The Wyoming House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee has approved a bill that sets up a specific process if the Wyoming Game and Fish Department considers closing one of its 22 elk feedgrounds. There is no written process on how to close a feedground currently.
The National Elk Refuge in Jackson is currently dealing with a lawsuit for not closing a feedground quick enough. The refuge had created a step-down plan that would gradually delay feeding elk over the years.
The bill creates a more formal process. It would require the department to speak to the public and stakeholders before any decision is made, while giving the final decision-making power to the governor.
Bill sponsor and Pinedale Representative Albert Sommers said feedgrounds are important for northwest Wyoming.
"Not only for the amount of elk that is created for hunters," said Sommers. "But also the separation it keeps between elk and cattle during those critical periods when brucelosis can be transmitted."
Sommers, other representatives and some of the public mentioned that closing feedgrounds would have a huge impact on the economy of outfitters, local hunters and the livestock industry. There is also concern that elk could starve without them
Chris Colligan, wildlife program coordinator with the conservation group, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said elk will not all die if a feedground is closed.
"Elk will find food somewhere," said Colligan. "Unfortunately, that means they will run into conflicts, they will wander into hay lines and find feed somewhere. And that concern is why I think we need a local working group working on this."
Colligan said lawmakers should wait until the Wyoming Game andFish Department finishes re-evaluating elk feedground management.
Elk feedgrounds started in the early 1900s to help starving elk during a harsh winter and have been kept up due to their help reducing transmission of brucellosis to livestock. Environmentalists though believe the feedgrounds create crowding situations where chronic wasting disease can be spread easily. The bill now goes to the house floor for further debate.