Elk have become a political animal in Montana.
For decades, predators like grizzly bears and wolves were the ones to incite political passion. Yet slowly, as elk populations have grown and herds have re-established a presence where they weren’t seen for a century, elk have entered Montana’s political crosshairs.
It’s a turn of events unimaginable 100 years ago, when sportsmen’s groups worked with the state’s wildlife agency to capture and transfer Yellowstone elk to rebuild populations.
“When my grandfather homesteaded the ranch of my boyhood west of Three Forks, Montana, just after 1900, elk had been eliminated from this foothills area between two mountain ranges,” wrote Jack Ballard in his book “Large Mammals of the Rocky Mountains.” “With them firmly reestablished in historic habitat, it’s now hard to imagine my boyhood neighborhood without elk.”
Yet the recovery of elk populations in Montana, last estimated to number more than 136,000 – down from a peak of 176,000 in 2017, has now led many of the state’s hunters and landowners to a crossroads, a divisive debate over how best to manage this wildlife wealth.
Bulls shedding their winter fur rest and feed