The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its final version of a five-year step-down plan in December that aims to reduce elks' dependency on supplemental feed.
The National Elk Refuge originally started providing feed in the early 1900s to help elk survive harsh winters. The service has said it will end feeding early this year and next, and then will also delay the start of feeding the last two years of the five-year plan. Now, conservation groups are suing the federal government for not immediately delaying. Connie Wilbert is with the Sierra Club, one of the groups suing.
"It attracts the elk to the feed grounds because it's easy for elk to go there and line up like cows on a feed line which is exactly what this is," said Wilbert.
But if food is unavailable from the start, Wilbert said, the elk will naturally go looking for different food. The conservation groups say a lawsuit is needed because of the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) spreading throughout Wyoming and the nation.
"When animals are congregated closely together, as they are on feed grounds during the winter months when they're being artificially fed, it's the ideal conditions for this disease, to move through those animals and very quickly become an epidemic," said Wilbert.
The final plan calls for cutting the feeding season short the first two years. Then the last three years will see a delayed start to the feeding.
The National Elk Refuge began feeding on February 1.
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