Feces on elk feedgrounds could spread wasting disease. Officials call for phaseout of feeding elk herds

They read the article in Nature we posted last week!

Feces on feedgrounds could spread wasting disease. Officials call for phaseout of feeding elk herds. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

At least we heard from some groups and officials about the direct implications of the study in Nature, but what about this quote from Wyoming Game and Fish, Kreeger* continued. ‘If this is the primary way that this disease is spread, nothing comes to my mind what we could do.’ ”

And maybe we could ask Bob Wharff of SFW Wyoming about this finding. Bob, do you want to comment, and in Idaho does elk ranch lobbyist Stan Boyd have anything to say?
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Terry Kreeger is supervisor of the Veterinary Services Branch of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department!






  1. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native

    CWD is going to spread with or without feedgrounds.

    CWD is spreading in the eastern half of Wyoming rather effectively in Mule Deer, Whitetail, and Elk populations, without any feedgrounds present, and without the winter range habitat difficulties that the western half of the state faces.

    Closing feed grounds may possibly slow the transmission of CWD, but even that can be arguable. Elk and Mule deer in the western part of Wyoming without feedgrounds still herd up and use the same wintering areas year after year. In fact I have watched the same buck deer winter in the same canyon with around 100 other deer for the last 5 years.

  2. Jeff Avatar

    However, there is no doubt that elk specifically are much more concentrated than they would be without feedgrounds. This should be even more alarming considering the rate of infection and the ease of transmission in eastern Wyoming without feedgrounds… Imagine for a moment how terrible the results of an infection on a feedground will be…

  3. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Yes, CWD is going to spread with or without feedlots, but I’m with Jeff that feedlots have the potential to make it much worse. Yet another reason to grit our teeth and phase out the feedlots over time.

    Buried several paragraphs down is the other key point…we keep reducing available range and the quality of said range is declining, thus creating much of the same effect that the feedlots do. I too have seen the same animals come to the same small areas year after year. Often while shed hunting in the spring I come across areas of bare dirt that resemble a horse corral filled with elk turds.

    Interesting to note that no one from WY G&F commented on the implications for state-run feedgrounds, yet the feds and local groups were quick to point them out.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Tom Page,

    I did add a note that the Game and Fish Vet just couldn’t think of anything that might be done.

  5. hilljack Avatar

    Is there a solution? No population growth will continue to destroy winter range for big game species and advances in our travel abilities will continue to spread more and more noxious weeds into the “non-developed” landscape further reducing available forage and concentrating wildlife. If you really want to do something give money to organizations that can purchase and protect these critical lands. Maybe not bashing federal land agencies that control winter range and instead supporting some of there efforts to improve the conditions would help. I am sure in the end though nothing will help and everyone will continue to argue rather than work together to develop a solution. Thats the way this country is “Divided we Stand”.

  6. Bob Wharff Avatar
    Bob Wharff

    Cory Hatch did attempt to contact me but I was hunting at the time and unable to get back with him in time for comments. As we are in the thick of hunting season, most of my Board Members are out hunting and I have been unable to confer with many of them; however, that being said, I believe WY SFW’s position remains the same.
    If individuals only desire to look at one aspect of wildlife management then they may believe the answer to be stopping all supplemental elk feeding. However, when all of the complexities are considered, it remains that far more elk will be lost to starvation and depredation than CWD may kill. Wildlife managers have stated that cessation of supplemental feeding will result in a significant reduction of elk numbers, as much as 80% in some areas. Furthermore, elk forced to winter on top of the limited winter range currently available will have devastating impacts on other wildlife populations which are currently in decline or below objectives; moose and mule deer.
    With Brucellosis still present in elk populations, depredation of hay or comingling with cattle will further result in reductions of elk numbers as well.
    Habitat projects had successfully moved elk off of elk feed grounds but with the addition of wolves those few gains have been lost.
    Given the natural habits of elk and the currently limited available winter range, elk would still remain concentrated in those areas. Forcing elk to winter on these winter ranges will more than likely reduce the ranges overall capacity to winter wildlife causing more reductions in elk numbers.
    Steve Kallin has stated that the refuge is trying to increase the area that is available for producing winter feed by adding “another 3,400 acres of irrigated land for a total of just over 5,035 acres”. The NER is being better managed now to meet the needs of wintering elk as we have seen less evidence of foot rot. It is truly amazing that if you provide adequate supplemental feed for these elk, they are not forced to paw thru the frozen ground to find something to eat. The pawing action actually causes the abrasions when animals are forced to break thru ice to reach unavailable forage or face starvation. Providing animals with sufficient nutrients to supplement their natural diet allows those animals to maintain themselves in a much better physical condition. Logically, healthy animals are less apt to become weak and sickened, thus more susceptible to the many diseases within their environment.
    It appears that the NER is doing about as much as possible to reduce risks and spread out elk by expanding the currently available forage base located on the NER. Perhaps more individuals should have supported efforts to allow hunting of bison on the refuge rather than stopping the hunts and allowing the bison population to expand as this would have also increased the available forage.
    Wildlife managers should continue to manage our wildlife based upon a balanced approach rather than managing for an unknown future. Closing supplemental elk feed grounds will not as some imply reduce the risk of CWD exposure. It would however lead to significant reductions in elk numbers as well as reductions in other ungulate populations. WY SFW remains committed to protecting threats to our hunting heritage. Such actions will ultimately lead to reduced hunting opportunity primarily based upon the fear of what may happen. Elk appear to have a higher survivability rate when exposed to CWD. While the appearance of CWD on our supplemental elk feed grounds would be troubling, it will unlikely reduce elk populations as much as abandoning our elk herds to an environment that we know cannot sustain them alone.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for the long reply, Bob. There is one thing that makes it beside the point, however. Once CWD shows up on the feedgrounds they are essentially poisoned forever, and they will be fenced and closed so elk can’t get to them.

    Prions go away about as fast as plutonium contamination.

    It won’t be the National Elk Refuge. It will the Jackson Hole permanent biological contamination zone.


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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