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Elk winter feeding grounds challenged

Elk in winter
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Western Watersheds, an Idaho environmental group, is filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, claiming it violated multiple policies when it approved five elk feeding grounds in 2008.

The grounds, which are in the Jackson Hole area of northwest Wyoming, were created to help elk survive the winter, reported Jackson Hole News & Guide. It is maintained by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The group says the feeding grounds violate the following policies:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act. The group claims the Forest Service did not consider the consequences of the feedgrounds, such as the spread of disease (e.g., brucellosis, chronic wasting disease). They also did not analyze the socioeconomic impact of elk feeding; the feedgrounds cost Wyoming taxpayers between $1.5 and $3 million each year. 
  • The 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act. The Forest Service is supposed to maintain the "wilderness character" of the Palisades Wilderness Study Area, and concentrated elk population is allegedly causing stream bank erosion and browse vegetative communities at unnaturally high levels.
  • The National Forest Management Act (the agency's own plan). At least two of the elk herds are "well above" the population objectives, and Wyoming Game and Fish is not supposed to surpass its elk population goals. 

Western Watershed made an administrative appeal eight years ago, but it was rejected by the Forest Service at the time. 

The group has filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, and it will be heard by Federal Magistrate Kelly Rankin.

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