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Wyoming begins drafting first-ever long term elk feedgrounds management plan 

Elk eating at the Soda Lake feedground north of Pinedale.
Mark Gocke
Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Elk eating at the Soda Lake feedground north of Pinedale.

Within a year, Wyoming will have a detailed elk feedgrounds management plan for the first time in history, and it will guide the state for the foreseeable future.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has been working with the public since late 2020 to address arising issues with elk feedgrounds in Wyoming.

“The main issues probably that cropped up the most would be Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and the other diseases that we see, and elk damage to private property,” said Mark Gocke, the public information specialist for WGFD. “Also, elk population objectives and hunting opportunities.”

Gocke said the fatal CWD is increasingly becoming an issue in Wyoming elk herds. Some studies show that the disease is spread more rapidly on feedgrounds because the elk are bunched together. Wyoming currently has 22 state-run feedgrounds all in the western side of the state. The future plan will not impact the National Elk Refuge in Jackson.

A group of 60 volunteer stakeholders contributed to the management plan discussion over the months. Gocke said the department will now take the feedback and begin drafting the management plan. Some potential solutions include:

“There's been several things brought up like, fencing haystacks on private land. Possibly paying private landowners to winter elk and ship cattle out in the wintertime,” Gocke said. “Possibly having feedgrounds that are over larger areas or having several smaller feed grounds over the landscape or even moving elk feedgrounds across the landscape.”

Some environmental groups called for phasing out all the feedgrounds due to spreading disease more rapidly, but Gocke said completely closing the areas in the near future is not an option.

“We can't just pull the plug on elk feedgrounds and do anything quickly,” he said. “We've just adapted to feedgrounds over the decades, and if we were to say quit feeding on a certain elk feedground, there's going to be impacts that are unacceptable to adjacent landowners or elk on the highway or elk in towns.”

Gocke said a draft will be ready by late winter for the general public to review and comment on. The final elk management plan is expected to be in place by next summer.

People can review all the recorded materials discussed at the WGFD website.

This copy has been updated on 7/13/22 to reflect that discussions surrounding an elk management plan began in late 2020, not late 2021.

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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