Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd


One of the world's largest and most social deer species, elk—with their five- to eight-hundred-pound tawny bodies, sweeping antlers, and fascinating behaviors—draw millions of people to seek them each year in national parks and other public lands. So valued are elk for viewing, sport, and table fare, that over the past twenty-five years they have been transplanted from the West to five eastern states and Ontario, Canada. These reintroductions helped restore a treasured animal that as recently as two centuries ago...

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One of the world's largest and most social deer species, elk—with their five- to eight-hundred-pound tawny bodies, sweeping antlers, and fascinating behaviors—draw millions of people to seek them each year in national parks and other public lands. So valued are elk for viewing, sport, and table fare, that over the past twenty-five years they have been transplanted from the West to five eastern states and Ontario, Canada. These reintroductions helped restore a treasured animal that as recently as two centuries ago roamed from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Alaska to Mexico. Where Elk Roam provides an inside look at the field studies and conservation work of a federal wildlife scientist who for twenty-two years served as the National Elk Refuge's wildlife biologist—coordinating winter feeding of eight thousand elk and tracking their births, deaths, and annual migrations throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As entertaining as it is educating, this book brings to life the joys and rewards of working not only with elk but also a host of other remarkable species—including wolves, bears, and mountain lions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Bruce Smith is the foremost expert on elk in our region and one of the most vocal proponents of healthy, free-roaming populations of this majestic animal. Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of our National Elk Herd is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand in plain English the complexities and challenges of trying to do the right thing for our nation's signature herd at the National Elk Refuge. — Mike Clark, executive director, Greater Yellowstone Coalition.What one gets in Where Elk Roam is one of those rare gems of insight on wildlife biology most of us struggle a career for, but Smith has bound it all up nicely between two covers in a very readable and forthright way.—Author and naturalist Douglas SmithBruce Smith does a thorough job of describing the history—and musing the future of the National Elk Refuge (NER) in a northwest Wyoming valley called Jackson Hole. Together with Yellowstone National Park, this area was the nucleus of restoration efforts for elk in North America. This treatise is a prime example of how seasoned wildlife ecologists and managers can interweave science, politics, history, economics, and philosophy into a readable, informative, and entertaining format. The resultant story describes what modern wildlife management actually entails in that it is as much about people and people management as it is about wildlife. It could well serve as a reference for university classes dealing with wildlife management in the real world. If I were still teaching, I would have my students read Smith's book for that very reason.Smith weaves together his own experiences as a research biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and, then, as the lead biologist for the NER for 22 years. The book contains descriptions of experiences in the field that will stir up the emotions and memories of any experienced field biologist—including the reappearance of wolves and what that might mean for management. Those descriptions are coupled with stories of intense bio-politics across a landscape including national parks, national forests, and state and private lands. Welcome to the world of modern wildlife managers operating at the crossroads of science, law, economics, and public opinion.In the end, Smith addresses the future of feeding elk and bison on the NER and elsewhere in Wyoming. The crowding of animals onto these feed grounds provides a reservoir for brucellosis with political and economic impacts on the livestock industry. And, it seems probable (inevitable?) that chronic wasting disease (a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy) will reach western Wyoming and spread rapidly through animals crowded onto the NER winter feed grounds and 16 other feed grounds operated by the State of Wyoming. To make matters more ominous, the agent that spreads the disease is a prion that can exist for long periods—measured in years—in the soil.In the final analysis, Smith calls for phasing out winter feeding operations in favor of a smaller elk herd in preference to an ''overstocked range riddled with disease.'' And, significantly—in spite of the many long standing barriers to achieving that end—Smith closes with the optimistic statement that change will occur ''. . . because the stakes of not changing grow every day.'' The clock is ticking.—Jack Ward Thomas, PhD, CWB Chief Emeritus, U.S. Forest Service Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation Emeritus, University of Montana, Missoula, MontanaThis important book is ostensibly about the mismanagement of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But author Bruce Smith says the underlying message is the threat of disease to wild elk throughout the Greater Yellowstone Area. Smith, who now lives in Sheridan, Montana, was for 22 years a biologist on the refuge. His primary concern is that wild elk are made increasingly susceptible to disease when winter ranges are artificially overstocked with animals, such as at Wyoming's feed grounds. The reason for the feed grounds? To reduce competition for grass between elk and cattle. The result? Thousands of elk with brucellosis, which can be transmitted to cattle and bison, causing spontaneous abortions. An even worse threat, writes Smith, is chronic wasting disease (CWD), which has no cure or preventative. While the prevalence of CWD in freeranging elk in Wyoming is only 2 to 3 percent, it can exceed 50 percent in captive elk, which transmit it easily to each other in the crowded conditions. Having fought inVietnam as a U.S. Marine, Smith is no stranger to combat. And he minces no words when talking to hunters about elk. "When they complain about wolves, I just shake my head," he says. "I tell them, 'You have no idea what the real threats to your elk are.' For some reason, the very real potential of devastating disease outbreaks still isn't on their radar." —Tom Dickson, Montana Outdoors
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762770748
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/8/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 784,877
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Smith, PhD, retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004 after a thirty-year career as a wildlife manager and scientist. During that time, he worked with every big game species in the western United States. Many of his publications address aspects of elk ecology and conservation.

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  • Posted November 19, 2011

    Intimate insights and urgent vision for elk conservation - a must read

    In his Where Elk Roam, biologist Bruce L. Smith, PhD, shares a labor of love and discovery (not to mention a sense of urgency) after 22 years of field research on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Not since Olaus Murie¿s 1951 classic book, The Elk of North America, based on Murie¿s 18 years of research in Jackson Hole that began in 1927, has a single author written so eloquently and extensively on the ecology and management of elk. As Murie was, Smith is a naturalist who observes the wondrous behavior of animals and records them, but unlike Murie, Smith was armed with guns that shoot tranquilizing darts, and radio collars and microchips, receivers and aircraft that all enabled him to track hundreds of study elk across rugged mountainous terrain at all seasons, and helicopters to vastly accelerate his work in capturing and observing more than 400 elk for seven years. If all this sounds highly technical and scientific, it is. However, applying these technologies demanded hundreds of hands-on contacts with the elk, and Smith was not unaffected by that intimacy. ¿I¿m still awed by this. How remarkable to place my hands on this wild beast.¿ And, to what end, all this manhandling of elk?

    Since its establishment in 1912, the National Elk Refuge has increasingly concentrated wild elk, excluded by human activities from their 200-mile historic migration southward to winter on Wyoming¿s Red Desert. Smith documents the effects of that concentration, that, with twenty-two Wyoming State feedgrounds feeding 23,000 elk, adds up to 31,000 elk in five western states - about 3 percent of North America¿s million elk. And what are the effects of this concentration of elk? Brucellosis, a bacterial disease brought from Britain with cattle, was identified in bison in neighboring Yellowstone National Park in 1917, and in Jackson Hole elk in 1930. Both bison and elk have a higher seroprevalence of Brucella when concentrated than when they are free-ranging (In Jackson Hole, 80 percent of adult female bison were seropositive, as were 39 percent of female elk). The disease has minor population effects on wild elk and bison, but when brucellosis infects domestic livestock, it causes unacceptable abortions of calves. In recent years, livestock in northwest Wyoming and southeast Idaho have been infected with brucellosis from elk. Vaccination of elk doesn¿t work. The obvious solution to lowering the risk of transmission is to quit concentrating elk and bison on feedgrounds. But habit and tradition die hard, so winter feeding continues, in spite of its devastating effect on the vegetation and biodiversity of the area. And Chronic Wasting disease in deer, elk, and moose is marching toward the National Elk Refuge, with potentially disastrous consequences. Smith urges re-creation of the 200-mlle migration route from Jackson Hole to the Red Desert to disperse and save the elk.

    Norman A. Bishop, Yellowstone National Park interpreter 1980-1997

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    Posted November 15, 2011

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