Get Involved / Feedgrounds public engagement

Game and Fish works on developing plan to guide future of elk feedgrounds

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (Department) has become increasingly concerned about the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Wyoming and the implications wildlife diseases and other issues may have on elk attending winter feedgrounds in western Wyoming. While there are benefits to feeding elk on feedgrounds there are also challenges, which is why the Department is preparing to develop a plan that will guide the long-term (ten years and beyond) management of feedgrounds. 

To assist future management decisions, the Department is initiating a multi-phased effort to gather public input. The first phase is to hold public discussions, or “listen and learn” sessions, on the many intricacies of elk feedgrounds. The second phase will involve a public collaborative process that will formally provide input for the development of a long-term elk feedground management plan.

Some background information on elk feedgrounds in Wyoming
  • The federal government first fed hay to elk during winter on the present day National Elk Refuge in 1912, primarily to prevent starvation and keep elk out of private haystacks. 
  • In 1929, Wyoming legislation was passed resulting in the Department being financially liable for elk damage to hay crops; state-sanctioned winter elk feeding began that same year.
  • The Department found it more efficient and less expensive to feed elk in strategic locations to draw them away from private property and livestock feeding operations. 
  • Today, keeping elk away from domestic cattle to reduce the risk of brucellosis transmission has become a primary driver of elk feedgrounds, along with the prevention of private land conflicts.
  • Operating winter feedgrounds allows for higher elk populations than available native winter ranges can support, increasing opportunities for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Today, approximately 20,000 elk are fed on the National Elk Refuge and 22 Department-operated feedgrounds in Teton, Sublette and Lincoln counties of western Wyoming. 
  • An end to Wyoming elk feedground operations would most likely reduce elk populations in western Wyoming.
  • In Fiscal Year 2020, the Department’s elk feedground program cost $1.6 million, which includes feed, equipment and personnel to carry out the program.
  • Wildlife managers and members of the public are increasingly concerned about how feeding concentrates elk during the winter months and how diseases such as CWD could affect herd health, welfare, and population levels over the long term.   
  • The Department continues to investigate opportunities to reduce elk reliance on supplemental feeding and manages to reduce existing wildlife diseases (i.e. brucellosis) on feedgrounds by dispersing elk more broadly and by shortening feeding seasons when and where possible.
  • Predators such as gray wolves often depend heavily on elk as prey and can sometimes complicate elk management by displacing elk during winter. 
  • Traditional migratory routes likely once used by elk to leave their summer and fall ranges to native winter ranges are no longer etched into the instinctual behavior of the herds in this part of Wyoming, and many of those traditional routes and winter ranges are now developed.  

The Department understands that elk populations of western Wyoming are important to the citizens of our state and beyond, acknowledges the challenges supplemental elk feeding creates, but also believes in looking for opportunities to mitigate these challenges. It will take patience, consideration of the best science and agile decision-makers. It will take teamwork and respect of all interests with a stake in wildlife management in western Wyoming. 

Watch for future announcements on the upcoming public process regarding elk feedgrounds and please consider joining the discussions and providing your input. Public meetings are tentatively scheduled for late November and early December 2020 in Jackson, Pinedale, Afton, Green River, Casper and Cheyenne. The meetings will be held in accordance with local and state COVID/health orders.

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Game and Fish director talks elk feedgrounds
Game and Fish hosts multiple collaborative meetings

 

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