SUBLETTE COUNTY – Although there was little doubt the Forest Service would authorize the special-use permit to continue feeding elk this winter near Bondurant, Wyoming Game and Fish announced the one-year permit on Friday.
Recently, U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled that Game and Fish had not properly sought an extension of a past Forest Service permit for the Dell Creek elk feedground, where the contracted feeder has, in snowy years, started feeding around this time.
The Dell Creek feedground is located several miles east of Bondurant in the Hoback Basin, in northern Sublette County and on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Another Bondurant winter-feeding facility, the McNeel feedground, operates on leased private property.
Feeding begins each season when enough elk gather on the longtime feedground to commingle with cattle or raid haystacks on private lands. Snow depths vary from year to year, making it difficult to judge when available forage will be buried under eventual feet of snow.
Last winter, Game and Fish biologists counted 529 elk gathered there mid-winter. Elk have been fed for decades with a workhorse team and sleigh, often daily. No unauthorized human presence is allowed in the feedground area and forest users – snowmobilers, skiers and others – are instructed to steer clear of the feedground through April 30.
Game and Fish
“We’re grateful to the Bridger-Teton National Forest for their partnership to continue elk feedground operations at Dell Creek,” said Rick King, chief of wildlife. “This feedground location is crucial to mitigate brucellosis disease concerns and maintain elk populations.”
Game and Fish is in a multi-year process to review and update its elk feedground program management.
Elk feedgrounds were set up in northwest Wyoming in the early 1900s and now about 14,000 elk per winter are fed hay on 22 agency-operated feedgrounds in Sublette, Teton and Lincoln counties. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, where an 8,000-elk herd has been fed for almost a century.
“Supplemental feeding is a complicated and often contentious issue with biological, social, economic and political considerations,” according to Friday’s announcement.
For more about the ongoing process to update elk-feedground management, go to https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Get-Involved/elk-feedgrounds.