From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 46 - February 8, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Elk feed reduction proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service announced the publication of the Final Bison and Elk Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway in northwestern Wyoming. The plan provides agency managers with clear goals and objectives for managing the Jackson bison and elk herds for the next 15 years.

According to the EIS, under the preferred alternative the number of elk wintering on the National Elk Refuge would be gradually decreased to approximately 5,000 from today’s 5,000–7,500, with more elk expected to winter out, off supplemental feed.

“This decrease would be accomplished through a short-term increase in harvest in the park and on the southern part of the refuge,” the EIS stated. “The reduction in herd size would come primarily from the park segment. After elk numbers reached objective levels, the reduction of supplemental feeding would help maintain wintering elk at objective levels. Because feeding might not occur in some years, a progressively larger portion of the Jackson herd could become accustomed to wintering in native range and numbers on the refuge would decrease.”

Under the preferred alternative, approximately 5,000 elk and approximately 500 bison would winter on the refuge. After the initial implementation phase the agencies would adaptively manage the bison and elk populations to achieve desired conditions.

Forage production on the refuge would be increased, and supplemental feeding would be reduced, based on a structured framework to progressively transition elk from intensive supplemental feeding to greater reliance on free-standing forage on the refuge as well as in the national park and forest. Elk hunting on the refuge and the elk herd reduction program in the park would continue when necessary, and a refuge bison hunt would be initiated.

Several alternatives under consideration “could result in the migration of elk south into the Upper Green River valley and the Red Desert as a result of reduced winter feeding on the refuge,” according to the EIS.

Vaccinations for brucellosis will be used as long as logistically feasible.

Key elements of the proposed action include:

• In close cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the agencies will use existing conditions, research, and changing circumstances to provide the basis for developing and implementing a dynamic management framework for decreasing supplemental feeding on the National Elk Refuge. Population management, habitat restoration, monitoring and public education will be important components of this framework.

• The plan will include progressive transition from intensive supplemental winter feeding to greater reliance on free-standing forage using adaptive management actions and established criteria based on the following considerations: level of forage production and availability; desired herd sizes; mitigation of bison and elk conflicts on adjacent lands; winter distribution patterns; prevalence of brucellosis or other wildlife diseases; and public support.

• After initial implementation through a phased approach, about 5,000 elk will winter on the refuge, and the bison numbers will be reduced to about 500 animals (currently estimated at 1,000). Bison and elk hunting on the refuge — and when necessary, the elk herd reduction program in the park — will be used to assist the state in managing these herds.

• Any further reductions in feeding or populations will only occur after initial objectives for habitat and wildlife populations were achieved, and will be based on established triggers, criteria and other considerations of changing biological and social conditions.

“Solving these difficult issues — many of which have been with us for over100 years — will not be easy or occur overnight. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and our agency partners believe that public participation in the planning process has helped to strengthen the final plan,” said Barry Reiswig, National Elk Refuge manager.

The Final Plan/EIS is available at: In addition a limited number of copies can be obtained by calling (307) 733-9212 or by writing to: Bison and Elk Management Planning Office, National Elk Refuge, P.O. Box 510, Jackson, Wyoming 83001.

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