WYOMING — A new phase of Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s elk feedgrounds management evaluation is underway and stakeholders will soon have the chance to participate in weekly learning opportunities.
The multi-phased process, which Game and Fish is calling “Elk Feedgrounds: A challenge we can take on,” is a collaboration between Game and Fish and the public. It will culminate with the development of a long-term elk feedgrounds management plan.
“It’s been several years since Game and Fish fully evaluated management of the state’s 22 elk feedgrounds,” said Brian Nesvik, director of Game and Fish. “This process is the next step in the necessary progression of wildlife management where we must continually evaluate science and emerging needs and issues related to our programs. It’s an important evaluation, and we believe in doing it alongside our diverse stakeholders.”
Feedgrounds provide sometimes critical respite for elk during harsh winter months, but high concentrations of elk also risk hastening the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which is incurable and fatal. CWD has been detected in feedgrounds and hunting areas across the state. A new study predicts the disease will take its toll on the elk that winter on feedgrounds, especially the National Elk Refuge.
Phase I offered public presentations about why Game and Fish operated elk feedgrounds. Phase II began this summer with a series of public meetings held across the state to outline the next steps and invite the public to sign on as stakeholders.
Phase II is designed to have more in-depth engagement with the various stakeholder groups on elk feedgrounds management,” said Scott Edberg, deputy chief of wildlife and chair of the elk feedgrounds steering team.
Beginning in early November, Game and Fish will host weekly shared learning opportunities for stakeholders on feedgrounds-related issues that were identified in Phase I. The more in-depth shared learning sessions will conclude in early February with an opportunity for all stakeholders to provide Game and Fish with their feedback.
Within their stakeholder focus groups, participants will be asked to share perspectives, concerns and ideas in a respectful manner with members of the department’s elk feedgrounds steering team for use in the development of the long-term elk feedgrounds management plan. Edberg said Game and Fish hopes the conversation can move “past simply being ‘for or against’ elk feedgrounds” and offer “creative ways to manage elk in northwestern Wyoming.”
“Game and Fish must manage elk in ways that will mitigate disease transmission to cattle and between elk and other wildlife species,” Edberg said. “Other primary objectives of the Game and Fish include reducing private property damage, maintaining publicly-supported elk population objectives and hunting opportunity, while also managing elk competition with other species like mule deer on critical winter range habitats.”
An initial draft of the feedgrounds management plan is slated to be available for public review in June 2022. Revisions to the draft plan will be made based on public and stakeholder feedback. Ultimately, it is planned to bring the long-term elk feedgrounds management plan before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission for approval in the spring 2023.
Note: This article has been updated to reflect that meetings are for stakeholders who are committed to attending consistently. Meetings for the general public were hosted earlier in the process.