From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 35 - November 24, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Enviros threaten lawsuit

by Cat Urbigkit

Earthjustice, a legal firm representing environmental interests, has sent a letter to Bureau of Land Management and Bridger-Teton National Forest officials regarding what it claims are legal violations in connection with authorizations for elk feeding on federal lands in western Wyoming.

The letter, threatening litigation if a satisfactory response isn’t received within 30 days, was written on behalf of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

The letter notes that the two federal agencies “have authorized winter elk feeding by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and associated facilities at 15 designated feedgrounds. These feedgrounds and/or facilities are located on federal lands in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Pinedale Resource Management Area. The Forest Service also has recently authorized construction of a major new elk trap and associated 1.8-mile elk-proof fence at the Muddy Creek feedground near Pinedale, Wyoming, to facilitate a WG&F ‘test-and-slaughter’ program for western Wyoming’s elk.”

The letter noted that the agencies’ authorizations for the feedground program “make possible the unnatural concentrations of elk in western Wyoming that have created conditions ripe for the outbreak and transmission of disease among the region’s elk herds. Already brucellosis is widespread among western Wyoming’s fed elk populations, triggering draconian management responses such as the testing and slaughter of wild, pregnant female elk that is about to begin at the Muddy Creek feedground. Recent events create a serious threat for rapid transmission of an even more serious disease – chronic wasting disease, the elk equivalent of ‘mad cow disease’ – that threatens to kill off thousands of western Wyoming’s elk.”

The letter added, “Not only does CWD threaten a lethal epidemic in western Wyoming’s fed elk populations that could spread across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but it also threatens severe environmental contamination at the feedgrounds where elk concentrate.”

The letter accuses federal agencies of numerous violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Your agencies have completely disregarded their NEPA obliga tions in connection with Wyoming elk feeding operations on federal lands, as well as with respect to the Muddy Creek feedground test-and-slaughter program,” the letter stated. “With respect to the feedgrounds themselves, your agencies have authorized the use of feedground facilities on federal lands. These feedgrounds lead directly to the high concentrations of elk that give rise to high brucellosis prevalence and the looming threat of a CWD epidemic, yet neither the Forest Service nor the BLM has conducted any NEPA analysis of the consequences of these feedground authorizations for wildlife disease or other environmental factors.”

The letter pointed out “with respect to the feedground operations themselves, your agencies have issued permits for these activities to occur on federal lands without any analysis of the resulting environmental consequences.”

With the exception of four feedgrounds, “It appears that the Forest Service has not considered the remaining Bridger-Teton feedgrounds in any NEPA documents whatsoever. As for the BLM feedgrounds, available records indicate that a brief environmental assessment was prepared in 1981, but this document makes no mention of wildlife disease impacts. In short, your agencies have never studied the disease consequences of authorizing elk feedgrounds on federal lands.”

The letter continued, “Like the feedgrounds themselves, the planned test-and-slaughter program at the Muddy Creek feedground presents a threat of significant environmental consequences, yet the Forest Service has not subjected this program to any NEPA analysis at all.”

The groups’ allege, “Aside from the issues regarding NEPA compliance, both the Forest Service and BLM have violated their own regulations governing use of federal lands in authorizing the feedgrounds and the test-and slaughter program,” by not issuing special-use permits for either the feedgrounds or the Muddy Creek elk trap.

The letter concludes with a request that the agencies “immediately rectify the legal violations” discussed in the letter, “including by preparing an environmental impact statement to address the federal land elk feedgrounds and test-and-slaughter facilities in western Wyoming, with full consideration of one or more alternatives to phase out these feedgrounds, and by preparing an emergency feedground closure plan to address any discovery of CWD in the fed elk herds.”

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