The Yellowstone National Park elk herd in the Northern Range has grown since last year, according to park and Montana biologists.
Indeed, the number of elk has jumped 42 percent higher this year from the count conducted in 2017.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist Karen Loveless, the jump may mean biologists undercounted in 2017. Nonetheless, it fits a pattern of growth for the Yellowstone elk herd.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, biologists counted 7,579 elk during aerial surveys conducted in early January. In 2017, biologists counted 5,349 elk, noting that more were migrating out of Yellowstone into Montana. From the Chronicle:
“I feel confident in saying that numbers are increasing,” Loveless said.
The number is still below the long-term average of roughly 10,000 for the area, but it’s much closer than it’s been in more than a decade. The last time the count surpassed 7,500 was 2005, when 9,545 elk were counted.
Increasing numbers have coincided with the trend of more elk migrating north from the park and into Montana. More than three-quarters of the herd was spotted north of Yellowstone this year, a percentage that’s been fairly consistent in each count since 2013. Prior to 2006, less than half the herd regularly migrated north.
That migration has pushed hunting districts in that area past their elk population objectives, and Loveless said that part of the state is “at capacity” when it comes to hosting elk.
“We’re maxed out,” she said. “If the herd is going to continue to grow, it would have to be elk staying in the park over the winter.”
According to the Chronicle, Loveless says the agency will propose increasing “antlerless elk hunting opportunities” outside the park. Loveless adds the FWP will do a survey later this winter to assess the number of mature bulls in the Yellowstone elk herd currently.
Besides hunting, the FWP has been working to expand elk habitat outside the state, especially around the existing Dome Mountain wildlife management area. Last summer, the agency announced it would pursue approximately 600 acres adjacent to the Dome Mountain WMA. Around the same time, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Trout Unlimited announced they had reached a conservation easement agreement for 549 acres of land around the former Mineral Hill Mine.