The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group conducted its annual winter survey of the Northern Yellowstone elk population on March 7, 2012. The survey, using three airplanes, was conducted by staff from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the National Park Service. Staff counted 4,174 elk, including 1,440 elk (34%) inside Yellowstone National Park and on Deckard Flats south of Bear Creek and 2,734 elk (66%) elsewhere north of the park. Survey conditions were favorable across the region with fresh snow and good visibility.
The count of 4,174 elk at the close of the 2012 winter season was ten percent lower than the 2011 winter count of 4635. Looking back further, between the winters of 2007 and the end of winter 2010, elk numbers ranged from 6,070 to 7,109.
The Working Group will continue to monitor trends of the northern Yellowstone elk population and evaluate the relative contribution of various components of mortality, including predation, environmental factors, and hunting. The Working Group was formed in 1974 to cooperatively preserve and protect the long-term integrity of the northern Yellowstone winter range for wildlife species by increasing our scientific knowledge of the species and their habitats, promoting prudent land management activities, and encouraging an interagency approach to answering questions and solving problems. The Working Group is comprised of resource managers and biologists from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, National Park Service (Yellowstone National Park), U.S. Forest Service (Gallatin National Forest), and U.S. Geological Survey-Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Bozeman.