Conservation groups object to Forest Service proposal to extend elk feeding

JACKSON, Wyo. — Following a victory in a Wyoming court last September, four conservation organizations have told the Bridger-Teton Forest officials that the Forest should not wait ten years, or even five years, to phase out winter feeding of elk at Alkali Creek in the Gros Ventre Valley east of Jackson Hole.

“We recommend that artificially feeding elk at Alkali Creek end no later than spring of 2021,” said Lloyd Dorsey of the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter. “Hopefully even sooner.”

In 2018, attorneys for Western Watersheds Project, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter and the Gallatin, Montana, Wildlife Association explained to a Wyoming court that the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) had failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of artificial feeding, including the impacts on the introduction and spread of fatal Chronic Wasting Disease. The Wyoming District Court vacated and remanded a 2015 decision permitting Alkali Creek elk feedground back to the Forest Service. The groups were represented in court by Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP.

Early this fall, the BTNF sent out a public scoping notice proposing to allow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to conduct “emergency feeding” of hundreds of elk, without conducting a comprehensive analysis as directed by the court, at the same location near Alkali Creek for five more years, and then end the practice. But the scoping notice said that “authorization may be renewed for one additional five year period, if necessary[.]”

“Two five-year periods could extend winter feeding of elk until the spring of 2030,” said Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project. “The Wyoming Court told the Forest Service that they had failed on a number of required legal directives, when they issued a permit through 2028. This proposal, on its face, could extend feeding even beyond the permit time the court said was not valid. The Forest Service isn’t considering the broader impacts of this new proposal.”

In extensive comments submitted October 17 by the groups in response to the Forest Service’s latest proposal, the groups questioned how this latest proposal complied with the directives from the Wyoming court.

“With the many loopholes disguised as “emergency feeding” of hundreds or more elk, allowing haybarns, corrals and other facilities, this proposal appears to be just business as usual for another decade,” said Kristin Combs of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “Chronic wasting disease is literally surrounding the Gros Ventre Valley. The time to end baiting and concentrating elk is now, not in another decade.”

The groups pointed out to the Forest that analysis of the USFS Gros Ventre native winter ranges indicated that there is ample natural forage to sustain thousands of elk and other big game over winter. Fire has rejuvenated some plant communities in the watershed in recent years, and potential conflicts with livestock are few the groups stated.

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