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Conservation Groups Headed to Court Over Elk Feedlots

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Wildlife officials detected chronic wasting disease in Jackson Hole in 2018, and biologists say it's just a matter of time before it reaches elk drawn to easy winter food supplies. (Wikimedia Commons)
Wildlife officials detected chronic wasting disease in Jackson Hole in 2018, and biologists say it's just a matter of time before it reaches elk drawn to easy winter food supplies. (Wikimedia Commons)
April 23, 2020

JACKSON, Wyo. -- Conservation groups are doubling down on efforts to get federal agencies to stop controversial winter feeding of elk at the Alkali Creek feedground in the Gros Ventre drainage, Dell Creek feedground in Sublette County and Forest Park feedground in Lincoln County.

Kristin Combs, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, says chronic wasting disease surrounds all three operations, and she hopes the courts will put a stop to a practice she believes puts entire herds at risk.

"Once a disease like chronic wasting disease gets into these feedgrounds, the chance of spread just increases exponentially when you have high densities of elk in one location," she stresses.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups filed a lawsuit this week charging the U.S, Forest Service of continuing to grant feeding permits without adequate environmental analysis, a move ordered by the U.S. District Court of Wyoming in 2018.

Supporters of the practice, including livestock producers and hunters, argue that feedlots keep elk away from livestock and herd numbers high.

Combs notes that Wyoming's iconic game could take a serious long-term hit if chronic wasting disease, which is fatal, sweeps through herds. She says there are alternatives to feedlots to prevent encounters with livestock, such as fencing around hay stores or keeping elk away from properties.

"There are other ways that we can be innovative and creative in solving this problem," she stresses. "Wyoming is one of the only states where you are not responsible for fencing livestock."

Combs points to analysis by non-governmental organizations and state agencies showing there is plenty of natural food to sustain thousands of elk and other big game over the winter in their native ranges.

The lawsuit also alleges that elk feeding at Dell Creek and Forest Park by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is being conducted without appropriate permits, which expired nearly four years ago.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY