Feeding ends early on elk refuge; winter herd was biggest since 1997

Mar 24, 2017 The Associated Press

JACKSON (AP) -- The National Elk Refuge in northwest Wyoming has ended its supplemental feeding of elk earlier than usual because of the recent warm weather melting the snow cover.

Refuge biologist Eric Cole says feeding usually goes until the close of the first week of April.

Cole March 20 is the earliest feeding end date in the past 20 years. This year, the feeding was cut off on Thursday, March 23.

Cole says snow-free areas adjacent to the refuge's four feedgrounds have grown steadily in size.

The end of feeding means some 500 bison and nearly 9,000 elk will soon set off for their migration to points north, east and west.

This year's feeding season began on January 7, about 18 days weeks earlier than average. This earlier feed date was due in part to heavier snow depth and density than is typically seen in early January.

Roughly 80 percent of the Jackson herd wintered on the refuge this season, the highest number since 1997.

These two conditions -- the earlier feeding date and the high numbers of wintering elk --- have wildlife managers concerned about the possible presence and transmission of disease. Septicemic pasteurellosis and foot rot are two common diseases that can spread across a herd in these conditions.

To help prevent these diseases, wildlife managers strive to provide alfalfa pellets on the cleanest, driest ground within the supplemental feeding areas on the Refuge.

Visual surveys and GPS equipment also aid managers in their continual efforts to identify the cleanest available locations.

When standing forage again becomes readily available and enough spring green-up occurs to support the number of elk present on the Refuge, supplemental feeding is typically scaled back and then terminated for the year. These activities encourage elk to spread out and feed on clean ground adjacent to the feed grounds, thus reducing the risk of disease.

After carefully evaluating available standing forage as well as elk and bison movements, wildlife managers have determined that supplemental feeding is no longer needed for the year. Accordingly, supplemental feeding will discontinue for the year beginning this Thursday, March 23, 2017.

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