The National Elk Refuge stopped its feeding Monday, March 29, two weeks earlier than normal in order to meet management goals.
The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole is working to reduce elks' reliance on supplemental feed. Known as the Step Down Plan, the refuge is gradually decreasing the amount of time they are feeding the animal during the winter.
Frank Durbian, the National Elk Refuge project leader, said the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and a refuge biologist monitor elk behavior towards the end of the season to evaluate how the elk are responding.
"They're searching or starting to leave the refuge this time of the year and looking for other grazing and forage opportunities off the refuge," Durbian said.
They originally found that feeding should end on April 12, but because of the Step Down Plan they are ending it two weeks earlier, he added.
Durbian said this is an overall effort to try to get elk to find other places to winterize. He said next year they will see how they can shorten feeding season as well.
"[That will be] based on snowpack conditions, our modeling efforts, and observations of health behavior, along with ensuring that we have mitigation strategies in place, which we've been working on to deal with any issues that may arise as we start to truncate these feed seasons," he said.
Durbian said those issues include elk getting onto private lands. This is the second year of the plan. The Step Down Plan, which was developed in partnership with many state and federal agencies, is facing litigation by environmental groups.