Winter Feeding Plan Too Slow for Chronic Wasting Disease
Monday, August 28, 2023
What began as an emergency measure - to help Wyoming elk herds hit by a series of extremely harsh winters in 1909 - has become a major source of contention over Wyoming Game and Fish's continued, annual practice of feeding elk throughout the winter at 22 state-operated sites.
The agency has defended the practice as a way to keep populations high for hunters. But Kelsey Yarzab - associate organizer with the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter - said it's short sighted to continue luring elk to potentially catastrophic super-spreader sites.
"We are really concerned about the fatal threat of Chronic Wasting Disease," said Yarzab. "It's not a matter of 'if' it shows up on feed grounds, it's a matter of 'when.' And when that happens, those elk will be so densely populated on top of one another that they will have no choice but to spread (the disease)."
Game and Fish recently released its draft Elk Feedground Management Plan, which the agency says is intended to chart a long-range path for the practice.
Director Brian Nesvik has also said it is not a feedground closure plan. The agency is accepting public comments through September 10.
The agency also claims feedgrounds help mitigate conflicts with livestock or damage to private property. But Yarzab pointed out that Wyoming is the only Rocky Mountain state that does this by artificially feeding wild animals.
Other states use hazing, fencing along property lines, strategic hunting and other tactics that don't risk the spread of communicable diseases.
"Surrounding Rocky Mountain states have mitigation and prevention plans in place, with stated actions to not only mitigate these kinds of conflict but also to prevent them from happening," said Yarzab. "And Wyoming has no such plan."
Since 2019, Chronic Wasting Disease has been more prevalent in Wyoming than in any other state or province in North America, reaching 22 of the state's 23 counties.
A recent study found transmission of the disease is up to 4 times more likely among fed elk populations compared to unfed elk.
Yarzab said feedgrounds need to be phased out much sooner than the current draft's timeline for action.
"Even if these individual feed ground management action plans come to fruition, no action will come from them for three years," said Yarzab. "We don't have three years, we need to act now, and ultimately what this draft plan does is kick the can down the road."
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