Idaho game farm elk escape worries Wyoming.

It’s usually the other way arong, with Wyoming game management worrying Idaho. Wyoming elk even passed on brucellosis to Idaho cattle, causing Idaho to lose its “brucellosis free” status.

The escape of these farm elk into the greater Yellowstone elk population now worries Wyoming, a state with sloopy elk management, but also a state that does not permit elk farms or “hunts” of domesticated elk.

Worse still this article indicates the escaped elk are not really elk, but red deer, a related species from Europe. Red deer and elk do mate, and so pollution of the Yellowstone elk gene pool is likely.

Read about it in the Casper Star Tribune.

Late on Sept. 7. Now there’s more. Idaho’s Governor Jim Risch has signed an emergency order to carry out the “immediate destruction” of more than 100 domesticated elk that escaped from “the Chief Joseph private hunting reserve.” One article said the elk were bred to have especially large antlers. Is that so, or is it because they are really red deer? This needs to be cleared up.

The Idaho Statesman/AP has a longer article this morning, Sept. 8, on Governor’s Risch’s order. Read Article.







  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    Wyoming’s publicly stated concern over the escape of red deer from Rex Rummel’s elk farm is sheer hypocrisy. Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds are disease hazards of the first rank, operated to satisfy the demands of Wyoming’s livestock industry to keep wild elk off ranchers’ grass. Wyoming’s feedgrounds sustain brucellosis at high levels and are ripe for an outbreak of chronic wasting disease, which is moving inexorably toward the state feedgrounds and the National Elk Refuge west of the Continental Divide.

    Feeding elk is gross negligence of a public trust, whether as management of public elk or of private elk. They all should be banned.

  2. mike Avatar

    Ralph, you or somebody with a bully pulpit or somebody you can convince to help needs to shine a more incisive report on this escapade. Of particular concern, at least to me, has been the reaction of Debra Lawrence, quoted in the Billings paper ( as being the chief of animal health and livestock for the Idaho Department of Agriculture.

    First, she seems more concerned that the escape was “a rotten piece of luck” for the veterinarian who was allowed to keep breeding the things, despite being in and out of trouble over his operations for quite some time. But, even more disturbing is her quoted statement that the animals pose no genetic risk to the adjacent Yellowstone herds because, according to her, “they’re the same species.”

    In the Casper paper (, Terry Cleveland, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, is quoted as having determined that they are, in fact, asian red deer and not North American elk at all. Red deer will most certainly, given any chance, interbreed with the Yellowstone herds, resulting in fertile mongrel hybrids that will be practically impossible to breed back out.

    Sure, Wyoming is not free from “elk sin;” but, wasting disease and feedlots notwithstanding, this introduction of nonnative genetics strikes to the very heart of the native genetic stock and very well could contaminate the Yellowstone herds in perpetuity.

    Ms Lawrence apparently did not bother to know what species she was dealing with and thus did not comprehend the consequences of her lax regulation. The fact that this happened, the fact that Idaho let it happen, are bad enough. The fact that the supposed chief of animal health and livestock for the Idaho Department of Agriculture seems to have not even known what was going on, not even known what species she was supposed to be regulating, is absolutely outrageous.

    The public needs to know so that, although the horse is already out of the barn on this incident, the risk posed by this person holding a job that she isn’t bothering to competently fill can be contained before the Idaho Department of Agriculture screws it up again, perhaps with even worse consequences, although I can’t immediately think of any worse consequences than what is already happening.

    You are entirely right if she was quoted correctly. If these were red deer, not domestic elk, her statement is indefensible, and the outcome could be horrible. I’ll circulate this story on some email lists. If there ever was a need for letters to the editor and contacting public officials, this is it.

    The High Country News blog has picked the importance of this up. Look at their RSS feed at the right margin of this blog. 


  3. Erin Miller Avatar
    Erin Miller

    If you can say, “Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds are … operated to satisfy the demands of Wyoming’s livestock industry to keep wild elk off ranchers’ grass.” Then I suppose I can say: Wolves were brought to Idaho to scare people off public lands, descimate big game populations and end hunting, and to therefore eliminate a need for firearms?? Oh no, that would just be me “reaching” out there, wouldn’t it.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan