that. Where I am from it is perfectly “socially acceptable” to talk about killing and eating deer (we don’t have any elk). Do you really care if some vegen has a hissy fit about you hunting? Seriously? Then don’t pretend that you do. I have no problem if someone wants to eat only vegetables. It is none of my business. And it is none of their business if I eat smoke deer links with a little heat to them. /rant

    Take a deep breath there, James, you’re seeing things. I was making fun of the “politically correct” folks with my comment, laughing about how it is not socially acceptable in some circles to even talk about eating meat. I find it hilarious. I mean here’s all these folks that boil creatures alive and eat them, like carrots and such, but somehow them boiling a carrot alive is OK and me frying an elk steak is an ecocrime of some sort. Go figure.

    Me, I’m a carnetarian. My theory about vegetables is “That’s not food, that’s what food eats”. So save all of your nastiness and vitriol for someone that deserves it.

    Finally, let me suggest that it may be a mistake to jump in and start lecturing me just because you are too uncaring or foolish to consider the possibility that I’m not saying what you think I am. You just look out of touch when you do that. I have learned to my cost that sometimes when I think someone else is being unbearably stupid … it just means I don’t understand what they’re saying.

    My best to you,

    w.

  80. SteveSadlov says:

    Herbivore overpopulation is a serious issue throughout the Western US. Here we’ve got the mulies – I wish a hunt was allowed in my neck of the woods, I’d be all over it.

  81. Willis Eschenbach says:

    FerdinandAkin says:
    January 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Gee Mr. Eschenbach
    I do not mean to nit pick, but your lead graphic, Figure 1. Snowfall in Flagstaff, Arizona, has a blue ball labeled “Flagstaff Airport” that appears before 1900

    It has a number of them, which makes me think that they measured the snow there before they put the airport there … or maybe they only allowed flights from Pre-Colombia, the country that is the source of the Pre-Columbian artifacts.

    w.

  82. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Mark N says:
    January 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

    In Alston Chase’s book Playing God in Yellowstone he suggests the Elk were introduced to Yellowstone for hunting and sport.

    Given that elk have been in North America for thousands of years, I find it very doubtful that they needed to be “introduced to Yellowstone”. I’d have to see a citation for that. Perhaps you mean “re-introduced”, although even that sounds doubtful.

    Here, for example, is a report from 1877:

    Superintendent P. W. Norris in his report for the year 1877 (12) cites the necessity for protection of the game, “From the unquestioned fact that over 2,000 hides of the huge Rocky Mountain Elk, nearly as many each of the Bighorn sheep, deer and antelope, and scores if not hundreds of moose and bison were taken out of the park in the spring of 1875, probably 7,000 or an annual average of 1,000 of them, and hundreds if not thousands of each of these other animals have been thus killed since its discovery in 1870.”

    SOURCE

    So … if there were all those elk there in 1877, how can Chase claim they were “introduced”? Mark, what did Chase cite as sources for his claim about the Yellowstone elk? Because according to the source I cite above, they’ve been there since before gringos took over North America … and it’s hard to imagine elk not being there in prehistoric times. What would have kept them out?

    w.

  83. pk says:

    i lived in the missoula area from 54-64.

    lots of memories.

    800 pound elk cadging cigarretts in the parking lot for the national bison range in arlee. (they really liked marlboros without filters and camels).

    standing in line behind a fawn getting a drink of water out of the crew truck water bucket.

    the nitwits from the college built quite a few “enclosed areas” in the woods with 12 foot fences to study the plant growth if it wasn’t browsed. of course the enclosures had more elk and deer in that part than outside. (a full grown bull elk with a fully developed rack can clear a 12 foot fence with style and grace.)

    snowy weather driving the elk down out of the high mountains and said elk eating the farmers haystacks…….

    the little old white haired ladies excercising their shotguns chasing the elk out of their gardens, back yards, front yards because they were eating their various flowers…..

    the 10,000 head excess in the yellowstone area, possibly because of predator deficit caused by bounty hunting. they said that the excess was 10,000 but one year they had a hard count of 5000 starving to death and it didn’t make a dent in the population.

    elkburgers, elk stake, elk roast, bison burgers, bison stake, bison roast served in the school lunch programs in the surrounding schools.

    ahhhhh
    god how i miss it.

    C

  84. Al Gored says:

    Why Chase would say that is a mystery.

    Elk were not reintroduced to Yellowstone because when that park was established in 1872 there were still some left there then. That was very significant because that was one of the last places where Rocky Mountain elk did survive. As the park became overpopulated with them – due to a lack of predation by Native North Americans and other natural predators (which were removed) – that population became the source for virtually all reintroductions of them elsewhere. Thus almost all North American elk outside of California and the Pacific Northwest now are from Yellowstone stock. And that includes some in the Pacific Northwest – native home of Roosevelt elk – because they were getting desperate for places to ship them and nobody cared much about subspecies back then.

    After there was no place else to ship surplus elk they started annual culls in Yellowstone to control the population until the 1960′s when the greenies said that wasn’t nice… and invented the fake theory of ‘Natural Regulation’ as their ‘scientific’ cover story to explain why so many were starving to death every winter. This was exacerbated by winter feeding at Jackson Hole. That did allow more elk to survive the winters but it just made their impacts on the park vegetation that much worse.

    The impact of the reintroduced wolves on the elk (and deer, moose, even bighorn sheep) populations proves the Natural Regulation theory was junk but they will never admit that.

  85. juanslayton says:

    Several commenters raise questions about how elk exclusion was actually managed.

    Our local deer (San Gabriel Range, S. California) are not particularly exceptional, but I have seen them gracefully clear a 6-foot chain link fence. So when Dr. Ware reports needing a 12-14 foot fence to protect nursery beds, I’m a believer. Can someone who has read the paywalled article report whether it contains any details, particularly as to the location of the exclusion zone? (I get up that way from time to time, and it might be interesting to take a first hand look.)

    Not directly relevant to the study, but indicative of the difficulty of controlling animal behavior (even domesticated animals) is this picture of the Luna, New Mexico, weather station:

    http://gallery.surfacestations.org/main.php?g2_itemId=82861

    Take a good look at the fence to the right. The story behind it: Local ranchers engulfed by last summer’s huge White Mountains fire evacuated as much of their herds as they could, and a good number were turned loose in the open land around the ranger station. Some of the best grazing in the area would be the nice green plants in front of the station itself, and the rickety fence was no serious obstacle when bossy showed up for dinner. At the time of my visit, the rangers had given up on repairs and were just letting things lie until the cattle could be removed.

  86. Alix James says:

    Elk have been re-introduced here in Ontario, Canada in the last decade or so as well.

    http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/FW/2ColumnSubPage/279012.html

    I almost got to find out the hard way how tasty they are last (Canadian)Thanksgiving when my family and I came within a few feet of ramming a cow on an incredible head of steam (and with some intense myopia and tunnel vision) with our car. In a matter of seconds I went from “hey, its a moose” to “look out for that moose” to “oh my #$% we almost hit an elk”. (Yes, they look very differently, but combine a faster elk and a faster car on a near-collision course and I hope the hunters here forgive me). Never has the hind-end of a large, yummy cervid seemed at once both terrifyingly oh-so-near, and thankfully oh-so-far.

    If you look at the link provided, it shows how hard it is to estimate the numbers of even large mammals over a great area. This elk (and according to my dad who has hunted the area for almost 70 years, its alone) must have moved over 100 miles from its release point (or where its ancestors were). Lots of guestimates, hopefully better than counting the number of white things in the water and calling them dead polar bears, then extrapolating.

  87. Dr. Dave says:

    Why hasn’t there been a big push to re-establish the grizzly bear back to its historic range which included virtually all of the western states all the way down into northern Mexico? Here in the lower 48 the grizzly is pretty much a creature of Yellowstone and a chunk of Montana. Why not reintroduce them to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California? Perhaps it’s because grizzlies ain’t fussy eaters and have no compunction about feasting on humans. But this shouldn’t bother environmentalists, should it? Nothing like a top predator to restore natural balance, eh?

  88. Al Gored says:

    The source Willis cites states that: “Elk did not historically occur in southeastern Arizona and are an unplanned addition to the native wildlife found there. Early elk sources such as Murie’s 1951 “Elk of North America” correctly noted that elk were not native to southeastern Arizona.”

    Maybe I missed it in earlier comments but this needs to be clarified. Note that this specifically states “southeastern Arizona.” In other words, the desert. No surprise there would be no elk there.

    But there was an alleged ‘subspecies’ in the mountains of the SW, including presumably the mountains and highlands of western Arizona, called “Merriam’s elk.” Now “extinct.”

    However, given how Merriam operated this subspecific classification is undoubtedly nonsense and these were probably just Rocky Mountain elk which were extirpated – versus a subspecies gone ‘extinct.’

    More significantly – and this applies to most of what is commonly imagined as ‘original’ populations – the Native North American population of the SW had been completely decimated by smallpox epidemics starting in the mid 1500s. With those predators removed elk and other wildlife populations could grow and expand and may well have expanded south into that region only during the aftermath of that depopulation.

    (That said, as I recall Merriam’s ‘classification’ was only based on some antlers, and antlers can travel – as evident by the antlers on walls in New York City now. So who knows where or how many elk were there, if any at all. All we do know for sure is that there’s viable elk habitat in the highlands of western Arizona, where they are now.)

    This pattern in most obvious in California history. When the Spanish first arrived the famous abundance of wildlife there did not exist. It was very limited and localized by the highest aboriginal population densities in North America. The famous California abundance occured only after most of those people were eliminated by smallpox and most of the rest rounded up and enslaved by the Spanish. Thus if you look at most records of abundance there you will find that they are from the 1820s to 1840s, long after Spanish impacts had completely changed that ecosystem.

    Pardon me for going on but I personally find this much more interesting than good old AGW, and I have spent many years looking into it. The so called science of Conservation Biology, which is exemplified by this USGS paper, is even worse – OK, maybe equally worse – than IPCC Climastrology. Models, cherry-picked theories and evidence, and fake history, all wrapped in ‘save the planet’ missionary groupthink.

  89. Pamela Gray says:

    By the way, smothered venison is excellent but it takes all day to make it.

  90. Sean Peake says:

    Willis, Lewis and Clark bagged over 300 on their expedition, a few near present day Yellowstone (at least on the Yellowstone R.) and used the leather from one to bind a journal. Tasty AND durable!

  91. Sean Peake says:

    Al Gored, I’ve been trying to reach you. You runnin’ from the law? I was going to send you copies for all your thoughts and contributions, but aince you bought them…

  92. Kevin Kilty says:

    Al Gored says:
    January 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Indeed. If you want to reduce the herd, then introduce the Arctic wolves. Actually, after reading here that the Yellowstone herd is the source for so many introductions, I wonder about the wisdom of letting the wolves decimate the population.

  93. Brian H says:

    Kevin Kilty says:
    January 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Al Gored says:
    January 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Indeed. If you want to reduce the herd, then introduce the Arctic wolves. Actually, after reading here that the Yellowstone herd is the source for so many introductions, I wonder about the wisdom of letting the wolves decimate the population.

    1) “decimate” means reduce by 10%.
    2) The herd is healthier, as it doesn’t outgrow its food supply
    3) Wolves cull the weakest and oldest, not the strongest bucks in their prime
    4) It prevents the herd from devastating the ground cover in the park
    5) beavers and fish come back to the streams because willows etc. get to grow up.
    Etc.

  94. Brian H says:

    Summary of above: human hunters make lousy wolves.

  95. Al Gored says:

    Brian H – I see you have been studying the propaganda. Sorry to see that you bought it.

  96. Al Gored says:

    Kevin Kilty says:
    January 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    “Al Gored says:
    January 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Indeed. If you want to reduce the herd, then introduce the Arctic wolves. Actually, after reading here that the Yellowstone herd is the source for so many introductions, I wonder about the wisdom of letting the wolves decimate the population.”

    The wolves they did reintroduce, from the central Alberta Rockies (near Jasper) are more than adequate for the job, as evident by what they have done. And they introduced them to two other areas at the same time, and now they have spread far and wide.

    As for using that herd for further reintroductions, there aren’t more suitable elk-less places left to restock and it would make more sense now to get that stock from still wolf-less areas where elk populations are high or too high. Rocky Mt National Park in CO would be the logical place to get them from now as it is the new ‘Yellowstone’ for elk problems.

  97. Kevin Kilty says:

    Brian H says:
    January 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Kevin Kilty says:
    January 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Al Gored says:
    January 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Indeed. If you want to reduce the herd, then introduce the Arctic wolves. Actually, after reading here that the Yellowstone herd is the source for so many introductions, I wonder about the wisdom of letting the wolves decimate the population.

    1) “decimate” means reduce by 10%.
    2) The herd is healthier, as it doesn’t outgrow its food supply
    3) Wolves cull the weakest and oldest, not the strongest bucks in their prime
    4) It prevents the herd from devastating the ground cover in the park
    5) beavers and fish come back to the streams because willows etc. get to grow up.
    Etc.

    Literally “decimate” does mean this, but in usage we are implying a large and maybe disastrous reduction when we use the term. So what? Heard is healthier–OK. Wolves cull the calves in addition to the old, weak, etc. It prevents …. on and on. Fine. What I know is that the game and fish people are pretty surprised by how the wolves have reduced the herd and how far the wolves now range. A friend of mine in the pack hunt business in the Cody area is pretty discouraged by what he has seen. Obviously he has a different perspective than you.

  98. Al Gored says:

    Brian H – Pardon me. I should not have been so dismissive.

    Here’s the propaganda part from your list:

    1) “decimate” means reduce by 10%.

    Just plain false. But since the premise they used to allow this ‘experimental’ reintroduction was that these wolves would not decimiate elk herds as they have, no surprise that they keep up this Big Lie. You need to look deeper and beyond the propaganda from the sponsors and supporters of this project, and I’ll leave that up to you – assuming you really want to understand this.

    3) Wolves cull the weakest and oldest, not the strongest bucks in their prime

    This is a fairy tale. Wolves kill whatever they can kill. The weakest and oldest usually are easiest so that part has some truth to it. But I notice that the ‘youngest’ is not on your list and predation of elk calves by wolves is the FIRST factor in these herd reductions. Thus a key indicator of this predation is the fall cow:calf ratios which reveal how many calves survived.

    As for not killing the ‘strongest bulls (not bucks) in their prime, that is completely false. Wolves deliberately target bull elk after the rut as they are weakened over that season, and a skilled wolf pack can take one down anytime in the right setting. The same is true for other scenarios. Cougars kill all sorts of mule deer bucks in their prime because they tend to inhabit the more rugged areas where cougars can hunt best.

    And, by the way, wolves kill cougars when they can, or more often just claim their kills, another part of the story that the mythologists always forget to explain. That is why it is so easy to tree cougars with dogs (dogs and wolves are the same species, different subspecies).

    Your other points are correct but beside the point. Native North American hunters had the same effects. Of course some (most) of them also killed beavers but so do wolves, increasingly when large prey becomes scarce. It is called ‘optimal foraging’ – google it.

  99. Kevin Kilty says:

    Al Gored says:
    January 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    The wolves they did reintroduce, from the central Alberta Rockies (near Jasper) are more than adequate for the job, as evident by what they have done. And they introduced them to two other areas at the same time, and now they have spread far and wide…

    Game and fish people tagged a young wolf and found he traveled from Yellowstone into NW Colorado, then to central Utah, Idaho and back to Yellowstone. They do travel far, and will make it to Rocky Mtn. Park on their own probably.

  100. Brian H says:

    AlGored

    Well, the 1st 3 meanings are as I specified. You can have the rest.

    decimate (third-person singular simple present decimates, present participle decimating, simple past and past participle decimated)

    1. (Roman history) To kill one man chosen by lot out of every ten in a legion or other military group.  
    2. To reduce anything by one in ten, or ten percent.  
    3. (historical) To exact a tithe, or tax of 10 percent.  
    4. To reduce to one-tenth.
    5. To severely reduce; to destroy almost completely.  
    6. (computer graphics) To replace a high-resolution model with one of lower resolution but acceptably similar appearance.

    Basically a malaprop, intending to say “devastate”, but missing by 3 or 4 letters. >:)

    As for the rest of your trivial “exceptions to the rule”, they’re insignificant. In the event, wolf-predated elk/deer/rabbit populations etc. are far more stable and leave much more resources for other species. Deal.

  101. Mike Wryley says:

    “Estimates of natural internal climate variability are obtained from 1600 years of two control simulations performed with fully coupled ocean–atmosphere climate models.”

    “fully coupled—models” ! ? I’ll say they were coupled, in fact the whole exercise is a cluster couple.
    In reading some of the over worded, inane sentences in the Martin/Maron paper, you have to wonder if these guys actually believe their own swill.

  102. Pamela Gray says:

    Predation is not “balanced”. It see saws just like everything else. People have very weird notions about nature’s “balance”. That is a fairy tale. Nature is about as unbalanced as it can get. It swings wildly and irregularly. It is natural for predators to extinguish prey. And it is natural for predators to themselves be extinguished. That is nature. Not this “balanced” lambs and lions in an equal match. Nature wouldn’t last in a “balanced” system. Not enough resources to sustain it. So when humans try to “balance” things by reintroducing this or that species, we usually really only screw it up worse.

  103. Al Gored says:

    Kevin Kilty says:
    January 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    “Game and fish people tagged a young wolf and found he traveled from Yellowstone into NW Colorado, then to central Utah, Idaho and back to Yellowstone. They do travel far, and will make it to Rocky Mtn. Park on their own probably.”

    Yes, young dispersing wolves can travel remarkable distances. But since they know that wolf’s route so well, I must wonder how they ‘tagged’ it. Sounds like a satellite tracked radio-collar.

    The poster wolf for the Yellowstone-to-Yukon ‘Rewilding’ project – google it if you don’t know about it, and you may be shocked – was a wolf they named ‘Pluie.’ They put a satellite radio-collar on it and it made a similar incredible journey, which was said to show the need for this giant land grab – even though this wolf successfully traveled so far without it.

    Then after wandering aimlessly for a year or so the greenies were all hysterical over the news that Pluie had been shot in SE British Columbia. Then they discovered that only the radio-collar had been shot, off, and Pluie had escaped. The next spring they found her again, settled in with a pack at last.

    Wolves are very visually oriented social animals – thus the dominant wolf keeps its tail highest while lesser wolves have them lower, and the ‘low lifes’ are ‘hang dogs.’ You can see all this in dogs. So a wolf like Pluie, with a (then) huge bulky radio-collar around its neck, was a social outcast… until some hunter shot it off, allowing Pluie to join a pack and end its outcast days.

    I would not be surprised if something like that played a role in the wolf you describe. That said, with the incredible wolf population boom since the reinroduction, there are so many wolves producing so many surplus dispersers that they are showing up all over the place. One just made it to northern California recently.

    And to fully understand why this wolf project was so important to the greens, wherever a wolf wandered to suddenly became ‘critical habitat’ for what they had (until recently) classified as a Threatened species – and an excuse for more land grabbing and rancher and hunter bashing.

    Ironically, all during this period any wolf which wandered across the boundary into Canada could be shot.

    As to wolves getting to Rocky Mt Nat. Park, while it is certainly possible, if not probable, after what happened with this wolf reintroduction around Yellowstone I am sure that the surrounding ranching, hunting, and rural living community will do everything they can to stop it. Wolves don’t just eat elk.

  104. Al Gored says:

    Brian H says:
    January 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks for that clarification. My Latin is sooooo rusty.

    But I completely disagree with this: “As for the rest of your trivial “exceptions to the rule”, they’re insignificant. In the event, wolf-predated elk/deer/rabbit populations etc. are far more stable and leave much more resources for other species.”

    Wolves do not have hunting regulations. They can all but extirpate their prey, particularly in an area like Yellowstone where they have multiple prey species.

    In the fantasy version of ecology, the wolves reduce the elk population to the point where that prey population can no longer support the wolves. Then the wolves move or starve. But where they also have deer and moose for example, elk are still their preferred prey but after they have reduced the elk population they can switch to other prey, and stay longer, while at the same time killing off the remaining elk.

    So there is no stability. It is cyclic. As for how much meat they leave for other species, that depends entirely on how much food they have. When wolves first arrived in Yellowstone they had a gigantic feast and could afford to just eat the best and leave the rest. Those were the glory days for those secondary scavengers – except for coyotes which they killed, and bears which they displaced from carcasses or killed (yes they can and do kill grizzly bear cubs and sometimes even adult grizzlies; all documented) – as well as for the wolves. But with more wolves and fewer elk, they consume more of each elk, leaving less for scavengers.

    After peaking after reintroduction, wolf numbers in that park are declining in synch with their prey pops. That also meant that wolves went looking for food outside the park with predictable results – lots of dead livestock. And although this ‘experimental’ reintroduction was sold with the proviso that cattle killing wolves would be promptly eliminated – and many were – they wrapped that up in so much red tape that that procedure was often not followed, triggering the major backlash that erupted and finally led to their delisting.

    All and all, while there are many positive things about this reintroduction it has created a very serious backlash against the greenies and their government collaborators – like Ed Bangs you quoted before – that has probably done much more overall harm than good. And since the wolf people have been lying about things since day one, I fully understand that.

    The more you know about this whole thing the worse it gets.

  105. Viv Evans says:

    Pamela Gray says on January 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm:
    “Predation is not “balanced”. It see saws just like everything else. People have very weird notions about nature’s “balance”. That is a fairy tale. Nature is about as unbalanced as it can get. It swings wildly and irregularly. It is natural for predators to extinguish prey. And it is natural for predators to themselves be extinguished. That is nature. Not this “balanced” lambs and lions in an equal match. Nature wouldn’t last in a “balanced” system. Not enough resources to sustain it. So when humans try to “balance” things by reintroducing this or that species, we usually really only screw it up worse.”

    Spot on!

    The amazing (or, for me, irritating) point is that these interactions have been researched and described by Charles Sutherland Elton, starting in the 1920s, e.g in his famous book ‘Animal Ecololgy’, 1927.

    But for greenies, with their fluffy, anthropomorphic takes on ‘Nature’, history begins last Tuesday. and Elton is soo old, man, what would he know …

  106. Frank White says:

    The word “species” gets misused a lot. In my opinion the idea that extinction of a population is equivalent to extinction of a species is a mischievous idea. For example, what happened to the population of elk in Arizona was extinction of a population not a species. Likewise, whatever happens to polar bears in the US part of the Arctic is not relevant because the species is doing very well in the Canadian Arctic thanks to the loss of ice, which make seals much easier for them to find and catch.

  107. Brian H says:

    Viv;
    Ecololgy? NAW (Not A Word). ;)

    Pam;
    RU trying to say Nature is unsustainable? That there can be Peak Prey and/or Peak Predators? Or collapse of one, then the other? That would have resulted in the extinction of 99.98% of all species ever evolved!

    Oh, wait …

  108. Brian H says:

    Frank;
    And never forget that polar bears interbreed (fertile hybrids) with grizz and Kodiacs, and are, like all bears, omnivores. Since the last glaciation, the only threat to their survival has ever been rifles. Don’t count on your pistol to save you! ;)

  109. Mario says:

    Willis I admire your posts very much. Clear arguments with empirical support.
    I have a seasonal home in Cornville Az, elev 3,225 ft.
    I have hiked at lower elevations, Camp Verde area approx 3.000 ft , to higher, Flagstaff area approx 7,000 ft.
    On all these hikes through desert scrub to Ponderosa pine I have seen elk droppings.
    I have talked to long time residents that have ranches at lower elevations that have seen elk over the years on their properties.
    Elk are not pushing into desert, ie lower elevations, they are already there and have been for a while.

  110. Jim G says:

    Technically speaking, I have been told by one of our WY Game & Fish biologists that the strain of wolves introduced here were not “reintroduced” as they are somewhat different from those that were here previously. As far as the “balance of nature”, living here teaches one that there is, indeed, no such warm fuzzy. If predation or weather does not thin out a given critter then disease will do it much more dramatically. Case in point, prairie dogs, were so thick there were not enough bullets to shoot them all nor enough predators so their populations just kept growing in some areas around here then they got the plague. Now one cannot find one in those areas. The cottontail rabbit population follows a similar pattern over about a 7 year course.

  111. Jim G says:

    Decimation was originally from the Roman use of the term and was a punishment for running away in a battle and was execution of every tenth man. Since the Romans rarely experienced such losses in battle it was good reason for troops to stay and fight. More recent common use of the term has changed its meaning to a greater loss than true decimation.

  112. juanslayton says:

    Willis,
    I’m always a bit puzzled by the tendency to dismiss SE Arizona as desert, ignoring the significant Swisshelm and Chiricahua mountains. The Chiricahuas in particular seem to me to be potential elk habitat (plenty of white tail and mule deer there for sure.) So I binged ‘chiricahua elk’ and found the following report of a purported elk skull find:
    http://tomahawksadventuretravel.blogspot.com/2009/07/last-fall-before-departing-on-my-round.html
    I’d be interested to know what you make of it.

  113. pk says:

    juanslayton:

    out in the middle of your picture there is a small whatchamacallit on a galvanized pipe. is that one of those automated weather stations that anthony talks about?

    when elk (and deer) grow their new antlers in the spring they are covered with skin/hide/whatever. its called “being in the velvet”. the elk/deer rub this stuff off when the antlers are fully developed because it itches. when a full sized bull elk cleans his “rack” he can really rip to shreds a half dozen “christmas trees” in a matter of a few minutes.

    i have to wonder how well that little gadget would survive a “cleaning session”.

    by the way the forest service used to use colored vinyl ribbon to mark trees for various purposes. the elk would eat the yellow and orange tapes but leave the other colors alone. we would see evidence of them passing through the elk in the droppings.

    elk droppings are small spherical offerings. commonly called “knowledge pills” by the local denzians. the sucker is offored a couple and encouraged “here take one, it’l make you smarter”. he gets it up near his nose and says “this smells like $%&^” and the reply is “see you’re getting smarter already”.

    C

  114. juanslayton says:

    pk:
    I take it you refer to the ‘dinner plates on a post.’ That houses the temperature sensor, which is connected by cable to a readout in the office. I don’t know how much automation there is from there; I could use some enlightenment myself. It may be they still have to hand enter the daily readings, though I’d bet they do it on line. Anybody….? Inquiring minds, and all that…..
    The Luna site actually has three temperature measurements, and all three appear in the picture. Just behind the car you can see the old Stevenson screen. It currently houses instrumentation to determine relative humidity. And way up in the top left you can see through the trees something resembling a lunar lander. I think this isan automated station, though I’ve never been able to figure out who uses it or for what.
    Always interested in local nature lore : > ) Unfortunately, being a city boy myself, I couldn’t tell an elk skull from a buffalo hide. Which is why I’d like to get informed opinion on the reported elk find in the Chiricahuas. (My previous comment.)

  115. My2Cents says:

    Have they corrected for the introduction of horses and pigs?

    Pigs are especially destructive to the environment

  116. Al Gored says:

    juanslayton says:
    January 14, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Interesting. What I can tell you for certain is this. Elk were not present in those mountains historically and because they are surrounded by desert – not elk habitat – they could not have got there naturally.

    So if that elk skull and antlers came from an elk that was alive there, somebody put them there. And since elk are available for ranching now, free lance environmentalists who may have wished they were there may have released them. That has happened before for other species. Or somebody may have quietly tried elk ranching in that area and some escaped.

    In any case, you or someone will have to do some homework to uncover that story. But it is worth noting that they have ‘discovered’ jaguar in some places down there recently which could never have got there naturally either – but are extremely convenient for the enviros. Isn’t the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona?

  117. Dr. Dave says:

    @Al Gored

    I have really enjoyed your comments about wolves. I guess I’m going to have to do some research and reading on the subject. I always questioned the wisdom of re-introducing predators. I had never given a thought to the potential for environmentalist land grab inherent in the practice. I should point out that jaguar were once native to the southwestern states…and really not that long ago. They were essentially eradicated for their hides and because they were deadly to livestock and humans, but a little over 100 years ago they were not uncommon in south Texas.

    I grew up in Michigan just a few miles from Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes were infested with the non-native alewife due to shipping. These fish would flourish and then die off in the millions, wash up on shore and rot in piles a half foot deep. When I was a little kid they introduced the Coho Salmon. It was not a native species but it could survive in fresh water and it likes to eat alewives. Today, probably over 40 years later, there aren’t many dead alewives on the beaches but there is a booming Coho sport fishing industry. I think in this case the interventionalists got it right.

  118. Bob, Missoula says:

    I apologize for some of the nonsense coming out of my town.

  119. Al Gored says:

    Dr. Dave

    I know that is what they say about jaguars but if you actually look at the historical record that is highly questionable, to put it very, very mildly. The earliest apparent (Spanish) evidence is not at all what they claim it is and more recent historical records all have more logical explanations.

    To take the most recent records seriously, one must imagine that a jaguar crossed large expanses of desert – nonhabitat for jaguars – and incredible distances undetected by all the people along its supposed path. Mexico is not an empty wilderness. Ignoring the habitat, must have been extremely wary cats to do that.

    More likely, they arrived there on wheels.

    Just googled this, which accidentally explains what is really going on:

    “The animals’ prospects brightened in 1996, when Warner Glenn, a rancher and hunting guide from Douglas, Arizona, came across a jaguar in the Peloncillo Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Catching the jaguar on a ledge, Glenn snapped a few pictures, pulled back his hounds and allowed the animal to stride away. Six months later and 150 miles to the west, Tucson houndsmen Jack Childs and Matt Colvin treed a second jaguar near the reservation of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The cat, about 150 pounds and groggy from feeding, allowed himself to be videotaped for an hour.”

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Return_of_the_Jaguar.html#ixzz1jTLxENlw

    In other words, that second one was obviously a tame jaguar. And there are plenty of them available.

    http://www.petsforsale.org/cheetahsjaguarleopardlion-an183-DCL.aspx

    “Not long after Childs’ surprise encounter, the hunter became a jaguar researcher, even traveling to Brazil’s Pantanal wilderness to study the cats. In 1999, he began placing remote cameras in Arizona where jaguars had been seen in the past. By December 2001, he had his first jaguar photograph: a male weighing between 130 and 150 pounds and later dubbed Macho A. The jaguar looked healthy, well fed and heavily built, with a broad, wide skull that flowed back to a torso shaped like a cylinder of muscle. Macho A turned up on film in August 2003, and again in September 2004. Childs and McCain have since picked up a second male, Macho B, and possibly a third animal.”

    Amazing how they miraculously just pop up out of nowhere when this ‘jaguar researcher’ started looking for them.

  120. James Crawford says:

    I am doing my share to control the depredations of the Elk population in Oregon. My boys and I bagged three of them during the first hour of opening morning. I was actually standing in my driveway when I shot mine. We got two, five points and a six point that is still at the taxidermists. They field dressed at over four hundred pounds each.

    Yes, they are delicious!

  121. Willis Eschenbach says:

    James Crawford says:
    January 14, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    I am doing my share to control the depredations of the Elk population in Oregon. My boys and I bagged three of them during the first hour of opening morning. I was actually standing in my driveway when I shot mine. We got two, five points and a six point that is still at the taxidermists. They field dressed at over four hundred pounds each.

    Yes, they are delicious!

    Three on opening morning, well done, my friend. And yes, mmm-mmm good …

    w.

  122. pk says:

    Bob, Missoula:

    thats ok bob it makes up for the stiff necks at the university.

    GO CATS, GO

    c

  123. Well, yeah, predators might drive elk higher up the mountain.

    As for where they eat, some claimed variations are:
    - diet of caribou varies with seasonally availability and their needs (protein vs fat etc – need to store energy for winter), tundra caribou eat much lichen from the ground but some such as in forested SE BC eat it from trees
    - some deer eat much lichen from trees in the forest, most prefer leaves or such from more open places

    BTW, those type of animals are good at defending themselves with their hooves, typically quite agile at turning (a maneuver called something like “stolting”). Some pet dogs and their owners are learning the hard way that deer in urban areas hate dogs (even small ones it seems, I presume they think “wolf” instinctively). One woman in BC covered her two lap-mutts with her body, so received heavy gashes. Usually attacks come from mother deer protecting their fawns (who are likely hidden in bush).

    As for elk being one of the largest mammals in NA, there are caribou, moose, grizzly bears, and polar bears – not to mention orcas and larger whales.

  124. Mark N says:

    Sorry Willis, I no longer have the book and can’t check. Al Gored may have summed it up. Thanks

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