The Wyoming Game and Fish Department manages several elk feedgrounds in northwest Wyoming. Over the years, the supplemental winter feeding of elk has grown in complexity. Among the complexities are wildlife diseases, specifically increasing concerns about the spread of chronic wasting disease across the State. 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. 

“Given the growing complexities of feedgrounds, I feel strongly we are at a point where we needed to talk to the public and give all the facts on the Department’s approach,” said Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik, “People may be familiar with feedgrounds as it relates to their interests but don’t know the ‘why’ behind the Game and Fish decisions. This is an educational effort.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has wrapped up Phase I of their Elk Feedgrounds Public Collaborative and will now be transitioning to Phase II of this public outreach effort. The Department has contracted with Cody-based private consultant Tara Kuipers to facilitate the public collaborative effort who recently released a summary report of Phase I and what is planned for Phase II of the process. Phase II will involve both shared learning events and extensive discussions with a diverse group of stakeholders that will lead to the development of a long-term elk feedgrounds management plan for the Department. 

To assist future management decisions, the Department has initiated a multi-phased effort to gather public input. As part of the first phase, Game and Fish held four public discussions in early December on the many intricacies of elk feedgrounds. The four virtual meetings were designed to fully inform the public on feedgrounds and the complexities of management, including disease concerns.

If you missed one of the four virtual public meetings on elk feedgrounds, you are encouraged to watch a recording of one of these meetings and provide your written comments. Check out the recording below.

Given the high interest in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s elk feedgrounds management plan public process, on January 5, 2021, the Department hosted a supplemental question and answer session for those who were unable to attend the first set of public meetings held in early December 2020. Check out a recording of the supplemental Q&A session below.

This series of online meetings and the early comments period was the first in a multi-phased public process to develop a long-term elk feedgrounds management plan for Wyoming. Stay up-to-date on the Elk Feedgrounds Public Collaborative Process by periodically visiting this site as new information will be posted throughout the process.
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. 



Check back here regularly for updated news items related to elk feedgrounds in Wyoming

Game and Fish director talks elk feedgrounds


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