Monday, August 5, 2013

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wolves and the Abandonment of Science, Reason and Logic

July 24, 2012

In a sad, but justified move, the family of Olaus Murie recently demanded that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) cancel the organization’s Olaus J. Murie Award because of the RMEF’s “all-out war against wolves” that is “anathema to the entire Murie family.” 

I conceived and created the Olaus J. Murie Award (with coordination and approval from the Murie family) on behalf of the RMEF in 1999, when the RMEF was a science-based conservation organization. The award recognized scientists working on behalf of elk and elk habitat in honor of Olaus Murie, who is widely considered the “father” of modern elk research and management for the ground-breaking work he conducted at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the 1940s. He also wrote “Elk of North America” in 1951 – the first, most thorough and comprehensive scientific treatise on elk and elk management, which has since been updated several times by the Wildlife Management Institute.  (I have read Murie’s book several times, and was honored to have written a chapter for the most recent edition, North American Elk: Ecology and Management.

Since then, the RMEF got rid of all the good leaders who not only helped create and shape the RMEF, but had solid, impressive backgrounds in wildlife biology, ecology and science-based wildlife management.  The organization now ignores and defies science and panders to outfitters, politicians and hunters who have little understanding of wildlife and, in particular, interactions between wolves and elk.  The group has abandoned principle for income and popularity.

During my ten years as the conservation editor for RMEF’s Bugle magazine, I wrote many award-winning science-based articles and essays regarding wildlife, ecology, natural history and wildlife management.  Several of those stories focused on science that the RMEF itself helped fund showing clear, solid evidence of improvements in the health of habitat and elk herds living among wolves; how wolf predation was mostly compensatory and not additive; how elk behavior, habits and habitat choices changed in the presence of wolves, and many other interconnected complexities that factored in such as habitat conditions, habitat effectiveness, vulnerability,  bull-to-cow ratios, breeding behavior, calving and calf survival rates.  In those days, the RMEF helped convey and disseminate accurate information to keep people informed , supporting the kind of good, solid science that Olaus Murie himself began and would have been proud of.

Today, the RMEF is run by a former marketer for NASCAR and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, with no understanding of wildlife or elk ecology, who has called wolf reintroduction the “worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds;” continues to erroneously claim wolves are “decimating” and “annihilating” elk herds; who viciously attacks anyone who disagrees; and does what he can to keep the truth from being published.  (Myself and other science-based writers have all been banished from writing for Bugle, with no explanation.)

This, despite the tremendous recoveries and improvements to elk and other wildlife habitat in Yellowstone thanks to wolf recovery; that there are now more elk in Montana (and more hunting opportunity) than ever; that I see as many elk as always in the country I hunt, and that Montana outfitters are claiming the best elk hunting success in years.

Good for the Murie family! The RMEF has become a disgrace to the good, science-based research and management that Olaus Murie began and promoted.


  1. David,

    I just found your blog thanks to Casey Anderson's post. I have been an off and on member of RMEF for a while now, recently though I found myself completely disillusioned with them and Bugle Magazine; this blog post answers why that is. I always appreciated the scientific viewpoint the magazine provided, regardless of what the "knuckle draggers" wanted to read (i.e. wolves bad, must kill). I donated to RMEF last year since they were helping to facilitate the elk restoration in Virginia; I actually regret that decision. I knew something was different with Bugle but I couldn't put my finger on have explained it perfectly.

    I hope RMEF return to its roots; they will not be getting one more cent from me until they do.

    Thanks for all you do and have done!

    Rob Wilkinson

  2. The wolves and the wild horses are being decimated with the help of several federal and state agencies. This is the first time in my life I have had to bear witness to such overt, and seemingly sadistic brutality of our creatures.

    Both the horses/burros and wolves are being attacked on so many fronts, it is hard to keep up.