Study Finds Fewer Wyoming Elk Migrating

Photo courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr

A recent study concludes that more Wyoming elk are skipping their long migration to summer range and staying closer to their winter home. The shorter move puts the animals closer to Western towns, such as Jackson Hole, which is already tight for space among subdivisions and summer tourists.

According to Jackson Hole News and Guide, historic data shows almost 99 percent of the Jackson elk herd went to higher country in the early 1980s. The long-distance migrators traditionally moved to Bridger-Teton National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park in the spring, with less than 2 percent staying near to town.

Three decades later, new research shows 40 percent of the herd isn’t migrating when the snow melts.

The research, lead by National Elk Refuge biologist Eric Cole and U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Aaron Foley, documents the dramatic downshift in movement by the Jackson elk herd, while also looking at changes in food availability, predator population, and calf productivity. The cause of this shift—and the solution—are still unknown.

“The bottom line is this isn’t your grandparents’ Jackson elk herd, and it’s not even your parents’ Jackson elk herd,” Cole says. “We’re seeing this play out across the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and globally. That’s why we were interested in this topic.”

This comes as unfortunate news for area sportsmen, who often target longer-migrating elk.