Picture several hundred head of elk on their winter pasture. No, not the familiar scene in most of Wyoming or surrounding states where wintering elk would be sunning and feeding on a windswept slope. Instead, imagine those are western Wyoming elk lying all day along their feed lines, waiting for the hay truck’s daily arrival. Instead of scattering over the slopes to eat a natural diet, the feedground elk eat hay, just like most cattle wintering in Wyoming. And, just like feedlot cattle, those elk stand and lie in their own waste for three months and as such are hugely more susceptible to contagious and infectious disease.
I am a lifelong Wyomingite and sportsman. I love to live in a place with wild elk. I am very concerned, as I have watched the inexorable march of chronic wasting disease (CWD) across Wyoming. This horrible disease of deer, elk and moose is always fatal, and is highly infectious. Years of monitoring, hand wringing and trying to discover cures have been ineffective at checking the expansion of the disease. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has been unable to implement any management actions to slow the spread of CWD. Given that we know the disease in our area started with elk and deer that were concentrated on game farms and research stations, and given that virtually no professional wildlife manager would support perennial feeding of wildlife as a good wildlife management practice, doesn’t it make sense to work toward a very near future where we no longer feed elk in Wyoming?
When it comes to something we can actually do to protect our precious wildlife from CWD, phasing out artificial winter elk feeding as quickly as possible is the low-hanging fruit.