The Alliance envisions healthy, wild elk populations on healthy habitats with intact migration pathways between native summer and winter ranges. The century–long practice of feeding thousands of elk hay or alfalfa pellets in confined areas is not in line with this vision.
Further, the impending arrival of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a transmissible neurological disease of deer and elk that produces small lesions in the brains of infected animals and is similar to mad cow disease, makes this practice fraught with peril.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest recently released a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and draft decision permitting the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to feed elk in the forest lands of Alkali Creek.
This is part of a more widely applied, currently entrenched practice of feeding elk in state and federal management that has endured almost unchanged despite decades of rightful opposition by groups like ours — ending this practice will require us to rethink our approach on how we best achieve tangible change.
As a first constructive step toward tangible change, the Alliance joined with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) in using the new “objection process” implemented by the Forest Service to raise objections and propose remedies to improve the Alkali Creek Feedground permit.
In response to our objections and proposed remedies, the Forest Service has agreed to institute specific features into the Alkali Creek Feedground permit that take an important step toward reducing our reliance on supplemental elk feeding.
Specifically, the Forest will:
- Include language in their final decision that the WY Game & Fish Commission (WGFC) and WY Game & Fish department (WGFD) should transition away from the need for supplemental feeding and that the WGFC use at Alkali Creek feed ground is not intended to be permitted in perpetuity.
- Delay issuing the permit until the WGFD provides an acceptable CWD plan update, and ask for analysis of cessation of elk feeding as a tool to manage disease spread.
- Require that WGFD annually test for presence of CWD prions on feedgrounds.
- Manage wolves and scavengers using prescribed “best management practices”. This means that there will be no harassment or harvest of scavengers on feed grounds. Further, the Forest Service will be involved in any review of Wyoming’s wolf management plan, in the event that wolves are delisted from the Endangered Species Act.
Require WGFD to report on start and stop dates of feeding and specifically indicate the reason for feeding initiation.
Let’s be clear: these remedies will not end elk feeding. But, they allow us to thoughtfully reduce the need for feeding and put us on a positive path toward ultimately eliminating this practice.
The Alliance will continue working collaboratively and constructively with our agency managers, non-profit partners, and other stakeholders to realize tangible change toward our vision of healthy, wild elk populations on healthy habitats with intact migration pathways between native summer and winter ranges.
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Photo credit: Greater Yellowstone Coalition | Chris Colligan