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Protecting Elk from Harmful Diseases

The snow cover receding at the National Elk Refuge on the first day of spring in 2014.

The snow cover receding at the National Elk Refuge on the first day of spring in 2014.

Tim Pratt, Biology Technician / USFWS

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.

Overview

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.

Case ID

9857

Case Updates

February 3, 2020 | Legal Document

Complaint : U.S. Elk Feeding Program

Plaintiffs in this case challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s issuance on December 31, 2019 of an unlawful and inadequate Step-Down Plan for reducing the Service’s program for artificial feeding of wild elk wintering on the Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge, where feeding exposes the elk to a host of severe disease threats.

September 30, 2019 | In the News: Jackson Hole News and Guide

Jackson Hole Elk Feeding ‘Step-Down’ Plan Is Finally Out

Tim Preso, Managing Attorney, Northern Rockies Office, Earthjustice: “They have let 12 years go by without doing anything. It’s a shame that we’re now in a position where all this stuff that we could have been addressing over 12 years is playing out in real time with chronic wasting on the doorstep of the refuge. It’s frustrating that this is the result of this course of conduct. But that’s water under the bridge. We’ve got to start from today, and at least this is a start.”

August 13, 2019 | In the News: Gillette News Record

Feds to Start Weaning Elk From Feeding at Refuge

Tim Preso, Managing Attorney, Northern Rockies Office, Earthjustice: “What it boils down to is that they have an opportunity to complete this planning process by Dec. 31, and have a plan in place by the next feeding season in 2020. We have agreed to suspend litigation long enough to allow for them to seize that opportunity.”

June 27, 2019 | In the News: Jackson Hole News & Guide

Plan Calls For Scaling Back Of Elk Feeding On Refuge

Tim Preso, Managing Attorney, Northern Rockies Office: “The problem right now is there’s no plan at all. There are just these internal drafts. We’re going to take a close look at the plan if we can get it out the door because we don’t think that tentative measures are what’s needed at this time.”