WGFD discusses long-term elk feedground management
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is drafting a long-term elk feedground management plan in an effort to help guide elk management in western Wyoming for the foreseeable future.
Since late 2020, WGFD has worked with the public to address rising issues with elk feedgrounds throughout Wyoming. Currently, WGFD manages several elk feedgrounds in Teton, Sublette and Lincoln counties, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Elk Refuge. Over the year, supplemental winter feeding of elk has grown in complexity, particularly with wildlife diseases such as chronic wasting disease.
To assist future management decisions, WGFD initiated a multi-phase effort from January 2020 to February 2021 to gather public input. The initiative, Elk Feedgrounds – A Challenge We Can Take On, considers all biological, social, economic and political issues, along with wildlife diseases to achieve a durable, publicly supported long-term feedground management plan.
Feedgrounds were created to prevent large die-offs of elk in harsh winter conditions. The report states the purpose for feeding has since grown to keep elk out of ranchers’ hay and prevent elk from transmitting brucellosis to cattle.
Phase one shares information on feedground history, operations and related disease concerns.
From July 2021-2023, WGFD had transitioned into phase two of the process to gather further public comment. In phase two, 13 WGFD personnel closely tied to the elk feedground program, along with several representatives from the National Elk Refuge, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and Grand Teton National Park, hosted a series of meetings with stakeholder groups and the general public.
In February and March 2022, WGFD held several meetings. The Elk Feedground Management Planning Stakeholder Groups initiated a conversation on Feb. 1 in Pinedale. Several themes and topics were discussed during each meeting.
During the March 3 meeting, participants requested any plan must be flexible to incorporate new information; modify feedground management to reduce disease; create dynamic and flexible management needs; management plan information must be accessible, relevant and easy for the public to view; consider how soil types might reduce exposure to prions; consider deer-to-elk disease transmission risks; and teach landowners and ranchers how to convert from cow/calf operations to yearling operations.
Several management actions were suggested including seeking funding for testing, disease management, feedground management and disease mitigation; public education on wildlife disease; maintain herd objectives and hunter opportunity; use hunters to keep adequate populations; create a specific management plan for each feedground; and modify feedground practices to reduce density on feedgrounds, move feed off the ground to reduce contamination, avoid feeding on bare ground, reduce length of feeding time on feedgrounds and loafing areas, find ways to remove manure from feeding areas and use technology to spread elk across more of the feeding area.
After several months of learning sessions and input taken from over 60 stakeholders from across Wyoming, the steering team is now beginning a draft for a long-term feedground management plan. A draft is expected to be released later this winter for the general public to review and comment on. The final elk management plan is expected to be in place by summer of 2023.
“This process is the next step in the necessary progression of wildlife management, where we must continually shift based on science and emerging needs and issues,” said WGFD Director Brian Nesvik in a press release. “It’s an important evaluation, and we believe in doing it alongside our diverse stakeholders.”
For more information, visit wgfd.wyo.gov/Get-Involved/elk-feedgrounds.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.