The National Elk Refuge is home to an estimated 20,000 elk. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Among the 32 bills signed by Governor Mark Gordon on Monday, one highly debated bill will become law, House Bill 1o1, Elk feedground closing-requirements. The legislation shifts the authority over feedgrounds in Wyoming from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to the Governor.

Now, the Governor will control the permanent closures of feedgrounds, with input from WGFD, the Wyoming Livestock Board, and the public. The governor also has the right to close any feedground, “due to emergency circumstances” for no more than 6 months.

In December of 2020, WGFD announced that an elk harvested during the elk reduction program in Grand Teton National had tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). The neurological disease is highly contagious and passed from animal to animal through saliva, feces, urine, and decomposing carcasses. Because CWD is extremely resistant, environments that were contaminated by an infected carcass can infect other animals.

Feedgrounds can perpetuate the disease because larges numbers of elk congregate in one area — if an animal is infected the disease can spread quickly through the herd.

On the other hand, According to Wyofile, “feedgrounds reduce Game and Fish reimbursement costs to ranchers and diminish the spread of brucellosis, a bovine disease that has its own draconian effect on stock-growing industry.” One reason feedgrounds exist is to keep elk off agricultural lands and winter cattle feed lines.

According to data from WGFD, About 20,000 of the state’s 112,000 elk population use the National Elk Refuge and 22 Department-operated feedgrounds in Teton, Sublette and Lincoln counties of western Wyoming. The department also concludes that elk herds in western Wyoming rely heavily on feedgrounds for winter ranges because the traditional migratory routes and winter ranges are now developed areas.

In Fiscal Year 2020, the Department’s elk feedground program cost $1.6 million, which includes feed, equipment, and personnel to carry out the program.

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.