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Northwest Wyoming Elk Returning to Healthier Winter Range

Federal scientists use radio-telemetry collars, such as the one on this elk, to monitor characteristics of healthy herds. (National Park Service)
Federal scientists use radio-telemetry collars, such as the one on this elk, to monitor characteristics of healthy herds. (National Park Service)
October 11, 2018

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – As snow returns to Wyoming's mountain regions, elk are beginning their annual migration toward winter ranges.

But some elk in the western part of the state will have to work for their meals after a recent U.S. district court revoked a long-term deal for a state-run feeding ground east of Jackson Hole.

Lloyd Dorsey, a hunter and conservation program manager with the Sierra Club's Wyoming Chapter, says the move should help protect elk, as well as livestock and hunting traditions, because feed lots can act as hotspots for the spread of chronic wasting disease.

"And in fact, it best serves the overall economy in this region to phase out those elk feedgrounds and allow those native predators to cull the sick animals from those game herds," he states.

Dorsey says since the disease already has hit the Yellowstone ecosystem, the Alkali Creek elk feedground would have put more moose, deer and elk at risk.

Chronic wasting disease, which is highly contagious and transmitted through body fluids as well as soil, can spread quickly when large numbers of animals are kept in concentrated areas.

Dorsey notes that continuing the tradition of feedgrounds, originally intended to separate wild animals from livestock, poses a significant threat to local economies.

He says tourists come to Wyoming from across the globe for outdoor recreation and the scenery in national parks, but also to view and enjoy wildlife.

"Especially healthy wildlife are the most important economic driver for a sustainable economy in this region,” he stresses. “We can't afford to put that at risk by causing elk to get sick on feedgrounds."

So far there have been no reported incidents of humans contracting the disease.

Canadian researchers recently warned it could reach human brains if people consume infected meat, and some experts have advised hunters in affected regions to test samples of meat before eating.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY