From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 35 - November 23, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Reauthorizing feedgrounds

by Cat Urbigkit

The Bridger-Teton National Forest is currently accepting public comment on its proposal to re-authorize certain elk feedgrounds in western Wyoming.

According to a letter issued by the agency earlier this month, the BTNF is proposing to reauthorize use and occupancy of national forest land for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to maintain facilities and use the land in conjunction with its winter elk feeding program for the 2006/2007 winter season. The letter pertains to certain feedgrounds on the Pinedale and Jackson ranger districts, including the Fish Creek, Dog Creek, Muddy Creek and Fall Creek elk feedgrounds.

The Forest Service proposes to issue a short-term special-use authorization for the elk feeding programs. According to the agency, this use falls within the categorical exclusion from environmental documentation in an assessment or impact statement.

Public comments will be accepted until Nov. 24. Comments should provide specific rationale and opinions to help the agency shape its environmental analysis.

Comments should be submitted to Craig Trulock, Acting Natural Resource Specialist, Bridger-Teton National Forest, P.O. Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001.

The re-authorization comes amid a lawsuit filed by environmental interests with the hopes of eventually shutting down Wyoming’s elk feedground program and halting the pilot test-and-slaughter program.

The groups filing the lawsuit include the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Representing them in court is Earthjustice of Bozeman, Mont.

The groups have asked the federal court to order the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to begin an environmental review of 15 feedgrounds located on federal lands in western Wyoming. The review would study alternatives to the feeding program, such as a phase-out of the feedgrounds that would allow elk to disperse across their natural winter range.

The groups’ lawsuit also challenges the Forest Service’s authorization of the facilities being used for the Muddy Creek feedground’s pilot test-and-slaughter program, which include a complex of pens and chutes. The lawsuit seeks to halt the test-and-slaughter program.

Brucellosis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes abortion and is found in elk and bison in the Yellowstone region. Elk from the Muddy Creek feedground transmitted the disease to cattle in late 2003, resulting in the slaughter of an entire cattle herd to rid livestock of the disease and to reduce the potential for further transmission. The brucellosis outbreak led to Wyoming losing its brucellosis-free marketing status for its cattle herds in early 2004 and resulted in an intensive cattle-testing program. Wyoming’s cattle herds regained brucellosis-free status earlier this fall.

The plans for this pilot test project involve the test and removal of no more than 10 percent of the total elk herd population per year. During the first year of the project, 58 cow elk were sent to slaughter after testing seropositive for brucellosis.

While a federal judge considers the case, WG&F has announced that it intends to continue to elk test-and-removal project at Muddy Creek. This year, researchers and WG&F wildlife managers and a variety of other state and federal agencies will again attempt to capture and test as many adult female elk as possible in the portable trapping facility at Muddy Creek. Those elk that test positive, or show antibodies for brucellosis, will be shipped to Idaho for slaughter in a USDA approved facility. The meat from the slaughtered animals will again be donated to the public throughout Wyoming.

WG&F is adjusting personnel work schedules throughout the state to accommodate for three potential trapping dates from January through February.

In 2008 and 2009, WG&F plans to expand the project to nearby the Fall Creek and Scab Creek feedgrounds.

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