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Natural Resources & Energy

Judge Halts Elk Feedlot, Citing Risk Of Chronic Wasting Disease

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A U.S. district court has decided to end a long-term permit for an elk feeding ground in the Bridger Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming, saying the agency did not do enough to analyze the risk of chronic wasting disease to animals there.

Chronic wasting disease is 100 percent fatal for elk, deer and moose that contract it. The disease is known to spread nose-to-nose where many animals pack together to eat, like feeding grounds.

Judge Nancy Freudenthal took issue with how the U.S. Forest Service relied on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to determine if the feeding ground was safe, rather than investigating themselves. Western Watersheds Project Director Jonathan Ratner said the decision may have long-term ramifications for the state’s 21 feeding grounds.

“We’re certainly hoping the victory, in this case, will add pressure to Game and Fish and the individuals on the Game and Fish Commission, to take their responsibility seriously and deal with the elk feedlot situation now before it’s too late,” said Ratner.

He said Wyoming’s elk herds have grown much larger than the goal originally set by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Ratner said elk don’t need to be fed anymore, and that there’s a better way to control the disease.

“The most effective way in dealing with [chronic wasting disease] in a population is through the use of native predators doing their job of culling the weak individuals.”

Ratner said, if not addressed, chronic wasting disease has the potential to be a large-scale wildlife disaster for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

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