From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 9 - May 27, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Feedground program outlined

by Cat Urbigkit

Wednesday afternoon's elk feedground forum in Pinedale drew a diverse crowd to learn about the history of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's elk feeding program and its role in the current brucellosis controversy.

Although Dr. Jim Logan, Wyoming State Veterinarian, was unable to attend the session, he sent a message for the group to consider, via WG&F's Dr. Tom Thorne. Logan had five main points, first reminding the group that the elk feedground program was created in order to keep elk off cattle feedlines. Any abrupt changes to the current program could have a devastating effect; all affected parties must be involved for a successful resolution; common goals must be developed in order to find solutions; and work needs to proceed without getting bogged down in turf battles, according to Logan.

Thorne explained that the last nine brucellosis outbreaks in Wyoming cattle herds were linked to infected wildlife, including the December 2003 outbreak in a Boulder-area cattle herd.

WG&F elk feedground program manager Scott Werbelow explained that the state elk feedground program began in the 1920s, expanding to encompass the 22 state-operated feedgrounds in existence today. These feedgrounds are all located in Sublette, Lincoln and Teton counties and provide winter sustenance to about 16,000 elk at a rate of 8-10 pounds of hay per elk daily.

Hay is fed using draft horse and sleds, with the feeding season length varied by feedground and winter conditions, from 60 to 160 days. The state wildlife agency purchases about 6,000 to 9,000 tons of mostly western-Wyoming hay annually. The feedground program costs WG&F about $1.3 million annually.

While the feedgrounds concentrate elk, allowing disease transmission, the feedgrounds offer many benefits, from increased elk populations and preventing starvation, to preventing commingling with cattle and damaging private stackyards, Werbelow said.

Should the elk feedgrounds be eliminated, Wyoming would have to decrease regional elk numbers by up to about 80 percent, according to Werbelow, resulting in a loss to Wyoming's economy of about $22 million.

Barry Reiswig of the National Elk Refuge spoke, asking the group to consider that we may be coming to end of an era, that pressure will increase to do something significant to address the disease problem, since the Yellowstone region harbors the last wild reservoir of the disease. Yellowstone wildlife are believed to have harbored the disease since about 1900, according to Thorne.

Reiswig urged the group: "Stop planning for failure. Stop doing things that don't work." Reiswig advised, "Stop using vaccines that aren't effective" and creating committees that don't actually manage to get any work done.

"Start planning for success," Reiswig said, by working together. "We can't put this off on the other guy any more. We have a lot to lose, but by working together, we have a lot to gain."

Reiswig said that the group can be successful by being positive and innovative. While there are a lot of outside forces at play here, he said, communities that work together have a better chance to prevail in the end.

Wednesday's meeting was one of three days worth of sessions conducted in Pinedale last week addressing brucellosis, with the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee holding a session, as well as the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Task Force meeting on Thursday.

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