Cheyenne, We Have a Problem
For a number of years, ranchers around the state have recognized elk populations have grown – or as some would say, exploded. For some areas, population growth started back in the 1980s. Throughout the years, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has raised population objectives of hunt areas to fall in line with population counts.
The standard solution of “we need more hunting licenses and more access on private lands” is not working. If I have a huge spillover – and I do – of elk numbers throughout the year, I want to be compensated for forage loss due to elk, or like most ranchers, get rid of huge numbers of elk. Let me ranch, that’s the business I’m in.
This is really an issue along the Laramie Range. A couple weeks ago, three ranchers from north of Cheyenne to Wheatland testified at the Governor’s Wildlife Task Force meeting. The next day, they were joined by landowners from other areas with excess populations testifying before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting.
The ranchers gave great testimony on the impacts of huge herds of elk on their private lands and recommendations on how to solve the issues. They expressed, currently, issuing more hunting licenses will not solve the issue, and they don’t want all the hunters on their lands. They do allow outfitters and responsible hunters on their private lands, which is their choice. These huge numbers of elk are grazing private forage, damaging fences and costing ranchers dollars with all their impacts.
The ranchers agreed depredation is most likely the only way to control numbers. They say it was used years ago and worked great to control elk numbers, and it can work now. The only difference today, is meat should be saved for food banks and other responsible initiatives, such as First Lady Gordon’s Food Initiative.
For all of these years of kicking the can down the road, we are now faced with some hard decisions. We have to recognize the positive impacts ranchers’ private lands have made on wildlife habitats and provide reasonable compensation to private landowners until they get rid of the large numbers of elk.
The wildlife belongs to the state and the private lands to the owners who take pride in these lands. They shouldn’t have to cut numbers of livestock because of elk and the damage they do.
While we know there will be pushback by some hunters, I feel this is the time for change. We applaud Gov. Gordon and the WGFD Commission for initiating the Wildlife Task Force and the WFGD Commission for developing another task force to develop solutions to huge numbers of elk and the damage they do on private lands.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) has agreed to take a leadership role on this issue and is encouraging other private landowners who are impacted by large numbers of wildlife, especially elk, to send in their examples of those impacts and your contact information. They will hold them and present them to both the Wildlife Task Force and the WGFD Commissioners. Please send them to WSGA, PO Box 206, Cheyenne, WY 82601, or visit wysga.org. It doesn’t matter if you are a member or not. If you are not a member, think about joining, they have been helping ranchers for 150 years.
Remember, private lands, whether a ranch or an urban backyard, are the same, except the rancher’s backyard is bigger.