Retiring [Wyoming] elk tender defends [winter elk] feeding

Retiring elk tender defends feeding. By Cat Urbigkit, Casper Star-Tribune correspondent.

One of the reasons Wyoming government officials want to all but wipe out Wyoming wolves is that they chase and kill elk on these unnatural feedlots. The feedlots were created so the elk would not compete with the “sacred cattle” of Wyoming during the winter.

If we want wolves in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, if we want brucellosis free elk and bison, if we don’t want chronic wasting disease to permanently pollute the deer and elk population of the area, if we want free ranging bison in Montana, these feedlots have got to go.

Dean [the retiring elk tender’ said a new problem he has witnessed is that data and information about feedgrounds is “being manipulated to deceive the public and other (Game and Fish) employees.” He declined to elaborate, but said that more meaningful supervision of all Game and Fish employees working on elk management in the region is needed.

I suppose he might be talking about those conservation groups with enough fortitude to oppose the continued feeding.

For those new to the issue, Montana doesn’t feed. Idaho feeds just a little (and it caused Idaho to lose its brucellosis-free status which was just recently restored).

Robert Hoskins had a letter on this published in the Casper Star Tribune today (July 31).  Elk feedgrounds should be closed

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  1. jewel Avatar

    Ralph That is not why the feedgrounds were created. I pray you will some day come to your senses where cattle are concerned. Did you know that Jesus is coming to change the way we all think?

  2. Phillip D. Avatar
    Phillip D.

    I say let them fend for themselves. Why not feedlots for cattle?

  3. mikarooni Avatar

    Good grief, not another comment from Catron…

  4. kt Avatar

    So it appears that this all was started as just another subsidy to the western public lands welfare ranching industry. The article states it was being done to keep elk off private lands – in many cases likely base properties for ranchers with public lands permits, and whose livestock may heave depleted the winter range right next door while grazing on the public dole.

    And Mikarooni, that was a great brief humorous (maybe) six words.

  5. elkhunter Avatar

    there is alot of “I suppose” and “most likely” so is this opinion or fact? Just curious, cause its sounds like people trying to pass opinion off as fact.

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    There is no “I suppose” or “most likely” to it. To put it bluntly, as someone who lives in western Wyoming and who has been working hard against feedgrounds for over a decade, elk feeding occurs for one reason and one reason only–because the livestock industry and local ranchers demand it.

    They demand it for two interrelated reasons. First, to protect their “investment” in AUMs as part of the economic value of their ranches and therefore to keep elk off forage on both private and public lands, because forage eaten by elk is an AUM “stolen” from cattle. That is, it’s about grass and range, and competition between elk and cattle for same. Second, elk feeding is used as a means of gaining and maintaining control over land use and wildlife management policy for their own pecuniary and political benefit. This includes control over the G&F Department, which has now become total. Total control over G&F has been a goal of the livestock industry for decades. Part of this goal is twisting as much of the G&F budget as possible into subsidies for agriculture. This also benefits ranchers financially and also means that money is not spent on things like buying land for wildlife habitat, which, until 1992, had been a strategic goal of the G&F Dept since the late 1930s. 1992 was when ag took final and total control of G&F, as a consequence of an especially important land purchase that turned the East Fork Wildlife Habitat Management Area up the road from me into a winter range complex twice the size of the National Elk Refuge, with no feeding at all. The legislature, in response to Stockgrower outrage over the purchase, handed G&F over to the cowboys on a platter.

    Feedgrounds alone cost the G&F Department, and therefore the hunters and anglers of Wyoming, around $1.5 million a year. For that $1.5 million, hunters and anglers get diseased elk and a G&F Department that is owned lock stock and barrel by the livestock industry. Landowners are now the primary constituency of the Dept.

    There is an ignorant claim out there you hear mostly from outfitters that “a bale of hay is worth an acre of habitat.” This is in relation to the claim that feedgrounds are necessary because of the destruction of winter range (by human beings, naturally) and that there is no more winter range left. This is not actually true. Especially in the Upper Green River Basin, where most of the feedgrounds are located, there is more than adequate winter range. That’s why the feedgrounds are strategically situated to block elk migration to traditional winter range in the desert because that range is allocated to cattle.

    The only place where this is partially true is in Jackson Hole, although there is more than adequate winter range in the Gros Ventre River Valley, where three feedgrounds were emplaced to keep elk off private property.

    So much for the claim that ranchers are conservationists who welcome wildlife on their land.

    Finally, there’s the brucellosis fraud. It is claimed that feedgrounds are now necessary to keep elk from intermingling with cattle to prevent the spread of brucellosis from elk to cattle. That the feedgrounds themselves foster the transmission of brucellosis at high rates among elk, and will continue to do so until feedgrounds are closed, seems not to offend reason. Well, it actually doesn’t matter, since the actual purpose of the feedgrounds is to control elk, not disease.

    It is known that brucellosis is a density dependent disease and that if elk were permitted to spread across the landscape, especially winter range, the disease would eventually burn itself out. There would be a transition time between the closure of feedgrounds and a serious reduction of brucellosis at which risk of transmission to cattle would be higher, but this risk could be managed through more intensive management of cattle, particularly during the rather narrow time window when transmission is most likely (late winter/early spring).

    Oh, but that would place an intolerable burden upon ranchers, and in any case, ranchers don’t want elk wandering around eating cattles’ grass. So keep ’em on the feedgrounds and let ’em burn up with disease. Who cares if they all die? They’re just a terrible nuisance.

    In short, to satisfy their political and economic greed, ranchers are more than willing to put up with the risk of brucellosis in elk and more than willing to subject elk to other diseases such as chronic wasting disease, which is on its way to the feedgrounds. In other words, ranchers could care less about a mass die-off of elk from a disease epidemic.

    After all, ranchers have been killing off competing wildlife in the West for over a century.

    Is it any wonder that no one who knows anything about the livestock industry has any sympathy for its alleged troubles?

  7. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I need to comment further on Ron Dean’s complaint about manipulation of data about elk feeding, to which Ralph refers.

    Dean is in part complaining about people like me outside the Dept. who insist of getting the facts out to the public about the feedgrounds, and are working to get the feedgrounds closed, but he’s also complaining about the biologists in the G&F Department who are opposed to feedgrounds for scientific reasons.

    There have been numerous attempts over the decades, especially during the mid-1990s, by G&F biologists to close some of the feedgrounds and get elk spread out to reduce their unnaturally high densities and thus disease, but their efforts have been slapped down by the livestock industry, to which the G&F administration in Cheyenne answers. The biologists are now fully muzzled by the G&F cowardship.

    And by the way, much misinformation about feedgrounds has been spread by Ron Dean himself, whose loyalty is to the cowboys, not to wildlife. That’s another reason his retirement from G&F is such good news. It may give another opening to the biologists in the Dept. to fight against the feedgrounds.

  8. kt Avatar

    Robert Hoskins: That is a fantastic summary of what is going on with elk feeding. I don’t know much at all about Wyoming, and have been wondering about the fate of the winter range. So some of the feedgrounds shortstop the elk, enticing them not to move to their traditional winter range. The grass greed of ranchers is responsible for disruption of just about every natural process in the West. While feedgrounds aren’t a big deal in Idaho, in all other ways the livestock industry has essentially achieved their goal in Idaho, too, of taking over and controlling the Fish and Game. It will be interesting to see what happens in the aftermath of these big fires here like the Murphy Fire.

    We can expect Fish and Game to be muzzled in recommendations for habitat recovery here in the aftermath of the fires. Powerful ranchers that are buddies of Larry Craig and Butch Otter are some of the greediest ranchers — anywhere. If you looked at the video Ralph posted a day or two ago on IDFG discussing the impacts of the Murphy Fire, look at how uncomfortable FG looks in trying to talk about the fire, and the reality that under the extreme heat and aridity conditions the fire was basically unstoppable. Rep. Bert Brackett and other ranchers will be calling for IDFG biologists heads on a platter if they speak the truth. Until papers like the Statesman report on what is really going on – instead of printing puff pieces stereotyping personalities – the public won’t understand the death grip of a tiny hand full of ranchers have on our wildlife and wildlife and habitat policies.

  9. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I agree. We need to understand that the livestock industry is an oligarchy that has absolutely no interest in giving up its power and privileges, and it will not stop at anything in maintaining what it has. All the “collaboration and consensus work with the ranchers” crap we get out of the mainstream environmental groups, both national and regional, is in my view the major obstacle to effecting change.

    It will be necessary to destroy the political power of the livestock industry. That should be our strategic goal and we should let nothing, or no one, to divert us from that goal. That means taking on the collaborationist environmental groups as well.


  10. Dante Avatar

    Interesting summary and observations. My questions are to kt and Robert Hoskins.

    Both of you state that all the problems with the elk feed grounds originate and are backed heavily by the livestock industry. I understand your concern but please provide the evidence and documentation. I do not know if you are just voicing your opinion.

    I am new to this site but always like to see documented references to folks comments.


    Welcome Dante.

    KT and Robert have documented this many times, but, of course, if you are new, there is no way to know. The examples will appear I’m sure and you can make up your mind. Webmaster.

  11. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    so to put it briefly, if it eats my cows or eats what my cows eat, it has to go……

  12. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Much of my documentation/evidence is based upon original research I’ve conducted through the years into what is known as unpublished “grey literature,” as well as obscure published articles in magazines like Wyoming Wildlife going back 60 years, but I’ve not been able to pull together the funding to write it up. It would take a book. Documentation from the agencies such as the Wyoming Game & Fish Department is one-sided and incomplete.

    Several years ago I put together a short “history by quotatations” of the feedgrounds in Wyoming with references. I could provide this to Ralph and he could send it to whomever requests it. It is incomplete.

    Also, since the bison issue in Yellowstone involves many of the same problems, a visit to the Buffalo Field Campaign website would be an eye opener. Further, Mary Ann Franke’s book To Save the Wild Bison (U. Oklahoma Press) provides an excellent account of the conflict with the livestock industry over bison in Montana.

    The Final Bison and Elk Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park is available on the web at It has a lot of good information but as a government document in a highly politicized issue, it is also one-sided, particularly about the history of the problem.

    The great biologist and conservationist Olaus Murie studied elk in western Wyoming from 1927 until his death in 1963, and his book The Elk of North America (1951) addresses many of the problems with feeding. I’ve also had access to his unpublished letters, and he discusses the “elk problem” extensively in those letters.

    I’ve also had access to unpublished files and data at the National Elk Refuge going back to its creation in 1912.

    The Wildlife Management Institute publishes with the Smithsonian an enormous book called Elk of North America: Ecology and Management. This is the bible of elk biology and conservation. Feeding is discussed there as well.

    Happy reading.

    Robert Hoskins

  13. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff

    It is great to see that Robert Hoskins has reared his head again to distort the facts about elk feeding with his facts about the need to eliminate over 100 years of history.
    Wyoming feeds elk for a couple of reasons; since the Wyoming Game & Fish Department is responsible for damage claims that can costs significantly both in man hours documenting damages, hard costs for moving elk away from cattle feeding sites, and the actual damage they cause. Recently, Brucellosis has become another reason for maintaining elk feed grounds. (As a side note, I find it interesting that no one wants to blame the recent outbreaks of Brucellosis on the introduction of wolves into the Northern Rocky Mountains. Wyoming was first, followed by Idaho, and now Montana has also been exposed). It would appear as though Brucellosis had been effectively managed and contained within wildlife populations until wolves were introduced and altered elk feeding habits and their distribution. Notice that none of these elk which are being fed found their way to the beloved “Red Desert” that many have claimed elk used to and would frequent prior to the establishment of elk feedgrounds. Interesting to see how Mr. Hoskins can explain away this. I would venture to guess that he won’t try to blame this on livestock producers as well.
    Another reason why elk feedgrounds were established is because Wyoming citizens didn’t like finding huge amounts of these animals dead following winter. Most of these elk feedgrounds are at elevations of 7,000 feet or higher. Not typically what you would think of as natural winter range, but it is what Wyoming has available. Wyoming’s G&F Department has looked at what would happen should feedgrounds be eliminated. Their minimum numbers would place elk numbers declining by 60%, with the high end exceeding 85%. Robert Hoskins cure for Brucellosis is far worse then living with the disease. Individuals like him continue to state that CWD will even be worse. The reality is that none of these diseases even compare to what would happen if feedgrounds were eliminated. What few successes had been gained in creating new winter range has been thwarted with the introduction of wolves. Wolves in fact are causing elk to further concentrate as well but I don’t see people like Mr. Hoskins desiring nor supporting efforts for wolves to be managed by state agencies. Could it simply be that his agenda is simply to eliminate feedgrounds?
    Those who continue to seek the elimination of Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds also need to address what impacts would other big game species face if they were forced to compete with elk for limited winter range resources? It is easy to say that we should stop doing this but no one has been able to offer a solution that addresses the multitude of unanswered questions which surface when you talk about altering 100 years of historic use and application. Feeding elk may not be palatable to some, but Wyoming has too many people interested in observing, photographing, and hunting elk to destroy this resource on an assumed threat when the outcome is so overwhelmingly negative. The Governor’s Brucellosis Task Force heard comments about closing elk feedgrounds and chose rather to work with local ranchers and Wyoming G&F biologists to develop Brucellosis Management Action Plans (BMAP’s) to address disease threats, in particular Brucellosis, rather than eliminating elk feedgrounds. Groups with an agenda similar to Mr. Hoskins, to stop elk feeding, took their same proposal to the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee and were told they should present their proposal to the Wyoming G&F Commission. They asked the G&F Commission to eliminate three feedgrounds in the Gros Ventre drainage, which they rejected as well. As a Sportsman, I can tell you that Mr. Hoskins claims that the Wyoming G&F Department is owned by the livestock industry is a flat out lie. Wyoming’s G&F Commission is firmly devoted to their mission: Conserving Wildlife – Serving People.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Mr. Wharff,

    It’s well known how Wyoming and Idaho both lost their brucellosis free status, it came from elk winter feeding in proximity to cattle. Wolves had nothing to do with it.

    How is that “Recently, “Brucellosis has become another reason for maintaining elk feed grounds.” Study after study shows the brucellosis seroprevalence rate on the feedgrounds is 30 to 60% and those Wyoming elk that winter out it is 1 or 2%.

    If the elk could find their own forage, the brucellosis in elk would decline precipitously as it is in Montana where there is no feeding.

    Even without land acquisition, I don’t think the elk die-off would be as great as predicted because each winter gets shorter and milder. Elk can make it though the winter once they are broken of these bad habits.

    There is a good solution for Wyoming — buy elk winter range like Idaho and Montana did. Wyoming is rolling in money, and maybe a billion dollars should be put into land acquisition.

  15. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    How can you not see the connection between wolves and Brucellosis? Brucellosis was present in the same areas prior to wolf introduction; yet, did Idaho, Wyoming, or Montana have any problems with elk infecting cattle with Brucellosis? It would appear that since the introduction of wolves, elk feeding and distribution patterns have changed. Isn’t that what the environmentalist polluting the GYE have been claiming? Wyoming has tried to manipulate habitat conditions to favor elk wintering out on their own; however, with the introduction of wolves areas which had shown increased elk use are now going unutilized. Wolves have further concentrated elk on feedgrounds.

    As far as Brucellosis “recently” becoming an issue affecting elk feedgrounds is true. Had Wyoming and Idaho not lost their Brucellosis Free Status this would have continued to be a non-issue; unless of course your issue was to eliminate elk feedgrounds. Wyoming has fed elk for almost 100 years. Brucellosis is a non-issue for wildlife, elk in particular. It is for the cattle that this issue has become hot.

    How can eliminating elk feedgrounds in Wyoming alleviate, let alone eliminate Brucellosis in Yellowstone and surrounding parks when it will still remains present in other wildlife within the parks?

    If elk could find their own forage during winter months Wyoming would not spend so much money to feed them now would they? Prior to the establishment of the Nation Elk Refuge; over 2500 head of elk starved to death, thus prompting residents of Jackson Hole to create the NER and implement the feeding of elk. Do you expect people on this site to believe that Jackson is less developed now then it was in 1902? Come on, if they needed help making through the winter then, how much more do they need it today. If it was even remotely possible for elk to migrate to the ‘Red Desert’, why did 2500 head starve to death in Jackson?
    As far as buying the private property, what if no one desires to sale their private property. Are you advocating condemning their private property?

  16. Dante Avatar

    So whom do I believe, Mr. Hoskins or Mr. Wharff???? As I stated earlier, scientific documentation by either side would help to curb many of these opinions, as they sometimes appear on these posts.

  17. Jeff Avatar

    Colorado has a lot more people than Wyoming (about 4.5 million vs. 500,000) and a lot more elk (nearly 300,000 vs. 100,000) How does Colorado manage to not feed their elk? Only Wyoming feeds its elk, no other Rocky Moutain State has such a program. The reason is simple politics in Wyoming is dominated by the Ag industry, always has been. Less winter range has been developed in NW Wyoming than Colorado without a doubt. Tradition for tradition’s sake is obsolete and backwards. If ranchers had to exist on their own in Wyoming they would dry up and blow away. Water projects, fence out policies, low cost grazing permits, and elk feeding are all subsidies at the expense of wildlife. Wolves are helping to move elk back onto historic winter range, but feeding and fear mongering are preventing any real changes from occurring.

  18. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    It is exactly the opposite of what you claim. Wolves are further concentrating elk on feedgrounds not causing them to disperse more.

    Colorado has a lot more variation in their elevation as well. Wyoming could choose not to feed elk but our numbers would be significantly reduced. Wyoming’s G&F Department is not under the control of Wyoming’s Agricultural Department. Those of you which claim this are over simplifying the problem. It is simple, you either significantly reduce elk numbers or you feed them to keep them from causing damages (which the state is liable for) and comingling with cattle (to reduce risk of Brucellosis transmission). Wyoming’s has reviewed claims that elk feeding must stop because of supposed threats of disease outbreaks. Like I stated before, had any of the three states ever lost their Brucellosis Free Status prior to introduction of wolves? The answer is unequivocally, no.

    Hunters have paid an additional $10.00 to hunt elk in herd units where elk are fed. Those that claim they desire to eliminate elk feedgrounds have contributed what?

    You are also wrong in stating that no other state feeds elk. Idaho has areas where elk are fed as does Utah. Even Colorado has feeding stations for mule deer and I would be willing to bet that some ranchers also feed elk in Colorado.

    It is easy to suggest eliminating elk feedgrounds but has anyone been able to come up with a solution to address Wyoming’s concerns? Once again, the answer is no.

    I would argue that states have a moral obligation to see to the needs of the wildlife they are charged with overseeing. Why is it okay to allow wildlife animals to starve to death when we have the technology to carry them through in a ‘hard winter’? There are laws on the books which penalize private owners for forsaking and neglecting their responsibilities of the care of their privately owned animals. It seems like a double standard to me that on one side it is okay to allow ‘wild’ animals to starve to death because humans have taken up their critical wintering areas; yet, when an indiviual starves their horses, cattle, dogs, cats, etc. heavy fines and sometimes jail time is given out as their punishment. Doesn’t it ring true to you that states have a similar responsibility to care for the wild animals entrusted to their care?

    So what are your workable solutions?
    Landowners have already stated that they do not want to sale their property and abandon their livelihood, nor their lifestyle.
    Wyoming G&F (and its sportsmen) do not want to pay for elk damages.
    Brucellosis remains present in wild animals fully protected within our National Parks.
    No one (hunters and non-hunters alike) want to see elk numbers significantly reduced.
    How do you stop herding animals, which naturally congregate during winter months for numerous reasons, from concentrating in limited resources which are available?
    What will be the effects on other wildlife when the limited resources they are currently using are forced to share that resource with an animal that will displace them from their limited available resources?

    This issue is far more complicated then opponents want to admit. It is an easy thing to say ‘eliminate elk feedgrounds’, but no one has been able to offer a viable, workable alternative.

    As I stated earlier, Brucellosis was a non-issue with regards to wildlife. It is now being used as a tool to force Wyoming to alter the way it has managed its wildlife for almost 100 years with no viable solutions being offered.

  19. Jeff Avatar

    There is no proof that ending feeding will reduce numbers, see Colorado for that point. This is a common tactic used to scare hunters into believing they must accept a diseased herd. Colorado does not feed and they can’t get their numbers down to objectives. Idaho and Utah feed in a few places more for a few ranchers benefit and a quick tourist dollar, not to keep numbers from collapsing as you espouse. Certainly Wyoming is the only state with an offically sanctioned institutionalized widespread feeding program operated by its Game and FIsh Department. The point you make about Game and Fish being obligated to reimburse ranchers for damage is my point about Game and Fish being suservient to ranching needs, thank you for reiterating it. This is also the key point in whether or not wolves are classified as predators. If they are trophy game animals again Game and Fish must reimburse ranchers for damage, as predators Game and Fish is not obligated to pay ranchers for livestock losses. Are you starting to understand now how Game and Fish is obligated to do as cattlemen see fit?
    Colorado’s mean elevation is higher than Wyoming’s with much more developement throughout the state then Wyoming. Winter in the high country is no different whether one be in Montana (no feeding more elk then Wyo) or Colorado (no feeding 3x the elk of Wyo). Feeding is a security blanket for Game and Fish as they are obligated to pay for damage by elk to haystacks and pasture because of political deals and appointment made years ago. PS A viable working alternative would have been to close the three Gros Ventre feedgrounds in conjuction with the ill fated test and slaughter program in Boulder, Wyoming. No one on the brucellosis task force team save Brad Mead has the poliical will or strenght to admit that feeding is bad despite near unamimous opinion by those trained in wildlife biology. As far as animals starving during harsh winters, it would seem that the term “wild” separates livestock from elk. During drastic winters some supplemental feed could be provided if needed, but keeping wildlife wild is what this discussion is all about.

  20. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Among other things, Robert Wharff wrote: “Do you expect people on this site to believe that Jackson is less developed now then it was in 1902? Come on, if they needed help making through the winter then, how much more do they need it today.”

    I say in response that the town of Jackson is indeed more developed today, but that is only a small portion of the valley of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountains.

    It should be well known, but commonly isn’t, that forage conditions for wildlife in 1902 in Jackson Hole and around the West were horrible. The range was vastly overstocked with cattle and sheep. There was little for elk, deer, moose, and pronghorn to eat.

    Now over a hundred years later the land is much more capable of supporting ungulates throughout the winter without supplementary feeding. Reduction in livestock numbers has been a slow, but very beneficial process.

    I am saying I don’t think you argument about 1902 is valid.

    Even later, Grand Teton NP was in poor condition. I suppose you have seen the movie Shane, filmed in Jackson Hole out by Poverty Flats in about 1949?

    While this is supposed to represent scenic pristine country, the condition of the range shown in the movie is poor. Now that almost all the cattle are gone from the Park, it looks, and is much better.

  21. yoda Avatar

    Jeff, He never stated that without feeding Elk in UT and CO would perish and die. He merely stated that they do feed elk in those states at certain times. I feel you read something else into what he said. As for the FG being responsible for damages, that seems to be a simple answer to me. If you owned private property, and ranched or farmed on it, and you OWNED the land, and each winter elk would come down, and tear all your fences down, eat all your hay and feed for your cattle, costing you thousands and thousands of dollars, you would be okay with that? I would EXPECT compensation, if not then I would just shoot elk that were coming onto my land. It seems everyone wants ranchers to go out of their way for wolves, elk and all sorts of wildlife to try to make things better for all involved. Yet in the same breath, you tell the same ranchers tough shit, deal with it, if elk cost you tens of thousands of dollars, who cares, cause the FG does not cater to ranchers! Does not make sense to me Jeff. How would you go about handling the issue of elk causing damages to private property? Just curious.

  22. elkhunter Avatar

    Jeff, He never stated that without feeding Elk in UT and CO would perish and die. He merely stated that they do feed elk in those states at certain times. I feel you read something else into what he said. As for the FG being responsible for damages, that seems to be a simple answer to me. If you owned private property, and ranched or farmed on it, and you OWNED the land, and each winter elk would come down, and tear all your fences down, eat all your hay and feed for your cattle, costing you thousands and thousands of dollars, you would be okay with that? I would EXPECT compensation, if not then I would just shoot elk that were coming onto my land. It seems everyone wants ranchers to go out of their way for wolves, elk and all sorts of wildlife to try to make things better for all involved. Yet in the same breath, you tell the same ranchers tough shit, deal with it, if elk cost you tens of thousands of dollars, who cares, cause the FG does not cater to ranchers! Does not make sense to me Jeff. How would you go about handling the issue of elk causing damages to private property? Just curious.

  23. Jeff Avatar

    Elkhunter, Mr Wharff and his group the WY SFW suggest that robust elk numbers and natural winter feed (not to mention predators )are incompatible. I simply pointed out that no other states or provinces practice widespread feeding of big game herds like Wyoming does with its elk. Yes there is a ranch or two in Utah and Idaho that throws hay to elk and during a really bad winter in 95 some elk were fed by a private rancher in the Gunnison area of Western Colorado when I lived down there. These examples are exceptions not the rule to elk management. These other states and provinces have large healthy elk herds without a Game and Fish operated feed program. As Ralph mentioned ealier the fact that WYoming officials began feeding in 1902 has no relevance in today’s world as range conditions, the number of domestic stock and the ammount of protected land are all different today. There are fewer livestock in Jackson Hole today, more land is set aside for wintering animals, and we haven’t had a big winter in almost a decade. The ranching industry has blocked Game and Fish from acqiring more winter range even though it still exists and this would mitigate the issue in several places.. There are solutions to all the issues surrounding elk, wolves, brucellosisi and CWD but the livestock industry prohibits any real reform from moving forward. As far as elk damaging private property…I know RMEF and other groups assist in building wildlife friendly fencing, programs that provide a subsidy to ranchers should also come with the requirement of allowing hunters onto private ranchers. If the state sees it necessary to reimburse ranchers it should come out of the general fund not out of Game and Fish’s revenue that is dependent on tags and licenses. Personally, I hate having to pay the $10 elk/rancher welfare tag to hunt outside my backdoor.

  24. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    You still offer no solutions. Wy G&F Department must adhere to the law just as any one else must. Like it or not, it doesn’t change the fact that Wyoming doesn’t have sufficient available winter forage for elk to winter without receiving some kind of supplemental diet. You use Colorado as an example, others have used Idaho and Montana as examples of states which do not feed elk. While all of these states may share eleveational ranges that are similar to Wyoming’s; however, none of the above mentioned states have elk that are wintering at eleveations as high as the elk in Wyoming.

    Like I said before, are you suggesting that the Government force private landowners to sale their property? If private landowners do not want to sale their land or change their lifestyles and livelihood, what else can you do?

    These private lands can not be fenced as you purport. Ranchers are also trying to cut their winter cost by grazing their private property as snows force them to lower elevations. The feedgrounds are highly mobile and on exclussively private property so fencing all of their property could be done but not without creating problems for other migrating animals (mule deer in particular).

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Those three feedgrounds up the Gros Ventre could easily be closed. Granted there are some difficult situations elsewhere.

    Purchase of land doesn’t mean condemnation of land. There are lots of people who are more than willing to sell their land for a fair price for conservation purposes. They like the idea that it won’t go into a subdivision.

    I think I heard you say somewhere you weren’t much in favor of public land expansion, but I think the public is. They love public lands, and hate no trespassing signs.

    Why should winter range be fenced? It’s not in Idaho.

    Why are some feedgounds mobile? I guess I don’t know about the aspect of Wyoming operations.

  26. Dante Avatar

    Jeff, you state “The ranching industry has blocked Game and Fish from acqiring more winter range even though it still exists and this would mitigate the issue in several places.. There are solutions to all the issues surrounding elk, wolves, brucellosisi and CWD but the livestock industry prohibits any real reform from moving forward.”

    Having lived in a rural ranching community all my life I swallow on this one hard. From my knowledge and experience with ranchers, they have not and will not block fish and game from acquiring more winter range nor do the prohibit any real reform from moving forward.

    Show me the proof, documentation, etc. that this is not the case from some scientific study and not from WWP who is totally biased and against cattle on public lands and not from any other biased sources but tru, unaltered scientific studies which support your comments?

  27. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    The reason that the three feedgrounds located with in the Gros Ventre drainage remain operational is that of containment. The NER has recently published their record of decision in which they call for a reduction in the number of elk on feed. The old MOU was for ~7500 head, they now want to see ~5000 head. One of the concerns the G&F expressed about closing the Gros Ventre feedgrounds was based on elk wanting to go to lower elevations, seeking relief from accumulating snow. If those feedgrounds were closed and Wyoming had a ‘normal’ winter those elk would ultimately be forced down to the NER. Since they have decided to reduce elk, obviously, WY G&F was concerned about the fate of those elk should they arrive on the NER. In addition, a local rancher lies in between the current feedgrounds. How do you address commingling issues and the potential for elk to infect cattle with Brucellosis knowing that the elimination of these feedgrounds will only encourage commingling to occur. For a state that is (was, since Brucellosis Free Status has been reinstated) faced with addressing Brucellosis management that plan, due to predictable outcome, was totally implausible. The issues still remains; how would the addition of elk on already limited winter range impact ungulate species that are already using those limited resources?

    Your other point: “Purchase of land doesn’t mean condemnation of land. There are lots of people who are more than willing to sell their land for a fair price for conservation purposes”. Is true to the extent that an individual desires to sale their land. If someone doesn’t desire to sale it, few options remain. And, just to make it absolutely clear, I would not support the condemnation of these lands. My point is that those that keep pushing that as any easy solution do not know the facts. Having served on the Brucellosis Task Force, I know that the ranchers associated with most of the elk feedgrounds emphatically stated their opposition to selling their property or changing their livestock operations.

    Winter range should not be fenced. We can agree on this topic. However, most of the area is winter range to some degree. That is why I stated that landowners can not simply build fences to keep elk away from cattle or their feed. The ranchers are also attempting to feed their cattle. Some of them are feeding them as they come down to their lower pastures. They also want to feed their cattle on clean snow so it requires them to move their cattle periodically. It isn’t like a feed lot that is in one stationary location. If you can imagine checkerboard landowner patterns, this is what you have. For the most part, the Rancher’s I know welcome the wildlife to cross their private lands, utilizing the forage available; however, when the livestock could be infected with Brucellosis, their demenaor changes abruptly. But who can blame them when you understand the consequence of a Brucellosis outbreak; immediate and total termination of your livestock that is infected or could become infected. Many families have spent years developing the genetics specific for their operation. Sure USDA, APHIS pays a determined value for your livestock but that is far from replacement value, nor adequate to rebuild something that is lost.

    In all of the posts, so far, not one person has been able to offer any real solutions. No one has even addressed the problem with National Parks harboring Brucellosis infected wildlife. Elk feedgrounds can not be eliminated until the safe havens available for Brucellosis are removed; otherwise, the cycle will continue. Healthy elk and bison will become infected with the disease by elk and bison. As long as the potential for infected wildlife to come into contact with livestock thus spreading the disease into an industry which is regulated by the federal government there will be a need for Wyoming to manage to minimize wildlife and livestock from commingling. So how about it. Any ideas to address protected ungulates which host the Brucella organism in our National Parks?

  28. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I am curious concerning a couple of dynamics related to the feeding of elk in Wyoming. If I understand the situation correctly the two primary reasons that Wyoming has for over 100 years practiced winter feeding is to,#2, ensure a greater over winter survivability of elk herds while forcing them to winter at higher elevations so that, #1, cattle ranchers would be able to fully utilize the more easily accessible lower elevation areas.
    Some of the perceived positive consequences would be to,#2, increase, over time, the overall numbers of elk and, #1, to reduce the competition for winter forage between elk and cattle.
    On the other hand some of the negative consequences would be creating a situation of concentrating high numbers of elk in a small area where a much greater incidence of illness or disease would be present.(think about children in a daycare. even the most naive know that the little darlings are always picking up what ever is going around in the winter) and to also make the elk much more vulnerable to predation due to being, at some point in the winter, unable to effectively escape due to high snow depth. Do I have it about right or am I missing something?

  29. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Robert, thank you your detailed answers. I am trying to respond one at a time. . .

    Regarding brucellosis, is it not true that the hot spot in terms of infection rate is not Yellowstone Park, but the country in Wyoming south of Yellowstone Park, especially Teton, Lincoln and Sublette counties? Is is not true that infected cattle herd in Idaho came in a county directly adjacent to Lincoln County and Teton County, WY (Bonneville County, Idaho).

    Isn’t it true that the Wyoming elk herd (Wiggins Fork, I believe Robert Hoskins calls it) has an infection rate that is only a couple per cent, and this herd is a rare non-feedlot herd.

    Yellowstone Park would, therefore, seem not a refuge from brucellosis, but a passive recipient of recurrent infusions of the disease from its south.

    Brucellosis figures for Greater Yellowstone elk in Montana, where they do not feed are more like the Wiggins Fork herd and the presence of the disease in elk fades out entirely as you move northward into Montana.

    How serious is brucellosis anyway? I’m not sure, the Montana media act as though it was almost like AIDS for cattle. Idaho media ignore it, although Idaho recently regaining its brucellosis free status was about a page 4 story in newspapers.

    Wyoming media seem to be somewhere between Idaho and Montana in interest.

    It seems to me like politicians emphasize the disease according to their political objectives. For these “public servants” in Montana, brucellosis is a nightmare just lucking whenever someone talks about bison living freely outside Yellowstone Park.

    In Wyoming it’s a problem, but hardly not important enough to eliminate feedlots, but the disease can be useful in blaming wolves and pointing a finger to Idaho’s elk farms (the later deserving it).

    In Idaho it’s not a matter meriting a comment from most politicians, especially those in Eastern Idaho and elsewhere who are or have constituents building elk shooting farms for hunters of the caliber of Dick Cheney.

  30. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    I am assuming you sincerely want to know about Wyoming’s elk feeding program so I will attempt to answer your questions/statements.

    The nation started feeding elk around 1902 because of a large winter event where ~2500 head of elk starved to death. From what I understand, several ranchers sold, donnate, etc. their private property to create what is known today as the National Elk Refuge (NER).

    I don’t know the specific dates, etc. when Wyoming began feeding elk elsewhere. From conversations I have had with G&F employees, elk started causing depredation problems (they were eating alfalfa, grass, and/or mixed hay). The G&F Department fenced what stackyards they could and worked with landowners to address associated damages from elk. Some areas you also had fences which were being knocked down as well. Perhaps you can understand the concerns ranchers may have when their cattle get mixed with their neighbors, etc. All kinds of problems can be created. Since some landowners where unhappy with the manner in which the damages were handle, laws were enacted which mandated the G&F to do certain things. I won’t go into the details, suffice it to say the G&F is legally liable for damages caused by the wildlife of the state. Wyoming G&F began feeding elk to keep them out of trouble and reduce their expenses by way of damages caused primarily by elk. A side benefit to this was that once Brucellosis was detected in elk, the manner in which the state had been feeding elk (avoiding damages) they had also been minimizing commingling of elk and livestock (primarily cattle).

    As far as I am aware, competition between elk (as well as other ungulate species) and livestock is primarily addressed with population objectives set by the state of Wyoming. Just like many areas located in the west, ranchers settled and consequently own the lower elevations. Keep in mind that lower elevations are relative. That being said, most of the valley floor is privately owned. This is typical of just about every small western community. The foothills are split between private, state, and federal ownership.

    The issue of concentrating elk continues to come up. I am unsure that any science exists which explains when elk become too concentrated but most people should understand that elk are a herding animal which in winter months naturally want to concentrate. People want to criticize feedgrounds for creating a higher prevelance (rate of occurrance) rate then is found on native ranges. While the data suggests that assumption is valid I still believe it is more a matter of presence versus absence of the disease. That is one reason why I believe the Brucellosis Task Force supported the test and slaughter research. If we can successfuly reduce prevelance rates and eventually eliminate the disease by feeding elk in a controlled environment it is worth it to collect the science and determine the benefits. The only other alternative is for USDA – APHIS to eliminate populations of infected ungulates. If you don’t think that is possible, just wait and see. They are already, in my opinion, showing that they intend on moving in that direction although they continue to deny it. Since I don’t want to see Wyoming’s elk numbers significantly reduced, I opted to support the test and slaughter efforts. Afterall, many of US Dairies didn’t terminate entire cattle herds; yet, they were successful over time with the erradication of the disease from dairy cattle.

    Hope that helps calrify.

  31. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Someone said, “It seems that everyone wants ranchers to go out of their way for wildlife..”

    Ever since cattle were brought to America, everyone and the wildlife has been forced to get out of the way for the rancher’s cattle. The fact that there are much less cattle, it seems there would be more room for wildlife. The ranchers could quit turning out their cattle to graze/destroy our public lands. Which could be restored in the absence of the cattle. The public lands and forests could be designated for wildlife use only. Elk feed grounds could be eliminated. The ranchers could keep their cattle “at home”, so to speak, and feed them on the land that they{the ranchers} own, which would mean they are going to have to “butch up”, {After all those ranchers are so gosh darn independent…} and buy their own hay or feed, and actually be independant. And vaccinate for brucellosis… can’t forget that. Imagine that….. Oh but of course there is going to have to be a scapegoat and/or something will have to lose its life; those nuisance elk could keep “Wildlife Services” agents busy, and the elk meat taken to food banks so people in that area will be fed. They would not have to sacrifice food for electricity in the winter months.
    It would also give the politicians more time for other issues because they would not spend so much time making up false facts. If they aren’t capable of that, train them for a real job like fighting forest fires! Ha!
    How about that for a solution??

  32. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    You made a really good point about no one offering any real solutions to the Brucellosis problem. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an adequate solution to this issue.
    The million dollar question is how can you accomplish eliminating Brucellosis from the Bison and Elk in the ecosystem? First and foremost, you could eliminate all of the infected animals in Yellowstone. This would probably settle the problem, but hunters that harvest the Elk herds that use the park would obviously not go for that. Not to mention the outrage from the 3 Million annual park visitors and the American public. So that isn’t feasible.
    Then there is the possibility of vaccinating the infected animals. The National Park Service has been working on a vaccine to hopefully treat and eradicate Brucellosis in Bison, but unfortunately it’s been unsuccessful so far. It will probably take years to figure that out, not to mention the obvious problem of how to vaccinate every Bison. The slashing of park funds over the last 7 years from the current administration also doesn’t help much.
    For the immediate future I think that the idea of creating some kind of “buffer zone” around the park is a great idea. Now this has been an idea proposed in Montana, so I’m not sure about the challenges that might face in Wyoming. I can only assume that there would be similar arguments.
    In response to this idea, the Montana Stockgrowers Association has been fighting tooth and nail because they believe that moving Cattle out of any area where they are currently established is a dangerous precedent to set. Although I can on some level see where they are coming from, I can’t understand why moving livestock away from such a tiny area in the state is such a threat to them. Especially if it ultimately lessens the chance that Montana would lose it’s Brucellosis-Free status, and could save them millions of dollars in testing.
    I think that trying to keep cattle away from infected wildlife is the best and only short term solution. At least until we can hopefully come up with something better.
    Now the only way that Bison can possibly transmit the disease to Cattle is by contact with afterbirth. Is this the same with Elk? If that is true, then would it be a better possibility to focus efforts on keeping livestock separated from Bison/Elk while they are calving?

  33. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    My point is that Brucellosis exists inside the National Park system as well. This is a major factor as the USDA – APHIS has the power over livestock diseases. Brucellosis is known as Undulant Fever when humans become infected with it. It is usually contacted by consuming unpasteurised dairy products. In the USA, since few raise and consume their own dairy products this is a rare disease; however, it remains a serious disease as it causes pregnancies to abort. That includes humans, not just animals. It is not uncommon for some veterinarians to also become infected because of their work with animals which may be infected. Other third world countries have banned the importation of Brucellosis infected livestock as they still have people consuming their own dairy products.

    An infected animal usually aborts its first fetus but can produce addition offspring in following years. It is highly infectious and can persist for several days exposed to the environment. I am sure that there are people that are more qualified to speak about Brucellosis but that should allow you some background information and increase your understanding as to why it is a huge issue. As I stated in my earlier response, if your cattle herd tests positive for Brucellosis (even as it did in Montana with only a handful testing positive), USDA – APHIS requires that the entire herd be terminated. The government will pay for the cattle but it is all but impossible for the rancher to capture the genetics which they have bred into their respective herds as all animals must be destroyed. When a state loses its Brucellosis Free Status, basically the entire state can have its cattle herds placed in quarantine until the status is restored.

    Hopefully, that helps you understand why any reservoir, no matter how small is a concern. As long as animals can be exposed to Brucellosis and spread it into livestock there will be a problem.

    I can not remember the exact prevalence rates within the Parks, but I do know they are very high within the bison herds. It seems that it is around 50% where as elk in the area you (Mr. Hoskins) are referring to seems to be around 30%.

    I am unsure where the Idaho herds which were infected were located. I do find it ironic that all three states never seemed to have much of a problem with Brucellosis until wolves were introduced into the region. I believe it is only common sense that elk movement patterns and their distribution would change once wolves reached recovery goals. I personally believe that this reshuffling (if I may) of elk may have caused elk to move into areas closer to livestock operations to avoid predation. Especially when you consider that lethal actions are taken when wolves kill cattle; yet, elk are left at the mercy of the wolves. If you have hunted elk, you know what I am talking about. Elk are very intelligent and highly adaptable.

    Finally, I would agree that Brucellosis is a non-issue with regards to elk. Brucellosis has everything to do with livestock, cattle in particular.

  34. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff

    Mr. Stebbins,

    I believe you have come to the same conclusion as have I. The difficulty with declaring any area as a cattle free zone is that if you happen to be a rancher in that zone what do you do? This comes back to the question if you don’t have someone willing to sale, what are your options. I certainly would not like to see private property rights trampled to resolve this issue as it would set a precedent that scares me. I might not have much property but I don’t want my neighbors dictating what I can do with my acre. I believe that most people would agree that it isn’t an option.

    Animals are usually infected by either licking the aborted fetus or coming into contact with the embryonic fluid. As some of you may know, the mother (or others) usually consumes the afterbirth as well. Wyoming is looking at how long aborted fetuses remain after they have been aborted. With so many scavengers and predators around they usually do not last very long.

    Like I have said before, feeding elk allows for those animals to be contained and kept away from livestock. That may not have been one of the initial reasons for Wyoming G&F to have implemented a feeding program, but there is not doubt that it has allowed Brucellosis to be contained. All of the feeders have been instructed on how to handle an aborted fetus should they happen to see one at their location. As unsavory as it is to some, Wyoming has been implementing a test and slaughter program for elk on one of their feedgrounds. They are two years into the study and hope to expand their experiment to at least one or possibly two other sites. It is early to predict what will be the outcome of this study. I know that the prevalence rate decreased this year but they also had a couple cows which were clean (had not been exposed to Brucellosis) last year but tested positive this year.

    Maintaining elk feedgrounds appears to me as the best solution thus far. It allows elk to be monitored for abortion events. It stops elk from commingling with cattle. It allows for WY G&F to minimize damage payments. It allows for research to occur. It allows for testing of vaccinations and different delivery methods of those vaccines. It allows Wyoming to protect its Brucellosis Free Status. It allows limited resources to be available for other ungulate species. It allows Wyoming to maintain and sustain elk hunting and viewing opportunities for our citizens and visitors from many countries.

    Eliminating elk feedgrounds would cause elk to commingle with livestock. Increase damage claims paid by Wyoming G&F (and ultimately Wyoming’s hunters and anglers). It would threaten Wyoming’s Brucellosis Free Status (as well as neighboring states). It would result in a significant reduction of the number of elk in western Wyoming thus reducing hunting and viewing opportunities. It would impact other ungulate species currently using available limited winter ranges which are in poor conditions because of plant community degradation and drought. It could prompt the USDA – APHIS to take action to eliminate Brucellosis by implementing wholesale slaughter of infected wildlife.

    What would you decide? I believe it is fairly obvious why Wyoming continues to feed its elk.

  35. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    I see your point, and it’s obvious that this issue does not have an easy answer/solution. Personally I have to admit I’m not a big fan of feedgrounds because I think they, for the most part, promote diseases rather than isolate them. On the other hand it keeps wildlife populations alive artificially. As terrible as it is to see winter killed animals during a heavy winter, that’s nature. It needs to happen from time to time. I guess these would be my two arguments against feedgrounds, but regardless I believe that decision should one for the local community to make. If Wyoming wants to keep doing it, that’s their prerogative. At least it’s not my tax money.
    As for the “buffer zone”, as I said I live in Montana so I’m not quite sure what challenges that would face in Wyoming. Many of the grazing allotments here have been bought out surrounding the Park, and more hopefully are on the way. So there are fewer and fewer Cattle operations that are in such close proximity to Park boundary. The Church of the Universal something or other (can’t remember), comes to mind as one near Corwin Springs. So it seems like maybe it’s more feasible to provide this “buffer” in Montana.
    All in all, it’d be nice to have some clean cut simple solution to this one.

  36. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Robert Wharff,

    Thanks for your rundown on brucellosis. Some newcomers may wonder what it is and why the fuss?

    I don’t buy the idea that feedlots help, however, (I might admit to a few exceptions).

    There is no evidence that in general feedlots contain the disease. Brucellosis seroprevalence rates have increased on a number of feedgrounds, e.g., Greys River.

    The most infectuous tissue is an aborted elk fetus, and this is going to drop right on top the hay that is being pitched to the elk.

    There is no evidence that the elk like the feedlots except as a last resort. They come to them late, leave them before greenup, and often leave them in mid-winter if conditions are mild.

    You never responded to my comments about the lack of brucellosis in the free ranging Wyoming elk herd called the Wiggins Fork herd.

    You never responded to my comment that range conditions for ungulates in Wyoming today are much better than in 1902 when the winter feeding began.

    I want to bring in the matter other diseases and the feedlots, especially chronic wasting disease, a.k.a. “mad elk disease.”

  37. Robert Wharff Avatar
    Robert Wharff


    You are confusing me with the new term ‘feedlots’. I don’t believe that elk feedgrounds are the same as a feedlot. If that is what you are saying, I strongly disagree.

    I don’t understand this comment: ‘There is no evidence that in general feedlots contain the disease. Brucellosis sero-prevalence rates have increased on a number of feedgrounds, e.g., Greys River’.

    Vaccination of animals can also affect prevalence rates. This is what is termed a false positive. Animals that have been vaccinated have the anti-body individuals develop from exposure to Brucellosis so it can inflate prevalence rates. There is no doubt that infection rates are higher where Brucellosis is present versus areas where it is not.

    USDA – APHIS announced today that they are committing almost $1 million dollars in the development of a new vaccine. The reality is that our knowledge of treating the disease is minimal. Like I stated earlier, livestock producers have primarily eliminated Brucellosis via wholesale slaughter of herds which have tested positive with the disease. Obviously, few would like to see similar actions taken with elk and bison. Because of this, we now need to develop new methods of delivery for vaccines and new vaccines that are more effective, specifically for elk and bison.

    You said; ‘The most infectious tissue is an aborted elk fetus, and this is going to drop right on top the hay that is being pitched to the elk’.

    This is not quite true. The embryonic fluid contains far more bacterium then the actual fetus. Aborted fetuses do not always land on the feed row of alfalfa. Once the animals are fed, they will usually wander off a bit a lay down. An aborted fetus can be located anywhere between feeding locations and bedding sites. WY G&F elk feeders immediately collect and bag any aborted fetuses they locate. As I stated earlier, most aborted fetuses don’t last long because of abundant scavengers and predators. I couldn’t find the exact amount of time but it seemed like it was less then 24 hours in most instances.

    You said; ‘There is no evidence that the elk like the feedlots except as a last resort. They come to them late, leave them before greenup, and often leave them in mid-winter if conditions are mild’.

    I have never claimed that elk ‘like’ feedlots. I will tell you that they prefer not to starve to death. If they can not find something to eat, they will usually wander around until either they find something they can eat or they die. In most areas where WY G&F maintains elk feedgrounds (not synonymous with feedlots), elk have historically caused damaged with livestock operations in close proximity. The Department has learned that it is much easier to create a place for elk to go to when winter conditions make forage unavailable. This is usually because of snow depth and/or crusting of snow. If elk were allowed to continue migrating down to lower elevations, they eventually run out of areas where they can winter without getting trouble with livestock. If they can not find anything to eat except the alfalfa that farmer Brown has fed to his cows, they will join the cattle and now you have commingling of elk and livestock. If they were forced into areas such as the famous ‘Red Desert’ how do you force them back? They will not wander through all of the obstacles they face to get there as none of them would know that anything awaited them there. The Red Desert may not get the snow depths or the level of crusting which occurs elsewhere, but there are already some wildlife and livestock using this area. So what happens to them when they are crowded off of their wintering areas? Your statement is correct. One more reason why I believe elk feedgrounds are good. Elk will abandon them when they can locate natural forage.

    You never responded to my comments about the lack of brucellosis in the free ranging Wyoming elk herd called the Wiggins Fork herd.

    I am not familiar enough to address this specific herd.

    You never responded to my comment that range conditions for ungulates in Wyoming today are much better than in 1902 when the winter feeding began.

    Once again, I am unsure as to whether or not I could even come close to addressing this issue. I do know that land ownership patterns have remained pretty much the same though. If nothing else, more range has been lost to development then we have recovered. Range conditions do not matter if snow depths and/or crusting prevent access to forage. I would venture to guess that range condition in most areas are better off; however, I do have concerns about a lot of the sage brush steppe zone. I would also venture that we have more noxious and invassive weeds then before, but that is only a guess.

    I want to bring in the matter other diseases and the feedlots, especially chronic wasting disease, a.k.a. “mad elk disease.”

    It still seems to me no matter had bad the assumption is made about various disease, none of it compares to what reality exists. Even the dreaded CWD would more then likely infect a small portion of elk when compared to elimination of elk feedgrounds. WY G&F has stated that eliminating elk feedgrounds would reduce elk numbers by 60-85%. CWD has a much lower infection rate with elk and it has not shown up on feedgrounds yet. Facing a 60-85% reduction in elk numbers on the assumption that CWD might show up is too much to ask for as it may never show up at all. There is no doubt that wildlife disease are out there, many of which we may not even be known. I do believe that you can not manage wildlife based on what might happen.

    I still contend that the options have been weighed and measured. Wyoming has decided it is far better to maintain elk feedgrounds then it is to eliminate them without anywhere for elk to go but onto private lands where commingly will undoubtedly occur. Containment of the disease is our most viable alternative until an effective vaccine is developed which can be delivered to wild, free ranging wildlife.

  38. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Thank you for you response.
    After looking into this a little bit I feel it might be important to clarify just how the situation of massive elk die-offs came to be.
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I understand is that what is now Jackson Hole lays on the historic migration routes of elk (and deer and antelope, the later of which still utilizes) from the higher elevations of the Rockies to the north to the “relatively” lower elevations of the Green River Basin and the Red Desert. Undoubtedly some numbers of elk wintered in Jackson Hole and other lower valleys along the migration corridor, however the vast majority of elk continued on to the aforementioned wintering grounds, or as was stated by Ira Dodge of Cora, Wyoming “20,000 elk passed by his place in the fall headed for the Red Desert just north of the Green River. (Commission on the Conservation of the Jackson Hole Elk, 1927).
    Then with the settlement of the Jackson Hole and the lower elevations to the south, along with the roads used by the settlers and later the railroad, and the establishment of ranch’s, the migration of the elk herds was effectively blocked and they were not able to go any farther south than Jackson Hole. A result was massive winter die offs due to the annual snowfall, winter temperatures, and lack of adequate available forage for the high numbers of animals.
    Inevitably there was conflict as starving elk located and consumed the hay that the newly established ranches had stored for feeding the livestock that had been introduced into the area.
    As a solution to the problem the State of Wyoming, later joined by the Federal Government, started a winter feeding program to address the concerns of the livestock industry, who by that time effectivly ran the state, and the public as a whole who were agast at the waste caused by the winter kill of large numbers of elk. That effort over time became what we now know as the National Elk Refuge. (Gotta go, More later. Comment if you wish. :*).

  39. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I have got to go away for a week, but I hope to engage this topic when I return.

    New findings about Chronic Wasting Disease that the prions that cause it bind with the soil, make such places as winter feeding areas likely to become much more infectious and permanently so. Permanent zones of death. Indefinite biological contamination the heart of some of America’s most prized country.

    This means to me that the infection rate of elk in NW Wyoming is going to be much higher than elsewhere, so you are too optimistic Robert. In case you haven’t seen it, read

    Soil particles found to boost prion’s capacity to infect


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.

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