Author: Gary Skiba
When a population of gray wolves is established in Colorado, how will they impact deer and elk numbers? The short answer is that the precise effects aren’t really known, because predator/prey systems are complicated and many factors other than predation affect prey, including weather, disease, human hunting, and other predators.
The Yellowstone northern range elk herd is the most intensively studied elk/wolf system in the world (there is no similar body of research on mule deer populations). Dozens of researchers have worked to understand the dynamics of the elk population and the effects of wolf predation. While much has been learned, there are many unanswered questions, and researchers have noted the difficulty of separating out and understanding the impact of wolf predation alone. Here are a few conclusions and quotes from studies on the impact of wolves on that elk herd:
Given the lack of strong scientific information on the exact potential effects of wolf predation on Colorado’s elk population, what DO we know? Here are some important points:
And then there are the common sense considerations:
Wolves and their prey can and do survive and thrive together. With active management, there is no reason to believe that elk populations and hunter opportunity will be reduced in Colorado due to wolf predation.