Conservation groups launch new challenge to elk feedgrounds

JACKSON, Wyo. — In a lawsuit filed in District Court earlier this week, a coalition of conservation groups continue their allegation that the Forest Service should not be feeding elk to get them through the winter.

The coalition alleges the Forest Service “is permitting continued winter elk feeding at the Alkali Creek feedground in the Gros Ventre drainage without adequate environmental analysis.” In addition, the groups charge that the Forest Service is allowing feeding of dense herds of elk each winter at Dell Creek feedground in Sublette County, and Forest Park feedground in Lincoln County without appropriate analysis of the harmful impacts of feeding on wildlife and without any examination of alternatives that would eliminate or at least phase out this ecologically destructive practice on federal public lands.

“Even with fatal chronic wasting disease now surrounding all three of these elk feedgrounds, the Forest Service continues to ignore science, ignore legal directives, and put Wyoming wildlife at grave risk of catastrophic disease,” said Connie Wilbert, Director of Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter.

In December 2019, the Bridger-Teton National Forest announced it would allow Wyoming Game and Fish to conduct “emergency feeding” of elk at Alkali Creek for five more years through 2024 with the understanding the supplemental feeding program was to be phased out.

“Our challenge is needed because the Forest Service has gone to great lengths to keep its head deeply buried in the sand about the threat that feedgrounds pose as hubs for chronic wasting disease spread.” said Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project. “The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Forest Service are busy concentrating elk in large numbers at winter feedgrounds, doing everything they can do to accelerate the spread of this deadly non-native disease among elk.”

According to the new complaint, feeding at Dell Creek and Forest Park is also being conducted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department without appropriate permits, which expired nearly four years ago. The conservation groups maintain that, in addition to failing to follow the court’s directive to adequately analyze impacts and reasonable alternatives at Alkali Creek feedground, the Forest Service has failed to conduct the necessary environmental analysis for Dell Creek and Forest Park elk feedgrounds.

“To continue to operate feedgrounds without a proper analysis of the impacts and long-term effects on elk herds is both short-sighted and irresponsible,” said Kristin Combs of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “Unnaturally concentrating elk by luring them together with artificial feeding increases densities which facilitates the spread of all diseases including chronic wasting disease. We can no longer continue business as usual and ignore the devastating impacts feedgrounds could have on our elk herds.”

The coalition of conservation groups includes Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, and Gallatin Wildlife Association.

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