Winter feedgrounds maintained to support elk herds in Wyoming should be phased out, according to several biologists and organizations involved in the issue. The feedgrounds have been implicated in the spread of brucellosis in the past, and now could contribute to the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).
According to the Wyoming Outdoor Council, one of the organizations calling for their phase-out, the first elk feedground was created in 1912 in the National Elk Refuge. During the 1930s and 1940s, the state created more feedgrounds, delivering hay and other feeds to prevent winter kill in the elk herds, reduce elk feeding on ranchers’ harvested feeds and preserve forage supplies on grazing allotments. Today there are 23 elk feedgrounds in Wyoming.
Approximately 30 percent of elk that use feedgrounds in Wyoming are infected with brucellosis, compared with nearly no incidence of the disease in elk not associated with feedgrounds, according to the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition also has called for a phase-out of the feedgrounds, saying that although CWD has not been found directly in those areas, it has turned up in animals in fairly close proximity.
According to an article in the Powell Tribune, research has shown a potential for the feedgrounds to contribute to the spread of CWD.
Quoted in the article, Lloyd Dorsey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says elk populations in other Rocky Mountain states do fine without feedgrounds. Populations probably would decline in those herds as winter feeding is phased out, but the level of decline is unknown.