FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 1, 2022
Conservation Groups call for phase-out of 22 State Feedgrounds to Prevent Widespread Chronic Wasting Disease Epidemic
(Cheyenne, WY) Today, six conservation groups submitted a comprehensive recommendation
to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), calling on the state to prioritize the health of the Greater Yellowstone region’s wild ungulate herds and to begin phasing out 22 state-run feedgrounds in northwestern Wyoming, where tens of thousands of elk are artificially fed each winter. The agency is poised to issue a draft feedground management plan early next year.
The recommendation from the Sierra Club, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and Western Watersheds Project – all designated stakeholders in the state’s collaborative feedground management planning process – calls on the WGFD to ensure that the forthcoming draft feedground management plan prioritizes beginning a controlled phase out of artificial feeding in the winter of 2023-2024, and for all state-run feedgrounds to be phased out by 2028. It also calls for the plan’s explicit recognition of the important role that native carnivores play in reducing the spread of chronic wasting disease and brucellosis, for protection of existing elk migration corridors, and for strategies to restore migratory behavior where natural animal movements have been disrupted by artificial feeding.
“Wyoming is the only state in the western U.S. that continues the unjustifiable practice of widespread artificial feeding of elk, despite Wyoming’s many similarities with other intermountain states” said Kaycee Prevedel of Sierra Club Wyoming. “If a state such as Colorado – virtually the same size as Wyoming with considerably less public land and many more people – can manage to sustain 2.6 times more wild elk than Wyoming without resorting to winter feeding, Wyoming could do the same. At the very least, it is incumbent on Wyoming wildlife managers to investigate how our neighboring intermountain states manage to have robust wild elk numbers without resorting to artificial feeding.”
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease that kills elk, deer and moose and spreads rapidly when large numbers of animals congregate. It has steadily progressed across Wyoming over the past 20 years, and recently has been documented in Grand Teton National Park and immediately adjacent to several state-run feedgrounds.
“It is, quite literally, only a short matter of time before chronic wasting disease manifests as a full blown epidemic in elk herds that frequent feedgrounds,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “The faster the State of Wyoming can shut down the feedgrounds, the lower the risk of ‘superspreader’ events that infect the entire Yellowstone herd. When CWD reaches critical mass on the feedgrounds, these migratory herds will spread infectious prions far and wide.”
“Neighboring states such as Colorado and Montana, as well as everywhere else in Wyoming, have successfully mitigated conflicts with livestock operations with appropriate fencing, hazing, livestock herding, and other strategies. No other state attempts to use a state-run elk feeding program to deal with wildlife conflicts, even though they face similar situations with competition between cattle and ungulates for forage on public lands, pressure from livestock owners to prioritize livestock use of public land forage over wildlife use, and loss of winter range to private ownership,” said Chelsea Carson of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
“The Gallatin Wildlife Association believes this recommendation can serve as a blueprint to return normalcy back to a natural system. It is what is required of us as moral and decent stewards of this planet,” said Clinton Nagel of Gallatin Wildlife Association. “Artificially maintaining elk populations at higher numbers than can be supported by natural habitats through feedgrounds, with the goal of increasing hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, is a misguided strategy unique to Wyoming. Elk and other wildlife should be able to live out their lives naturally like the wild and resilient species they are.”
“Wildlife should be distributed across natural habitats and managed for health, not for maximum numbers. There is no apparent reason why Wyoming should not be able to emulate other intermountain western states to maintain healthy wild elk populations while mitigating impacts to private landowners and ranchers. The economy and lifestyle of Wyoming residents depend on the willingness of the WGFD to take proactive steps to protect the health of Wyoming elk herds. While it is not an easy decision to implement, expeditiously phasing out elk feedgrounds is an absolutely necessary step toward ensuring elk herds remain healthy, viable, and free ranging far into the future,” said Kristin Combs of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates.
“The science tells us that closure of feedgrounds and moving to natural forage is the only solution to reducing disease transmission,” said John Carter of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection. “The livestock industry also needs to step up. Plant communities have lost much of their productivity and ability to sustain wildlife because of overgrazing on public lands.
The Wyoming Livestock Board, which has veto power over any plan to close the feedgrounds, must allow closures to proceed.”