What's at Stake
The elk feeding grounds artificially concentrate elk populations, which fuels the spread of diseases such as brucellosis and creates the prospect of a major chronic wasting disease epidemic.
The state of Wyoming operates 23 winter feeding grounds for elk, many of them on federal lands. These feeding grounds artificially concentrate elk populations, which fuels the spread of diseases such as brucellosis and creates the prospect of a major chronic wasting disease epidemic. Conservationists sued to compel long overdue environmental analysis of alternatives to elk-feeding in Wyoming.
In July 2009, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the four elk feeding grounds on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management are exempt from a new environmental impacts analysis, due to an old memorandum of understanding agreed to by the BLM and the state of Wyoming. However, as a result of this lawsuit, the U.S. Forest Service prepared an environmental impact statement examining the impacts of feed grounds within the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Eventually, the D.C. Circuit agreed with Earthjustice that the elk feeding program on the National Elk Refuge is inconsistent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s legal duties under the organic act for the refuge system. However, the court did not agree with us that a hard deadline for terminating the feeding program was necessary, given FWS’s promise of a long-term phase down plan. Now we are years into that alleged plan, and there has been no phase down at all. In fact, the number of elk on winter feed lines has increased. We are once again considering legal options.
In two recent reports, Bruce Smith, the former senior wildlife biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, and Markus Peterson, an expert on wildlife diseases from Texas A&M University, conclude that elk feedgrounds are spreading brucellosis and putting Wyoming elk at risk of a major chronic wasting disease (CWD) epidemic.