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Conservation groups recommend Game and Fish phase out state-run elk feedgrounds

Fish and Wildlife Service

Conservation groups are calling for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to phase out state-run elk feedgrounds. This request comes as the agency is drafting its feedground management plan.

In a recent letter, six conservation groups submitted a “comprehensive recommendation” to the WGFD detailing the phase-out of 22 feedgrounds by 2028. The groups include Sierra Club Wyoming, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Western Watersheds project, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, Gallatin Wildlife Association and Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

All of Wyoming’s feedgrounds are concentrated in northwestern Wyoming. According to the WGFD, the first feedground was Jackson’s National Elk Refuge, which was started in the early 1900s to address starvation during cold winters and to keep elk out of private hay yards.

But recent challenges, including fatal Chronic Wasting Disease, have prompted WGFD to reevaluate how elk are managed. The agency is in ‘Phase II’ of developing its elk feedground management plan, which will determine how elk are managed for the next several decades.

Kaycee Prevedel, the conservation organizer for the Wyoming Sierra Club, said feedgrounds have changed how elk migrate in the winter.

“Natural migrations have been disrupted,” she said. “But with some good management and some prioritization for wildlife over cattle, there's a lot of forage on public land, forest service land and BLM land that is natural habitat for the elk.”

Brad Hovinga, the regional wildlife supervisor for the WGFD Jackson Region, said all ideas from a wide-range of stakeholders are being considered.

“Phasing out feed grounds is likely better for wildlife from a disease perspective, however, that doesn't help us meet some of the other objectives like, preventing the co-mingling of elk and livestock and reducing elk over winter mortality,” Hovinga said.

The new management plan will be released by mid-2023. The WGFD and conservation groups are encouraging the public to get involved. More information can be found here.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.

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