Beetle killed trees impede elk and elk hunters

Mountain pine beetles decimated much of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Years after the height of beetle activity, dead trees are beginning to fall. A Wyoming Game and Fish study is looking at how those down trees are changing elk movement in the Sierra Madres mountains. (photo by Joe Riis/U.S. Forest Service – click to enlarge)

Mountain pine beetles decimated much of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Years after the height of beetle activity, dead trees are beginning to fall. A Wyoming Game and Fish study is looking at how those down trees are changing elk movement in the Sierra Madres mountains. (photo by Joe Riis/U.S. Forest Service – click the original on the news webpage to enlarge)

Derek send this article.

Here is an excerpt:

A Wyoming Game and Fish study is investigating how the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle epidemic is impacting elk and hunter movement in the Sierra Madre range on the Medicine Bow National Forest. The study is the first of its kind, and the data collected could be used for managing forests across the West, said Tony Mong, a senior wildlife biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish. –

6 Comments

  1. Seems like a rather narrow way of asking questions about the ecological effects of beetle infestations. The movement of elk (and the inconvenience of their human hunters) is one perspective, but there’s a lot living there.

    What’s eating those trees? They’re likely manna for woodpeckers and other insect-eaters; what sort of communities do you get at die-off edges, or during succession’s blooms? How’s that work out for songbirds and bears? Those are all questions to study, too.

    (And what does “proper regeneration of the forest” even mean; maybe it’s something that can be managed perfectly well by the plants and animals living there?)

    • I like what Brandon said. I would also ask “What are the species that might benefit from the temporary reduction of herbivores and/or the temporary reduction of hunters?”

      Forests are dynamic. The beetles cause change, and change is neither good nor bad, it is simply a part of the system that has waxed and waned for millennia.

        • I wouldn’t argue for ignoring impacts on us, but it’s also too easy to think those are the only impacts.

          If (to take a total hypothetical) there was something about dead tree stands that led to higher rates of disease in nearby communities, that’s hugely important. But if the impact is, “I enjoy killing elk, and it’s hard carrying their bodies over fallen trees”? Maybe that’s important too, but it’s not something to equate with the existential health of a forest.

  2. Wow, if the Wyoming Game and Fish biologist is worried about too many obstacles (dead trees, branches….maybe even rocks or cliffs?) for hunters, maybe Wyoming Game and Fish should just start selling cut-n-wrapped elk, instead of elk “hunting” tags. I mean, they already have numerous elk feed lots around Jackson, which helps lead to unethical behavior such as this.

    I’ve hunted elk for 10 years now…and have gotten 10 elk during that time. All the elk I shot were on public lands and came from “unhealthy forests.” This year I shot the lead cow in small herd while resting my rifle in a perfect crotch of a dead whitebark pine at about 9,000 feet near Yellowstone NP. Based on many days in the field chasing elk, these very smart creatures sure seem to know the landscape well and have no problem at all eluding hunters who aren’t willing to work for it, and perhaps go a little deeper, and hunt a little harder, than the next guy.

    Elk seem to have no problem walking through forests with recent beetle kill, wildfire or downed logs. In fact, seems to me that elk are smart enough to prefer places like this to bed down during the day because they know that predators – whether human hunters or wolves – will either completely avoid these areas, or have more trouble than the elk do moving thick forests or forests with a lot of blow down, etc.

    To me it’s laughable that we’d even consider that we need to do something (oh, let me guess, it will involve logging) to make it easier for hunters to move through the woods so they can shot wild elk and game. Our elk camps over the years have had their shares of successes and failures, struggles and disappointments, but that’s all part of what makes elk hunting on public lands in places like Montana (and I assume Wyoming) so bad-ass!

    Fact is, the most successful public lands hunters know where to find elk…and that’s not in the middle of a field grazing during broad daylight. Successful elk hunters know that the steep and deep north-facing slopes are where elk bed down during the day and if you can work hard and sneak quietly through these areas, you’ll see, smell or hear elk more times than not.

    Who knows what types of hunters volunteered to have their path traced by GPS. I know I wouldn’t, but then again I don’t carry a GPS, range-finder or even binoculars. I have a feeling the Wyoming Game & Fish will find out that their GPS hunters generally don’t go into places that are difficult to walk through, but that elk and deer generally do.

  3. I have seen where dense groves of windfalls that have effected the movement of the elk. Whether or not it effects their ability to survive, I doubt it. But it sure can make a mess of the forests, from my viewpoint, and a great place for further wildfires.
    But these days we have to find all kind of reasons to log dead timbers besides that it is dead and that it might make sense to try and create some economy and value from the timber. Doesn’t seem like the bugs and biologist should get it all. You know distribute the wealth some.

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