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Game and Fish begins emergency feeding of elk due to extreme winter conditions 

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The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) recently started feeding more elk than usual in Western Wyoming due to the harsh winter.

The agency announced they are starting an emergency feeding plan for elk in three areas of western Wyoming – near Star Valley, Cokeville and Kemmerer, with more than 100 elk being fed at each spot.

Doug Brimeyer, WGFD deputy chief of wildlife, said this does not happen often, but this year the extreme cold and snow caused elk to move to lower elevations than normal to find food.

“They're getting into haystacks or getting into feed lines,” he said. “And so when we see these severe conditions like this, we just work with some of the local landowners to try and feed those elk, get a site off from where they can cause damage.”

Snowpack in these areas is nearing or is above 100 percent of average.

Brimeyer said the feeding will likely go until mid-March, or at least until the elk can get to more forage.

“We'll feed until there's a little break in the weather and these animals have some places to go to find their natural forage, and sometimes that can last us into the second week of March, sometimes a little bit more than that,” he said.

Meanwhile, feeding elk at designated feedgrounds remains pretty controversial. That is because some fear feedgrounds are a breeding ground for diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease. The Game and Fish is in the midst of updating its long term elk feedground plan.

The update has two phases – Phase 1, which included educating the public about feedgrounds and finding stakeholders, wrapped up about February 2021. Phase 2 began summer of 2021 and will wrap sometime this year – it is mostly a time for the WGFD to collect information from stakeholders and begin to craft a long term plan. The department is anticipating releasing the long term plan sometime this year.

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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