January 30, 2023

Wyoming Wildlife Officials Dispute Recent Report On Elk Management

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Last week I introduced you to a story out of Wyoming about elk management. That story was about results of a study done by the Ecological Society of America and printed in the journal Frontiers in Ecology.

In essence what the report said was that tactics being used by Wyoming officials to manage the state’s elk herds, including feed stations and disease control, were not working and changes need to be made.

Today, Wyoming wildlife and game officials are disputing that report saying it is filled with old news and opinion and doesn’t factor in any of the politics that shape their management plans. The Jackson Hole News covers the story.

Terry Kreeger, supervisor of the veterinary services branch of Wyoming Game and Fish, called the article “strictly an opinion piece” and said that most of the document consists of well-known facts interspersed with speculation.

“There’s an agenda here,” Kreeger said. “It should not be considered a scientific document.”

Kreeger said that he agrees with the report that feed grounds do aid in the spread of disease but points out that the political ramifications are such that the state is left with few options. He says by keeping the elk gathered at feed grounds this prevents the elk from mingling with cattle in nearby ranches further threatening the spread of brucellosis. He also points out that pressure from hunting groups to provide more and better elk hunting plays a big role in management.

“Yes, feed grounds do maintain higher levels of brucellosis,” said Kreeger. “The long term solution is to phase out the feed grounds. That’s not being argued.”

Kreeger said that the article doesn’t take into account the political necessities of brucellosis management such as protecting livestock and hunting interests.

Kreeger went on to point out obvious things that I have written about in the past about what we are becoming in our society when it comes to wildlife management.

“People would like to make disease the only issue that drives this discussion,” he said. “Where are these animals going to live? It’s relatively naive to think that this will be a natural world where these animals will find enough habitat.”

Kreeger said that, with increased development, the elk’s survival might eventually depend on humans. “The whole Greater Yellowstone Area might end up being one big zoo,” he said. “Feed grounds might not be the devil that these people would like to make them out to be.”

My point is this. Are any of these scientists actually looking at the long term results of their management beyond 5, 7, 10 or 12 years? Are we to continue to allow politics to force our tactics of wildlife management? Certainly we need to protect our livestock industries as they are vital to our economy but are we attempting to management a much too large population of elk because of political pressure from hunting groups and wildlife lookers? It appears to be the case. And what is going to be the real effects several years down the road?

What is ironic is hunters often condemn the practice of using game ranches as legitimate hunting opportunities and at the same time condone the practice of feed stations and the management plans in place to provide better hunting opportunities through zoo-like landscapes. The only difference are the fences. It is only a matter of time before the pressures will result in the erection of fences to keep the elk in one place and the livestock in another.

We have created this situation and it becomes clear, escpecially from the comments of Terry Kreeger, that politics rule game management decisions. As long as this practice remains the norm, our problems will only grow and hunting will continue to erode to the point that only the affluent who can afford the exotic game ranches will be able to hunt.

Hunters need to act now and do their part to turn the politics around by putting pressure on fish and game officials to manage our game animals using good science not bad politics. This is the only way that hunting is going to continue the way it has always been.

Tom Remington