Federal Court Rules Against Elk Feedgrounds
Thursday, September 23, 2021
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- A federal court agreed with conservationists this week, ordering winter feeding of elk on the Bridger-Teton National Forest requires additional environmental review.
The court ruled that two feedgrounds were not properly permitted, in part because the U.S. Forest Service had not evaluated the potential for disease transmission when large numbers of animals congregate in close quarters.
Connie Wilbert, director of the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, explained the growing concern.
"Chronic wasting disease has now been documented in mule deer and elk right around these feedgrounds," Wilbert reported. "It's literally on the doorstep."
Chronic wasting disease affects the central nervous system of deer, elk and moose, and is always fatal.
Wyoming's powerful livestock industry pushed to keep winter feedgrounds as a tool to mitigate against encounters with wildlife in low-elevation ranges, and to protect hay stores. Some outfitters also see feedgrounds as a way to keep herd numbers high.
Wilbert countered reliance on feedgrounds is both outdated and risks outbreaks of chronic wasting disease throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem, which could wipe out entire herds.
She noted there are proven alternatives, including fencing, to keep elk away from hay stores.
"They want to reduce competition from wildlife for forage," Wilbert contended. "And it's important to know that a lot of that is on public land, and we believe that wildlife should be allowed to access historic winter range."
The court found the Forest Service improperly permitted feeding elk at Alkali Creek and Dell Creek, and the claims made by the agency in defending its decisions were "implausible" and "unreasonable." The court also ruled feeding must stop at Dell Creek, which has been operating without a valid permit since 2017.
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