From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 42 - January 11, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Piney brucellosis plan released

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will hold a public meeting to present the Brucellosis Management Action Plan for the Piney elk herd unit tonight, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Big Piney Library.

The Piney elk herd unit encompasses most of the elk habitat of the Wyoming Range north of LaBarge Creek and south of the Hoback Rim, containing the Franz, Jewett, Bench Corral, North Piney and Finnegan winter elk feedgrounds.

This BMAP was designed to identify what livestock producers and wildlife managers can do to reduce brucellosis transmission among wildlife and from wildlife to livestock. Biologists worked closely with local livestock producers and federal agencies to develop the recommendations outlined in these plans.

Eight options are presented in the BMAP to minimize brucellosis transmission risk. The pros and cons of each of these options will be presented, as well as the management options that WG&F will pursue.

The purpose of the meeting is to inform the public of what efforts are planned to reduce the risk of brucellosis transmission between elk and cattle, and from elk to elk. While WG&F officials will be on hand to answer any questions and concerns the public may have, formal public comment will not be recorded at the meeting.

The Brucellosis Coordination Team outlined the BMAP process as a critical step for preventing brucellosis transmission from elk to cattle and regaining the state’s brucellosis free status. Brucellosis transmitted to cattle herds from elk caused Wyoming to lose its brucellosis free status in 2004. The state’s brucellosis-free status was officially restored on Sept. 15, 2006.

Feedground permits

In other brucellosis news, the Bridger-Teton National Forest has issued four short-term permits to WG&F, allowing the state agency to use and occupy Bridger-Teton land in order to manage the elk populations in the Pritchard and Fish Creek Feedgrounds on the Jackson Ranger District and the Muddy Creek and Fall Creek Feedgrounds on the Pinedale Ranger District. The permits are set to expire on April 15, 2007. Meanwhile, environmental organizations are awaiting a decision on their federal court challenge to the feedground program in western Wyoming. WG&F is expected to begin its second year of the test-and-removal pilot project at the Muddy Creek elk feedground later this month.


Wolves have been harassing elk in the Buffalo Valley again this year, with the result being elk on the move and entering cattle feed lines. WG&F reports that this winter, department personnel have hazed between 50 and 150 elk on at least four separate occasions into nearby Spread Creek out of Buffalo Valley, where cattle feed lines are a temptation for elk that winter in the area.

“We are making a concerted effort to keep elk out of trouble in the Buffalo Valley this winter,” said Bill Long, North Jackson Game Warden.

“We’re simply trying to encourage them to use other areas to avoid commingling and the need for emergency feeding.”

A portion of elk that winter in Buffalo Valley generally do not migrate to established feedgrounds, instead choosing to winter on native winter habitat. However, depending on winter severity, late winter conditions may force elk from native winter range to nearby private lands.

Concerns over damage and the risk of brucellosis transmission from elk to local cattle herds prompted WG&F officials to authorize emergency elk feeding in Buffalo Valley during the winter of 2005-06, to increase the distance between elk and cattle. However, there are concerns over the fidelity elk may show to a site where they have received food in past winters, creating a management issue for years into the future.

WG&F biologists in partnership with Grand Teton National Park, Bridger Teton National Forest, and the National Elk Refuge have been working through the Jackson Interagency Habitat Initiative to improve habitat conditions in areas likely to draw elk away from adjacent private property. This cooperative effort has recommended habitat treatments on elk winter range south of Buffalo Valley.

In the past two years, managers have implemented prescribed burns on 2,100 acres in the Spread Creek drainage, in two areas known as the Diamond L and Eynon Ridge. Prescribed fire is a management tool commonly used throughout the West to enhance elk habitat and generally improve watershed functionality, providing long-term benefits for the vast array of wildlife that use the ecosystem.

However, there is some concern that habitat treatments may have the opposite effect and draw more elk into close proximity with cattle operations, especially if winter conditions worsen. Through the JIHI group, officials have been able to cooperatively identify areas where habitat improvements can be applied on the landscape, in efforts to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Recent research suggests that there may have been an increase in brucellosis seroprevalence from less than 5 percent to 20 percent, in the Buffalo Valley segment of the Jackson Elk Herd.

WG&F officials reiterate that if winter conditions worsen, forcing elk into damage and commingling situations, emergency feeding is an effective tool that can be used to sustain elk and keep elk and livestock apart. The use of emergency feeding is reserved as a last resort, after other tools such as hazing, habitat enhancements, and late season elk hunts have been attempted. Feedgrounds create the dilemma of maintaining brucellosis occurrence in elk herds, but also effectively mitigate elk damage and commingling, reducing the possibility of transmission of brucellosis to cattle.

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