Elk NetworkYellowstone Elk Numbers Trending Downward

General | April 8, 2019

Wildlife officials counted a combined 5,800 elk inside and north of Yellowstone National Park during population survey flights that took place in March 2019. That total marks a 23 percent decrease from counts recorded in both 2018 and 2016.

Of particular concern are the cow-calf ratios which are lower than recent surveys and long-term averages. The 2019 count marks the second consecutive year the ratio is below the threshold of 20 calves per 100 cows that is considered necessary to maintain a stable population.

Of the 5,800 elk counted, staff classified 5,510 elk by age and sex, resulting in ratios of 15.2 calves, 5.2 yearling bulls and 12.6 brow-tined bulls per 100 cows. Brow-tined bull ratios were higher than recent surveys, but below long-term average. Staff observed 16 percent fewer cows, 46 percent fewer calves and 42 percent fewer yearling bulls as compared to the 2016 classification survey. Brow-tined bull numbers increased by 21.3 percent from 432 observed in 2016 to 524 observed in 2019.

Wildlife officials say the overall 2019 count is within the 10-year average.

The long-term average of observed elk numbers since surveys began in 1976 is 10,634 elk, with a peak high count of 19,045 elk in 1994 and a low count of 3,915 elk observed in 2013.

(Photo source: Anthony Taylor)