Wildlife biologist to discuss National Elk Refuge

UMW News Bureau

United States Fish and Wildlife Service veteran and elk expert Bruce Smith will discuss Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge at the next installment of the University of Montana Western’s On the Rocks science speaker series, Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. elkUnited States Fish and Wildlife Service veteran and elk expert Bruce Smith will discuss Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge at the next installment of the University of Montana Western’s On the Rocks science speaker series, Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. Smith, who holds a B.S. and an M.S. in wildlife biology from the University of Montana as well as a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Wyoming, spent 22 years as the wildlife management biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming. His presentation, “The Jackson Hole Elk: Too Much of a Good Thing?,” will discuss the history of the nation’s first elk refuge, the ecological and economic impacts of the elk and the challenges of managing the herd. An agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Wyoming calls for a winter population of 7,500 elk on the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge. However, Smith contends that number exceeds the habitat's natural carrying capacity and negatively impacts plant and other wildlife communities. Still, thousands of elk, sustained by winter feeding, have become part of Jackson Hole culture. Smith says the herd is an important economic engine for Jackson Hole, but the size of the herd and the threat of disease spreading throughout so many animals in one area is of major concern. “It speaks in a way to the drama this elk herd adds to that part of the world,” Smith says. “It’s a wildlife spectacle you can’t see in many other places in the lower 48 states. It has a very deep-seated appeal to people. But because the elk herd is so large, there are ecological consequences that probably make the current management strategy unsustainable.” Smith is the author of over 40 technical and popular papers and book chapters dealing primarily with wildlife population dynamics, habitat management, disease ecology, and predator-prey relationships. His book, “Imperfect Pasture,” chronicles the National Elk Refuge's 100-year history. His upcoming book, “Wildlife on the Wind,” describes restoration of wildlife populations on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Smith’s On the Rocks presentation will be on Monday, Oct. 5, 2009 at 4 p.m. in Montana Western’s Block Hall, Room 311.