The National Elk Refuge in Jackson will begin shortening elk feeding seasons this spring.
In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a final version of a plan that aims to reduce elks' dependency on supplemental feed over the next five years. National Elk Refuge acting supervisor Eric Cole said the refuge wants to do this without causing problems for surrounding private lands.
"[Shortening the feeding season] might cause problems with co-mingling with livestock and potentially cause collisions with vehicles on highway 191, which is adjacent to the refuge. Our primary goal is to shorten feed season links enough to encourage elk to use native winter range," said Cole.
The plan calls for ending the feeding earlier in the spring for the first two years. Then in the final three years, the refuge will also delay the start of feeding season, ultimately shortening the feeding season to about 30 days. On average, feeding seasons have been 70 days long but Cole said there have been winters where they didn't feed elk at all.
Cole said elk's use of the feed ground is a learned behavior.
"So by shortening feed season length, we hope to reduce the likelihood that elk discover the national refugee feed ground," said Cole. "Over time, we hope that reducing feed season length on the refuge will encourage more elk to remain in the Gros Ventre Drainage and not discover refuge feed grounds and return in subsequent years."
The step down plan is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's 2007 elk and bison management plan but its public release was put off until 2019.
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