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Groups want elk feedgrounds closed to curb chronic wasting disease

CHEYENNE, WY – As the Wyoming Game and Fish Department enters the third phase of its elk feedground management plan, conservation groups are calling on the state to prioritize the health of the Greater Yellowstone region’s wild herds and begin shutting down 22 state-run feedgrounds in northwestern Wyoming, where tens of thousands of elk are artificially fed each winter.

Kristin Combs, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said the move is essential for mitigating the spread of chronic wasting disease.

“And we know that chronic wasting disease is definitely going to have a significant impact on the herd health,” Combs pointed out. “The feedgrounds just set up this perfect recipe for basically a petri dish for the proliferation of disease.”

Comprehensive recommendations delivered this week by Combs’ group and five others call for the agency to phase out all state-run feedgrounds no later than 2028. The biggest challenge to phaseouts has come from the state’s livestock industry, which has long argued feeding elk keeps them away from cattle and grazing areas.

After a series of public presentations and meetings with designated stakeholders, Game and Fish is expected to issue a draft feedground management plan early next year. Combs noted Wyoming is the only western state still feeding wild animals, and there are other proven methods for keeping cattle and elk separated.

“Fencing around hay stores, or fencing to keep cattle and elk separate,” Combs outlined. “Other states have certainly done that, and have relied upon landowners to take some responsibility for that as well.”

Other groups urging the phaseout include the Gallatin Wildlife Association, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.

The recommendations call for protecting existing elk migration corridors, and for restoring corridors disrupted by decades of artificial feeding. Conservation groups also want the new plan to recognize the important role native carnivores play in reducing the spread of chronic wasting disease and brucellosis.

“They pick up on these infirmities and are able to key into which animals are the weakest,” Combs explained. “That has a cleansing effect on herds, and can pull out some of those animals that are sick before they have a chance to spread the disease.

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