From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 13 - June 24, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Ranchers talk elk feedgrounds

by Cat Urbigkit

Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan facilitated two meetings between livestock producers and Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials in areas near elk feedgrounds last week in Sublette County. It's part of a pilot program in which WG&F is working on specific management plans for each elk feedground. While feedground management plans are already in place, as are plans to control brucellosis, this was the first time the state agency has taken measures to involve livestock producers who run cattle on or near the elk feedgrounds.

Attendance at the meetings was mixed, with poor turnout at the first meeting, which was focused on the Scab and Fall Creek feedgrounds, but nearly all the producers affected by the recent quarantine for brucellosis testing in the Boulder area attended the second session, focused on the Muddy feedground.

Involvement by producers is critical, according to agency officials, because producers can assist in developing plans that reduce the risk of brucellosis transmission.

The meetings were used to identify the current conflicts as well as possible resolutions, some of which may call for WG&F to modify its activities, while others might involve modifications to ranch management, Logan said.

The groups discussed the possibility of having the producers agree to sell their allotments or enter into conservation easement agreements, since these options were identified at a task force meeting as possibilities.

"The answer was not just no, but hell no," Logan reported.

Logan said many producers, himself included to a certain degree, have a negative connotation associated with conservation easements. He added that he doesn't believe all conservation easements are bad, "but those ranchers were very, very adamant" that they had no interest in either option.

Logan said the producers urged the agency to use sound science in its decision-making. He said one of the first subjects to be brought up was the elk population and carrying capacity of winter range. Producers asked if the feedgrounds are actually big enough, or if the agency was concentrating too many animals into too small of areas. Options discussed included fencing the feedgrounds, test-and-slaughter or test-and-spay of elk are part of the eradication program, and the problem of the WG&F budget not being large enough to handle the brucellosis issue.

Dr. Tom Thorne, retired from the state wildlife agency, is assisting WG&F in drafting the feedground plans. He told the Wyoming Brucellosis Task Force last week that he is hoping producers will help draft the plans, which would eventually be subject to a public meeting and comment as well.

Thorne said that there are 11 elk herd units within the Greater Yellowstone region, of which seven herd units have elk feedgrounds. The agency plans to write plans for all herd units with feedgrounds; each plan will have a specific section dealing with each feedground within that herd unit.

WG&F Director Terry Cleveland said these first meetings were held to start the process, with the details being worked out as the process moves forward. Once a format has been developed, the agency will move forward in addressing all the herd units, but the schedule is dependent upon the department's resources.

Boulder rancher Joel Bousman, who serves on the state task force, commended the agency on its efforts, telling Cleveland, "This is definitely the right way to go."

Pinedale outfitter Terry Pollard took issue with the meetings only including the livestock producers. He repeatedly stressed that an outfitter should be represented at these meetings as well.

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