The National Elk Refuge is located in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and “supports a rich tapestry of wildlife.” The refuge has been feeding wintering herds for 107 years. The refuge has outlined a proposal to supply less feed to wintering herds of bison and elk but has not received the public feedback that was expected.

Sadly, as if Yellowstone hasn’t been subject to enough controversy. Earlier this year, a UCLA Professor scientifically suggested that Yellowstone’s wolf population may be dying off. 

The controversy is this: state wildlife officials recognize the health and disease concerns that can stem from feeding programs. These are the reasons feeding programs, although once common practice throughout the west, have largely fallen away. Montana has even asked Wyoming to stop feeding out of concerns for accelerating the spread of CWD. Conversely, feeding the wildlife on public land keeps the herds off of private land.

Directly from the US Fish and Wildlife Service page:

“When deep or crusted snow prevents elk from grazing, or when little natural forage remains, refuge personnel provides supplemental feed. The initiation of feeding in any given year depends on elk numbers, the timing of migration, winter temperatures, snow depths, and the accessibility of standing forage. Biologists evaluate these factors to determine whether feeding is needed and if so, when it should begin and end. Elk currently are fed an average of 70 days annually.”

Feeding wintering herds keep them on the Refuge and off of private ranches. The bison and elk herds can be destructive to private land and property. The proposal was open to public comment for a month, ending on Wed. 10/30/19. Refuge personnel expected to receive more public comment, especially in opposition; but, as of Monday, 10/28/19, they had only received 5 letters.
Cris Dippel, Refuge Deputy Manager, commented, “We’ve got our five public comments. I would have thought that we were going to have a little bit more feedback.” Dippel suggested they expect comments to pour in around the deadline.

Jackson Hole Daily reported:

The plan’s goal is to eventually cut the volume of alfalfa-based pellets distributed each winter in half and even halt feeding altogether during average winters. The prescription for getting there is mostly based on manipulating when feeding begins and ends.

During the coming winter, the first season affected, the feeding start date would be delayed by a matter of “days” and end a week or so earlier.

The complete draft can be read here

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