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Is FWS shutting down Wyoming’s supplemental elk feeding program?

Herd of bull elk on feedgrounds

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Lawsuits can be incredibly motivating, especially when it comes to propelling a stalled plan forward. According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, “the threat of litigation” from nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice has pushed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to stop stalling a “long-delayed plan” to put an end to supplemental feeding at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming

The proposed plan, which was initiated twelve years ago, was delayed due to discrepancies in goals and outcomes of the initiative. However, this week, FWS agreed to a “joint stipulation, motion and status report,” which will create deadlines and, hopefully, keep Earthjustice satisfied.

“What it boils down to is that they have an opportunity to complete this planning process by Dec. 31, and have a plan in place by the next feeding season in 2020,” Earthjustice Managing Attorney Tim Preso told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “We have agreed to suspend litigation long enough to allow for them to seize that opportunity.”

With chronic wasting disease (CWD) impacting herds across the West, Earthjustice’s push to eliminate supplemental feeding at the refuge comes at a critical time. As goHUNT previously reported, CWD has been slowly infiltrating supplemental feedlots and, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, November marked the first confirmed case of CWD in Jackson Hole when a road-killed mule deer buck tested positive in Grand Teton National Park.

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The lawsuit, which was filed in March, requires FWS to take action towards shutting the supplemental feeding down by this winter.

“That was essential to us,” Preso said, “because we can’t continue business as usual with [chronic wasting disease] already in the valley.”

Essentially, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the stay on the litigation requires FWS to do the following:

  • Establish dates for a public process for this fall and winter;
  • Release a draft environmental assessment of the refuge by Sept. 30;
  • Hold a public comment period in October; and
  • Create a final “step-down” plan for the National Elk Refuge by Dec. 31.

The 2017 version of the draft plan’s “principal strategy” is to delay “when alfalfa pellets begin hitting the ground” and, essentially, begin cutting elk feeding in half, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Then, transition “elk to freestanding forage” after “the three-year running average of elk and bison ‘fed days’ has fallen to 50% or less of current intensity for five years in a row.”

That is, unless public comments and other reviews change the proposed strategy. In the interim, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department plans to continue feeding elk despite the risk of CWD.

Additionally, the National Elk Refuge has been mandated to decrease overall elk numbers to 5,000 animals. 

That “step-down” plan will hopefully do just that. 

“I think the step-down plan is likely our best chance to take any meaningful action to reduce the potential effects of catastrophic disease on the refuge,” said refuge biologist Eric Cole, acting as interim refuge manager while the longer-term acting manager, Cris Dippel, is out of town, “but of course it’s going to take the cooperation of other agencies and public buy-in.”

Supplemental elk feeding usually occurs in late January and early February when winter conditions can make food scarce for animals.

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5 Comments

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joe y. - posted 1 month ago on 08-28-2019 09:41:07 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Can you say "cut off your nose to spite your face"??????

Jeremy F. - posted 1 month ago on 08-21-2019 06:15:53 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Elk are very smart creatures. I'm guessing if the gov't isn't going to feed them during those harsh winter months, they will find food somewhere else...........stand by for some pissed off ranchers in that area. I don't think they will take this sitting down.

Gary H. - posted 2 months ago on 08-15-2019 07:08:25 am
goHUNT INSIDER

We have a people problem in this country and in the world for that matter.

My recommendation to the world and for the "animal problems" is condoms for all humans and a limit of one child per married couple.

Its pretty sad because the animals have no control over anything.

SETH D. - posted 2 months ago on 08-14-2019 03:00:15 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

If you make a 120 mile circle around Jackson and the majority of the elk, bison and predators in that circle feed on those grounds. It is the reason Jackson Hole is called Jackson Hole and the Thorofare was originally called the Buffalo Thorofare, because it was how wildlife in Yellowstone national park and Grand Teton made it to the elk feeding grounds at Jackson Hole.

They are going to have to kill 50-70% of the elk and bison on the refuge to get to that kind of number.

Tyson C. - posted 2 months ago on 08-14-2019 12:12:53 pm
Lincoln, NH
goHUNT INSIDER

Cut the elk feed in half and increase the wolf and bear population 10-fold, while drastically increasing human development. Earth-in-justice wants to create the end of human hunting.