As the Wyoming Game and Fish Department enters the third phase of its elk foraging management planconservation groups are appeal to the state prioritize the health of wild herds in the Greater Yellowstone region and begin closing 22 state-run feeding grounds in northwest Wyoming, where tens of thousands of elk are artificially fed each winter .
Kristin Combs, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said the move was key to mitigating the spread of the chronic wasting disease.
“And we know that CWD is definitely going to have a significant impact on the health of the herd,” Combs pointed out. “Food sites just put together this perfect recipe for basically a petri dish for disease overgrowth.”
Comprehensive recommendations presented this week by Combs’ group and five others call on the agency to phase out all state-run feeding grounds by 2028 away from livestock and pasture.
After a series of public presentations and meetings with designated stakeholders, Game and Fish is expected to publish a draft foraging area management plan early next year. Combs noted that Wyoming is the only western state that still feeds wildlife, and that there are other proven methods for separating cattle and elk.
“Fence hay stores or fence to separate cattle and elk,” Combs explained. “Other states have certainly done this and have relied on landowners to take responsibility as well.”
Other groups calling for removal include the Gallatin Wildlife Association, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.
The recommendations call for protecting existing elk migration corridors and restoring corridors disrupted by decades of artificial feeding. Conservation groups also want the new plan to recognize the important role native carnivores play in reducing the spread of chronic wasting disease and brucellosis.
“They detect these infirmities and are able to determine which animals are the weakest,” Combs explained. “It has a cleansing effect on the herds and can remove some of these sick animals before they have a chance to spread the disease.”
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