Feedlots story falls short

  I appreciate the time and effort Karen Mockler put into writing the article on Wyoming’s feedgrounds (HCN, 4/29/02: Are Wyoming's feedgrounds a hotbed of disease?) as well as the editing that was done to consolidate all the information on this complicated issue. Unfortunately, in that process, some of the essence of the interview was lost. First, the Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC) has taken the lead on the Restoring Wild Patterns (RWP) plan in cooperation with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation for the past two years, but in the second paragraph of the article, WOC was omitted from the list of four groups listed that support the program. Most notably, many of the issues surrounding feedgrounds and disease were lost in the article.


The headline claimed that a phaseout of feedgrounds “could cause elk herds to plummet.” In no way does RWP propose or expect a drastic reduction of elk numbers. In fact, as I stated in the interview, most free-ranging elk herds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem actually exceed herd objectives set by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WYGFD). In addition, habitat improvement projects on North Piney/Bench Corral and the East Fork of the Wind River have demonstrated that when habitat is improved or made available, elk will use it and re-establish traditional migration corridors to winter in historical habitat.


The crux of the problem can best be summarized by the fact that elk concentrated in feedgrounds are a “recipe for disaster,” according to the WYGFD’s own biologists. Density-dependent diseases such as chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis, brucellosis and foot and mouth disease have already accounted for the death of tens of thousands of elk, deer and bison throughout the West. In accomplishing RWP’s goals of habitat improvement and feedground phase-out, elk density will be reduced and herds dispersed onto available habitat, reducing the risk of disease transmission and damage to aspen and other native vegetation communities.


It’s ironic that WYGFD rightly prohibits game farms in Wyoming and yet defends feedgrounds. The reason for banning game farms is the same as the rationale for phasing out feedgrounds: both prevent devastating density-dependent diseases like chronic wasting disease from spreading through concentrated herds.


I urge you to publish a follow-up article on Wyoming’s feedgrounds that will provide HCN readers with a clearer explanation of this serious wildlife problem as well as the solutions offered by the RWP plan. Restoring Wild Patterns may be our last chance to assure a place for wild, free-ranging wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


Meredith Taylor
Dubois, Wyoming
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