From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 23 - September 2, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Feedground closure could mean more crashes

by Cat Urbigkit

Retired from the Wyoming Highway Patrol after 20 years of safeguarding western Wyoming's highways, Pinedale's Dave Lankford has a real concern for potential effects of closing elk feedgrounds in the region.

Lankford points to the large number of vehicle accidents involving mule deer in this region and the large economic loss associated with these accidents. One good thing about the deer accidents, Lankford said, is that humans usually survive the encounters. That's not necessarily the case with larger wildlife species, Lankford said, pointing to moose wrecks as an example. With an animal that size, human lives have been lost when vehicles collide with moose.

"Very seldom do we have traffic crashes involving elk," Lankford said in a recent interview. With many of western Wyoming's elk using feedgrounds in the winter, the animals are kept from the roadways.

"We didn't have that much problem with elk," Lankford said. "We've been so lucky that elk have never really been an issue."

Lankford said there are a few notable exceptions: elk near the Camp Creek feedground and elk using the desert near milepost 57 on Highway 191 south of Boulder. The elk south of Boulder began camping within the highway right-of-way within the last few years in the winter, causing traffic hazards and crashes.

With the large size of an elk, Lankford fears that loss of human life due to traffic collisions would be one result of the proposal to close elk feedgrounds, which is being advocated by some environmental groups.

Lankford isn't the only one concerned about closing elk feedgrounds. While the National Wildlife Federation has hired a consultant to review the potential for closing the feedgrounds, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife of Wyoming took a similar action, commissioning retired Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Garvice Roby. The Roby report focused on the potential impact to the Jackson Hole elk herd.

Roby concluded that since there is no surplus native winter range for the elk to turn to, so if feeding were eliminated or reduced, the herds would have to be substantially reduced.

"If feeding were terminated in the Jackson Elk Herd Unit, then I would expect the maximum winter population to be around 7,500 to 8,000 elk," Roby stated, well below the population objective of 11,029.

If feeding were eliminated, Roby expects severe competition between elk and other big-game species for forage. In addition, other species may experience declines as well.

"The numbers and kinds of different big-game species that are presently maintained in the Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre River areas are possibly a beneficial side effect of elkfeed grounds," the report stated. "I seriously doubt that current numbers of bighorn sheep, mule deer and moose could have been maintained if feedgrounds were not around. Due to the fact that the elk can out-compete these other species for forage, I expect these other species to decline when feeding is terminated."

Another expected result, according to Roby, is conflicts with attempts to control brucellosis in livestock.

"The termination or reduction in feeding will only intensify the search for available forage by all of these animals and the interaction with livestock may increase the risk of future brucellosis spread," Roby wrote.

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