Elk Feedgrounds Could Increase Spread Of CWD, UW Study Finds

Aug 2, 2018

A new study by the University of Wyoming suggests elk feedgrounds actually do more harm than good. By ending the practice, it could help slow down a deadly disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is an infectious disease affecting deer and elk. So far it has not entered elk feedgrounds but David Aadland, UW economic professor and supervisor of the study, said CWD will enter the feedgrounds -- it’s just a matter of time. Elk are densely populated around the feedgrounds, so it will hit the entire population. He said by shutting down the feedgrounds, the disease will spread slower.

“But the bigger point is that they’re going to be large costs that the area is going to bear if they continue to practice this feeding when chronic wasting disease comes into this area,” Aadland said.

Aadland said based on the case study in Pinedale, the state would save $20 million dollars over the next century. But he said some parties will have to bear the cost. One party: ranchers.

“By shutting down the feedgrounds those elk are going to look for forage during the winter and they will tend to go down to lower elevation private land and the ranchers will have to pay a cost,” he said.

The cost could include vaccination and fencing costs, too. Feeding elk during the winter has been in practice in Wyoming for over 100 years. It’s meant to increase the elk population, which is beneficial for wildlife, tourism and hunting. Aadland said the next step is to conduct a similar study for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.