From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 43 - January 18, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

First “staging area” designated

by Cat Urbigkit

In finalizing the Piney Elk Brucellosis Management Action Plan last week, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department created the first “staging area/feedground” for wildlife in the state. The plan changes the classification of the North Piney elk feedground to that of a “staging area/feedground.”

The reason for the change is that for the last 11 years, elk leave the North Piney feedground, usually by mid-January, and head to lower country and feeding on the Bench Corral elk feedground. This year, elk fled North Piney at a run about 10 days ago, according to Scott Werbelow of WG&F.

Why? Because WG&F taught them the route, as Big Piney rancher Jim Mickelson pointed out to the agency at a meeting last week. Mickelson noted that he fed the elk all winter long for 13 winters, but once WG&F baited the animals in the winter of 1995, the elk have left every year since.

The trouble began when WG&F, planning on closing the North Piney feedground on the edge of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, baited elk down onto the lower elevation Bench Corral in 1996, during the federal government shutdown, contrary to the Bureau of Land Management’s assertion that an environmental assessment needed to occur prior to the action. WG&F dropped the plan to close the feedground, but the first year of baiting was enough for the elk, which had learned to move to the lower elevation feedground, and that movement has continued every year since the one year of baiting.

The new Piney BMAP noted: “Because North Piney feedground typically ‘collects’ elk and likely prevents damage to producers along North Piney Creek prior to their annual migration to Bench Corral feedground, WG&D has proposed to reclassify and manage North Piney feedground as a ‘staging area/feedground’ but will not consider the North Piney staging area/feedground for relocation at this time.”

The plan states that elk that leave North Piney will not be hazed back but allowed to migrate to Bench Corral feedground.

“Establishing a cut-off date for feeding and/or encouraging elk to leave North Piney with various methods (e.g., baiting to Bench Corral, reducing amount of hay fed per day, hazing) may be pursued following future re-evaluation of conditions at North Piney,” according to the BMAP.

After listening to WG&F’s Eric Maichak’s presentation about the Piney elk BMAP, Lloyd Dorsey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition offered praise. Dorsey has followed the creation of BMAPs for several other western Wyoming elk herd units and called the Piney plan more comprehensive than the others.

“This effort is going to prove to be a resource,” Dorsey said, after reviewing the historic information and research included in the document.

The Piney elk herd is now about 1,100 head over objective. With about 3,500 head currently, the objective set by the agency is 2,400

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