EcoWatch

Elk have gathered on the Alkali feedground for decades to receive daily rations of hay and feed during winter. But because of litigation the Bridger-Teton National Forest is taking steps to close the operation.

Refuge ‘step-down’ plan out

A detailed plan to scale back elk feeding on the National Elk Refuge is out for public review after more than two decades in the making.

Though nuanced and gradual, the goals are simple: reduce elk numbers to a level where feeding isn’t necessary in an ordinary winter. If enacted the plan would be a monumental change, considering the 107-year history of feeding on the refuge.

The centerpiece of the effort is to start feeding elk later than usual, though by just a few days, and then end the alfalfa handouts in the spring about one week earlier than the status quo.

Public comments are due to the National Elk Refuge by Oct. 30. Email them to nationalelkrefuge@fws.gov.

Visit FWS.gov/refuge/national_elk_refuge to review documents.

Phaseout pitched for Alkali

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has come to terms on a deal that will eliminate the legally embattled Alkali Creek Feedground, bringing the state’s overall number of elk feedgrounds down to 21.

The terms allow elk feeding on only 5 acres of the 91 acres historically used for the operation and only in the event of an “emergency.” Qualifying conditions include if elk are damaging nearby private lands or mixing with cattle, if feeding is necessary to stop a “large down drainage movement” of animals toward the National Elk Refuge or, lastly, if there are 300 elk at Alkali Feedground and they’re not dispersing. A Bridger-Teton National Forest employee must concur with the state’s declaration of need for emergency feeding.

At the end of five years, “if necessary,” the Bridger-Teton could grant a five-year extension of the emergency feeding permit, which would continue the historic, controversial means of managing elk until as late as 2029.

The Bridger-Teton is accepting public comments on the plan through Saturday. They can be emailed to comments-intermtn-bridger-teton-jackson@usda.gov.

B-T plans to spray cheatgrass

Dozens of square miles of the Bridger-Teton National Forest infested with invasive cheatgrass will soon be sprayed from the air.

Forest officials have signed off on a draft decision that will prioritize dousing cheatgrass with herbicides on crucial big game winter range, within fuels reduction and logging projects and along roads, trails and power lines.

“My decision authorizes annual treatment of approximately 20,000 acres,” forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor wrote in her decision document. “This includes an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 acres that could be treated using aerial application of herbicides.”

Herbicides initially proposed for aerial operations include imazapic and rimsulfuron.

Bridger-Teton staff assembled an environmental impact statement over the past couple of years to gain authorization to spray from the air. The document weighs the effects of using aerial spraying and outlines methods that were approved for dealing with other nonnative plants over the next 15 years.

O’Connor’s decision must still navigate the objection process. Concerned citizens have until Nov. 12 to submit comments. Objections can be emailed to Regional Forester Nora Rasure at objections-intermtn-regional-office@usad.gov.

— Mike Koshmrl

 

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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