From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 38 - December 14, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Hunters send 60-ton of support

by Cat Urbigkit

Last weekend, hunters backed up their interests with action, by showing up in Jackson with 60 ton of hay and at least another $1,000 in donations to purchase hay for elk wintering on the National Elk Refuge.

Members of the Sublette County Outfitters and Guides Association put up $560, while the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association added $500 to the pot.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW) hosted a “Hay Day” event in which hunters donated certified weed-free hay for elk wintering on the National Elk Refuge. With most loads being hauled by pickup truck, the result was a miles-long police escort for the caravan of hunters to get the hay stacked at the refuge.

SFW director Bob Wharff explained to the crowd that last winter the refuge experienced an unprecedented loss of about 25 percent of the elk calf crop due to starvation. With losses on state-managed feedgrounds running about 3 percent, sportsmen were alarmed. The voices seeking closure of elk feedgrounds have been noisy, and there were even rumblings that the death loss was intentional.

Clark Allen of Teton County, who serves on the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, was vocal in his criticism of management of the refuge, and Wyoming District 28 Senator Kit Jennings of Casper came up with the idea of hosting a “hay day” to both help the elk and get the message across.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages the elk refuge and usually begins supplemental feeding of about 5,000 head of elk sometime in January. The elk are fed about 7 or 8 pounds of alfalfa pellets per elk per day.

According to FWS, during an average winter, approximately 60 percent of the food requirements of the wintering elk herd are met by standing forage and 40 percent by supplemental feed.

But SFW asserts that last year, refuge managers didn’t respond to changing conditions that left the elk with little to eat. Rather than providing supplemental feed, the elk were relying exclusively on the pellets.

Wharff said in addition, refuge managers grossly underestimated the number of elk that were being fed, so not enough feed was being made available to the elk.

Wharff also maintains that while the hay pellets fed on the refuge are a great source of protein, elk need a complete diet, including roughage. When elk can’t get the roughage from standing forage, due to ice or snow conditions, they need to be fed hay to fill their guts and keep their natural digestive processes working.

With the hay delivery, Wharff said, “We’re ensuring we don’t repeat the same event again. The reality is elk were starved.”

FWS regional director Mitch King was on hand to formally accept the donation, telling the crowd he understands the role of the refuge in seeing to the welfare of its inhabitants and pledging that the refuge will take care of the elk over the winter.

“I know full well if we don’t do something to help this elk over the winter, we’ll have problems,” King said.

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