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Elk herd suffers steep decline
Data suggest that the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is down to about 4,174 animals, a 10 percent drop from the previous year's count. That follows a 24 percent drop in 2011. File photo

Yellowstone elk herd numbers still dropping

Mar 28, 2012 - The Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A major elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana suffered another steep decline last year due to a hard winter, predator attacks and hunting, state and federal scientists said Tuesday.

New data from wildlife agencies show the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is down to about 4,174 animals, a 10 percent drop from the prior year's count. That follows a 24 percent drop in 2011.

Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith said the herd remains healthy despite its smaller size. The number is more in line with historic levels since wolves were reintroduced and grizzly bears and mountain lions returned naturally, he said.

The herd peaked at about 20,000 animals in 1992, a few years before wolves were brought back from Canada after being absent from the region for decades. Since then, the herd has declined about 80 percent.

Some outfitters and others who live outside the park say officials have not done enough to curb predator attacks, particularly by wolves. The Yellowstone herd supported a thriving hunting industry, with several thousand elk killed in some years, before the numbers started to drop.

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