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National Elk Refuge To Starve Elk

Photo By: Mike Eastman

As I’m writing this it’s the day before Halloween and the temperature outside is hitting a high that is 23 degrees below the Fahrenheit freezing point. This is October, not January and winter’s early chokehold on Wyoming doesn’t set a welcome stage for our wildlife. With antelope and elk seeking recovery from their rut, deep snow and extreme temps are the last thing those worn down bucks and bulls need to contend with. Hopefully old man winter loosens his grip a tad but this is the West and extreme weather is just part of the deal.

 

What’s also been part of the deal, for elk especially, are the winter feeding programs such as the one operated by the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, WY. However, this program is in danger and along with it the health of the elk herds in the northern Rocky Mountains. A plan to “wean” elk off of the feeding program at the refuge and eventually discontinue it altogether is in place. 

 

Pressure for this misguided and dangerous action plan is being placed on the federal government by environmental activist groups who are using CWD as a fear mongering tactic to eliminate the program. The groups claim that in order to avoid a possible population crash due to disease the program must be eliminated. 

 

So let me get this straight… in order to maybe avoid the hypothetical demise of one of the world’s greatest elk herds we will guarantee their elimination by starving them to death? There has been zero evidence that CWD infected mule deer in the region have transmitted the disease “across species” and into elk. Yet, these environmentalists, the same ones who clamoured for wolf reintroduction, want us to believe that a danger exists and we must mitigate an imagined elk population crash by disease through a guaranteed population crash brought on by starvation through the ending of the very successful National Elk Refuge Feeding Program.

 

Wow! I don’t understand what these folks have against elk but make no mistake there is a war on elk in the West and if we as stewards of the resource are not vigilant, there will be no elk left on our landscape for our children’s children to enjoy, let alone hunt. 

 

Today is the final day for public comment and we here at Eastmans’ just found out about this today. It’s not too late! Making calls and sending emails to the National Elk Refuge voicing your unconditional disapproval of the termination of the feeding program will no doubt still have an impact. Please contact the Acting Refuge Manager by phone (307)201-5436 or email nationalelkrefuge@fws.gov to put a stop to the eradication plan for this elk herd. 

 

The grandfather of Guy and Ike Eastman used to tell of a time before the Elk Refuge feeding program when by the end of winter a man could walk for 25 miles around Jackson and never run out of elk carcasses piled up due to starvation. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

Make sure you are signed up to receive the Eastmans’ E-News Newsletter so you may be kept up to date on this and other issues confronting our western wildlife and hunting heritage. If you’re already signed up, thank you! If not, you need to so you can be kept up to date on all the latest wildlife news from around the West.

About Todd Helms

Todd Helms

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63 comments

  1. What will the enviro’s wolves have to eat if the kill all the elk off?

    • People. And it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the goal. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Those who WORSHIP the earth and nature are the most detrimental to them both. The earth and all of nature was GIVEN to us by God to use for life and to enjoy. JMHO.

  2. Elk have more importance on the rocky mountain landscape than any wolf, environmtalist, or any one or any think threating their survival or existence.

    • I’ve had the privilege to call Jackson home for the last 14 years. I learned to hunt here and have harvested multiple elk on the Elk Refuge as well as deer and pronghorn in the surrounding area. Seeing the elk come into the refuge in large herds is extremely exciting as a hunter, but it’s also a little strange. Why do we feed the elk? Can’t they survive winter on their own like other animals? Oh that’s right, we took their migratory corridors and built fences, highways and buildings so now we’ve got to lay out alfalfa pellets and treat them like cows or pets. To me, if I’m honest with myself, it has cheapened the hunting experience because they’re not as wild as elk in other parts of the country that don’t herd up at a feed lot every winter. I’m still grateful for the meat but I have to question whether it has to be this way. Even if CWD wasn’t an existential threat, which, after attending Game and Fish and Fish and Wildlife meetings for the last 5 years, I don’t think anyone feels confident enough to rule out entirerly, you still have an unnatural, contrived herd, migrating by human convenience and not by the natural rhythms of the ecosystem. If we were really serious about protecting the wild wapiti, we would free up their natural migration corridors. Would that cost more in the long run than a never-ending alfalfa program that may or may not cause a mass-extinction?

      • You have got the solution . . restore migration corridors. First eliminate 90 percent of fences and houses outside of Jackson city limits. Second do the same between Jackson and Rock Springs. And third cut the population of Jackson by 50 percent.

  3. It would be a huge mistake to let ELK disappear

  4. So the powers that run this program are going to listen to environmentalist groups instead of common sense and research. This is not right and will do extreme damage to a great elk herd.

  5. They have nothing against elk, it’s hunting and rural heritage they hate! Just like the Government trying to steal the Hammonds and Bundy’s ground for political benefit so does all of the public land in the west they’re after! They play the long game a generation at a time, piece by piece the wolves were first, this is second and eventually they’ll destroy it all!
    Or their agenda will be exposed and the traitors and tyrants will swing from the gallows! I guess we’ll have to see which happens first!

    • ‘It’s hunting and rural heritage” That’s what it’s all about with them.

    • The Bundy case isn’t that cut and dry. Do some more research on that. They weren’t the poor innocent ranchers we were lead to believe they were.

    • The idea that this is a conspiracy by environmentalists to end hunting is funny. That this has anything to do with liberals and conservatives or anti/pro Trump is not constructive to the conversation. The “they’s” and the “we’s” just create unnecessary riffs in a conversation that could really use less rhetoric. But I guess that’s what you get from the comments when the article itself is inflammatory. As a fellow hunter and Wyomingite, I expect more from Eastmans. This round of plans to reduce feeding, which by the way, doesn’t mean starve an entire population, was motivated by a lawsuit from EarthJustice. But the National Elk Refuge has been feeling the pressure from groups and individuals for awhile and they are wise to finally start something. What’s worse, a gradual reduction over a set number of years or a 40-60% mortality rate in one winter from CWD? NER just doesn’t want to get caught with their pants down if you ask me and they’re taking steps to mitigate a potential wildlife and PR disaster. This has nothing to do with an agenda to reduce hunting. It may do that, but the long game is a healthy herd that isn’t reliant on the hand of a human.

  6. Some of them elk have been wintering on the refuge for many years and depend on the supplemental feed that has been provided for them for many years. Sounds like the environmentalist want to feed the wolves and grizzly as many dead elk as possible. They probably cant afford to pay for all the livestock losses ( not that it really pays) caused by their reintroduction of Canadian wolves! Quit letting the environmental activist ruin the great state of Wyoming! Enough is enough!

    • Exactly Shayne!! Very large and true statement! Why shouldn’t we all send or deliver the necessary feed if no one else will! Ill put my money (feed for the elk) where my mouth is into saving and preserving the great game animal we all love to hunt and feed our family’s!!
      Denton

  7. So these folk think that it is time to stop something that has been going on since 1912. What a load of crap. It is to bad that the people of the Game and fish services are this stupid!

  8. Its a plan to kill off any sorce of Meat that they can not control. They are trying to kill off the hogs down here in the south by salt poisions, and other extream ways. They open the dam and flood the delta right before hunting seasons, every year for 5 yrs we have had our major hunting land Closed! Even if there is plenty of dry land to hunt. Our deer herd is down so low its sad from Bear that are EVERYWHERE, plenty of big mature bear to hunt , I could kill a big bear a week here, but its illeagle to shoot a bear, ( they eat the fawns got to keep them fawns eat up)
    Cant shoot coyote at night( dumest law ever)
    Its all about control.. Control of Us.

  9. the elk feeding program at the( north piney creek feed lot ) has not taken place for at least the last ten years. the feed grounds are full of cattle now, there is nothing left for the elk, but we still have to by a elk feed lot stamp, go figure. the cows are coming. that is there plan. the property owners complain about the elk on there land, wonder why.

    • Marvin, you hit the nail on the head. This has cattleman’s association written all over it. I hunt the bighorns and every year the ranchers get more and more brazen about leaving cattle on public land past the removal date. Once the cattle get done, the creeks and streams are poisoned with cattle waste and the grass is grazed off down to the dirt. There’s nothing left for deer, elk or pronghorn. The cattleman want the elk numbers down so they can have more use of public land.

  10. Mr Eastman,
    Let me know where i can deliver cubes to sustain the elk herd within the legal bounds. Elk are so vital as we all know to the west and every elk hunter world wide, ill personally have some delivered or bring it myself. The heck with these people that ‘THINK’ they know, i’ll stand up for the elk and all of us fellow elk hunters!!! Let me know please!!!!
    Denton Rich

  11. I called and voiced my opinion against the program change until more research can be conducted.

    • Our government will like the study idea. It would take them 2 years of study to realize what the string is for on a tampon. Should be plenty of time to stop the nuts from starving our elk and deer herds.

  12. Cameron Absnaider

    This is a terrible decision. These elk seek refuge here because it’s a place ware man and nature come together as one to pull thru the cold temps and weather to live another year. How is a decision to just starve them to death because of POSSIBLE disease that could spread. There are many ways this could be different like single illumination and processing the meat to places in need which are every ware. Lower your hunting tags Prices for several years to draw more hunters to the area to hunt or allow a bull and a cow to be shot with one purchase of a tag. There are many ways this could be different and better than to just starve them to death. I’m sure this refuge was a huge project to get started and has cost a lot of money yet I’m sure it has generated a lot of money at that. Mother Nature has a way of taking care of its self. Let that happen but us a humans when nature comes to us for help we should never turn our backs on that to allow suffering. This is America let’s act like it. These large herds are something to proud of, not neglect because of possible beliefs of disease. I guess when we go to the doctor, the Doctor should just say well you may have cancer or you may not, let’s just see how it plays out! Wrong. Let’s be smart here and make the write decision instead of the easy decision. Life is tuff and I’m sure maintaining and feeding on the refuge isn’t easy but should never be given up on. I pray and hope other actions can be made to continue this refuge cause me a central Texan who spent my honeymoon In Jackson Hole can wait to return to this heavenly country to feel alive and free again. It’s hard for the people that have been on the inside that are worn down with it to see the real beauty of the herd that they have worked so hard for to exist. Feed on my friends and have a great day

  13. Dead animals bring predators and when they have nothing left to eat they turn to what’s easy. When human conflicts with predators increase those that are screaming to stop providing for elk will be on the other side of the fence raising Cain because another bear, wolf,
    Mountain lion etc. has been euthanized and will gladly point the finger of blame at someone else. Unfortunate it seems environmentalists have more time to come up with these idiotic ideas than those of us that work 40 plus hours a week and choose to be productive members of society.

  14. I have e-mailed them. Thank you for posting this article about the Jackson Hole area elk starvation “plan”.

  15. Wouldn’t have to feed the Elk if people would stop encroaching on there feeding grounds. But that isn’t the case so we need to do the right thing. It I’d our duty to help them.

  16. This makes me sick!

  17. Unbelievable! This is a prime example of over educated people that pretend to know what they are talking about. This is a great program that helps magnificent animals thrive and contribute to the environment that they live in as well as provide income and productive jobs for the people in the area that work for a living. ( unlike over paid liberals that want to extend their agendas by pretending to be concerned for others)
    Come on America, wake up and defend our traditions, please…
    We see through the game!!!! Dave lorenzo

  18. They need to feed them more. Starving elk are more susceptible to disease.

  19. John matthew Mccann

    Probably some sick environmentalists way of demising the elk herd to get them on the endangered list so we won’t be able to hunt them anymore…that’s what happens when liberals take over towns like Jackson, Boulder, etc…soon CA will ban hunting altogether and turn itself ino one big wildlife refuge for animals and illegals.

  20. The sportsman have always taken care of our wildlife, now to let what we have all done to have the greatest elk heard anywhere be devasted by a group that wants elk gone, wolves in & no or very little hunting what a goal to achieve.

  21. Let Wyoming manage Wyoming wildlife and public lands. We can take care of our own assets, let’s do what’s best for us.

  22. Please please reconsider this,,, there is no way these poor elk, will survive this catastrophic change!!!!!! It’s been born & breed into the herd , for too many years, they migrate to the refuge for winter survival !!! Man stepped in years ago, man made this herd of elk dependable on humans to feed them , through the hard part of winter!!!! There is sooooo much money in Jackson Hole now days , that if money is the problem, for feed, I’m sure, donations would be easy to gather!! Our elk herds, around the north western part of Wyoming has already taken a huge hit, by the huge wolves that were brought down from Canada!!!!
    With out the elk refuge, our elk will go into extinction!!! They will not stand a chance!!!
    PLEASE PLEASE RECONSIDER!!!!

  23. There, again (smh), we have highly academic educated ppl making decisions on issues that they have no idea what they’re doing!!
    SAVE THE ELK and THE FEEDING PROGRAM!!

  24. Let’s just set this straight right here and now! This is NOT about CWD at all. It is about eliminating the elk herd or reducing it down to numbers that will not support hunting! PLAIN AND SIMPLE! It is the enviro’s MO when targeting things. Look at logging in the PNW, It was the spotted owl! Look at the desert public use, it was the sage grouse, and desert tortise! Look at deer in ID, OR, MT, WY, its the wolf or the Griz or cougars. They are simply USING these species as a tool to eliminate hunting in a covert manner. THEY cannot eliminate hunting straight out, so they go the back door way to try and accomplish the same danged thing using predators or other means to do the same thing! WAKE UP PEOPLE! Its all part of their agenda.

  25. a population that can hunt and feed itself ( and survive) cannot be controlled. Everyone and everything MUST be controlled in order for there to be a one world government. It is being done one step at a time.

  26. The environmentalists are doing this so that the wolf population will go down and then they’ll be re-listed they don’t care about the elk

  27. Where is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on this issue. Aren’t they our lobbying force?

  28. James Eldon Taylor

    If the government decides not to take care of the elk, what makes you so certain they’ll take care of you? The last thing they want is for people to be self-reliant.

  29. This is crazy for anyone in this beautiful Wyoming resident to let this happen Don’t let the Democrats stop the sport of hunting. Please save our Wyoming Elk herd. I have seen the population of the elk herd to reduce to nearly 25 percent when the wolves were introduced.

  30. This is the most absurd thing I have ever seen! The Elk herds have been going to the feed grounds for 107 yrs. The federal government established the feed ground in Jackson Hole in 1912. This would be like feeding your child, grandchild, great grandchild, so on, for 10 yrs and then saying nope, sorry, you are on your own! You now have to fend for yourself. Seriously… how do you do that? There is literally no proof what so ever that they have found one case of CWD in the feed grounds. As of December 21, 2018 there had not been 1 Elk test positive for CWD.(Please correct me if I am wrong with this information I found.) I have not been able to find anything that says that it has changed in 2019. Quote “Do you people know that the feed grounds in Wyoming are a HUGE part of the economy in Wyoming winters when it comes to hunting and wildlife viewing. Big game hunting, with Elk being the most popular brings approximately $303 million dollars to the state of Wyoming’s economy.” End quote. Quote,”According to the ecologist for the National Park’s, that it is not known if CWD will cause population decline in elk like it has in the deer population. End quote. these facts were found in the article, (CWD Detected In Teton County, Do Elk Feed Grounds Need To Go?) The Laramie peak elk herd has been roaming free and they have the highest CWD infection rate in Wyoming at an average of 6.4 percent. So they stated in this article that they feel the feed ground are a NON-FACTOR!” I really hope and pray that this gets shut down. There is no reason in the world that this should even be a consideration, now or in the future! I know for my family, one of the highlight of our winter is going and watching the elk up close. Right now, I hope that everyone in Wyoming stands up and fights this to the end!! We need to protect our Wyoming elk right now with all we got!!!!!! This is just one more thing that the government is wasting time and money on! Come on Wyoming… Stand up and say hell NO!! In the harsh winters, elk died in huge numbers. some of the facts that I have found are that there were over 20,000 elk that died from winter kill. it states that after 3 harsh winters there were less then 10,000 head of elk left in Jackson hole. When Wyoming has a bad winter it is devastating not only to the elk but, also to the ranchers. The elk start to invade the ranchers haystacks. I am sure you will also see them make there way in to the town of Jackson, which in turn you will start seeing them in residents yards looking for feed. You think there is problems now with the tourist getting to close to wildlife? Wait until they find there way to town and walk down main street. This is sad to me and I hope and pray that this does not happen.

    • The irony here is that the governments, federal and state, continue to keep welfare and food stamp recipients dependent on government, but plan to wean elk off their dependency on hay. That does not make sense, so the only logical conclusion (which we all understand) is the enviros, in concert with federal beuarocrats want power and control over resources which gives them power and control over people.

  31. The absurdity of inhumanely allowing animals to starve to death is what prompted the feeding programs in the first place. Why would sensible people allow special interests groups to reverse a positive to a negative? Conservationists and Environmentalists must understand that Hunters have been the only positive force by a major margin in the sustainability of our wild resources. Where on earth do they think the monies are generated? It would be a sin to not continue the feeding program. Wild animals share the same habitat and will continue to interact through natural circumstances regardless of whether the feeding program is continued or stopped. Let’s hope and pray some common sense prevails relative to this situation.

  32. Elk poison the streams???? Come on guys, now you sound like one of them? When ever you have to exaggerate, you don’t think you have a good point. I deal with ranchers all the time, the only thing they don’t like about elk is when they eat the cow feed.

  33. Please fight back, just like our president has fought back at the liberals. We cannot let this injustice proceed. I have been to the Elk Refuge several times and even rode the sleigh out into the midst of the hundreds of elk. I have such grand memories in my childhood of those trips. What majestic animals our God has created for us. Keep our excellent traditions and our animals alive. Keep our elk management program and site alive. Keep our right to bear arms and rights to hunt alive. I have sent my email to the government email address you listed in the article. Thank you for informing us of this injustice. Fight, fight, fight, my fellow Americans.

  34. What is CWD ?

    • Chronic wasting disease

    • “Chronic wasting disease: Spread by physical contact or through ground contaminated by bodily fluids, the disease afflicts deer and elk. It is caused by abnormal proteins from the central nervous system and lymph nodes, called prions. It first appeared in captive deer in Colorado in the 1960s, but since then has spread to Wyoming, Canada and the Midwest. The neurological disease belongs to a group of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies that include mad cow disease, which afflicts bovines, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Signs of infection include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, emaciation, excessive thirst, listlessness, drooping of the ears. The only way to confirm the disease is through post-mortem examination of the animal’s brain.”

  35. The elk refuge was created in 1912 to help these elk survive the harsh winters. These elk have been migrating, wintering and surviving off of this program. Now they want to starve them when they show up?!! They call themselves animal activists?? Genius! Maybe they will release a bunch of wolves on site to spare these beautiful creatures the the horrific and slow death of starvation and freezing to death!!

    What can we do to help get this stopped??

  36. one of the main reasons to feed the elk was to keep them of private property! whats happend to this reasonning?

  37. All because one group stops the program doesn’t mean another can’t continue the program. You can’t stop a migrating hearts feeding program. You start it you continue it. Period. What is the Rocky Mountain Elk foundations stance on this?

  38. I had read a few years ago that Chronic wasting disease had been introduced to Wyoming in deer that had been released by researchers from Colorado State University. I cannot find verification of that now; but, this article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan points in that direction. There has been a concerted effort by certain environmental groups to close the Elk Refuge down for many years now. Naturally they have no idea about how and why the feed ground was first established, nor do they care, as long as they can force the closure of what has maintained the largest elk herd in the world for all of these years. One of their ridiculous claims is that the elk are over grazing the summer range and I have been over much of the summer range, to include parts of Yellowstone Park and the Teton Wilderness and one cannot find where even a bite of grass has been taken on 99% of this huge area.

    “Then in February 1978, a breakthrough was made in the so-called wasting disease case. And it was unsettling.
    The late Beth Williams, a veterinary pathology resident at Colorado State University, identified the disease as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The always-fatal disease in deer, elk and to a lesser extent moose is caused when proteins go rogue, causing a deterioration of the central nervous system, slow emaciation and an ultimately ugly death. Soon thereafter, researchers discovered chronic wasting disease in mule and black-tailed deer at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Sybille wildlife research facility and soon thereafter in wild elk and deer in Colorado in 1981.
    The genie was out of the bottle.
    Chronic wasting disease timeline
    1967: Wasting syndrome is observed in captive mule deer at the Colorado State University wildlife research facility in west Fort Collins.
    1975−81: Wasting syndrome is observed in Toronto Zoo mule deer transferred from the Denver Zoo.
    1979: Recognized in captive mule deer at Wyoming wildlife research facility.
    1981: Detected in wild elk in Colorado.
    1985: Detected in wild mule deer in Colorado and Wyoming.

  39. This is what happens when elk have no place to go to spend the winters.

    Elk Populations in the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd
    Year        Elk Population* 
    1994       19,045 (year before wolf reintroduction)
    1995       16,791 (reintroduction began) 
    1996       no count taken 
    1997       no count taken 
    1998      11,742
    1999      14,538 (prior to late season elk hunt)
    2000      13, 400 (prior to late season elk hunt)
    2001      11,969
     
    2002-03 9,215
    2004       8,335
    2005       9,545 
    2006       6,588
    2007       6,738
    2008       6,279 
    2009       6,070 
    2010       4,635 
    2011       4,174 
    2012       3,915 
    (*via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

  40. We need to continue feeding our elk. You don’t go cold turkey and tell the elk to go find food somewhere else when they’ve been dependent on this spot for years. Come on Wyoming. These are our elk.! Don’t let environmentalists destroy our herd and heritage. How can we help?

  41. I know I am breaking ranks here and will probably get crucified, but I am a hunter, have been for 60 years, and I also consider myself an environmentalist. I am all for wolves, and I don’t think everything is a conspiracy with ulterior motives. But I am not in favor of shutting down the feeding program, at least not cold-turkey. Would rather see more generous hunting opportunities so that herd could be thinned to where feeding is not necessary – not right to let those animals starve and go to waste!

  42. Typical Lunatics at work, I can’t say much about the wolves, however I think they are at a point they need to start being managed. The elk, well they have been being taken care fo at the elk refuge for as long as I can remember, their is no reason to stop it other than some idiot lunatic think he is doing something for the environment, yeah he is going to create more disease, and issues with all the dead elk carcasses laying around, bring predators in closer to the city limits because of the sick and staving elk, they won’t just quit coming. Its no different than me setting up feeders for deer on my property, when they run out they still come around and check to see if there is anything in them. And, as someone else said, after the wolves come into the city limits and start cleaning up the disaster left, they will eventually become a problem within the town of Jackson, and once there are no elk they will either begin to starve out themselves or look for something else to take down, possibly someone’s kid. Most folks don’t understand or even know just how big these wolves that were introduced into the park system actually are, these aren’t 60lb animals, these are more like 100lb plus killing machines, that run in packs and are quite efficient what they do. The environmentalist need to go find a hole to fall in.

  43. Letting them starve is a crying shame. I don’t support it and I used the contact info you provided to let them know it. Thanks.

  44. If push came to shove , I will be loading up my truck and trailer with hay / alfalfa bales and driving them from San Diego all the way to the great state of Wyoming and dropping them off in a “corridor “ area. Having grown up in Idaho and hunting from a child, I know the value of each animal and the cost of what it takes to sustain the herd. I also believe there are many more people/hunters who would step up and make sure this would not happen.

  45. Wow. Just Wow. Given what I have read in the article and in these comments I am going to give up Eastman’s Hunting Journal. I happen to be a wildlife biologist and I haven’t read such a biased article in quite some time. If you don’t take CWD seriously, you are a fool (fear mongering?!). Bashing the USFWS is not productive if you are as uninformed as you apparently are. Also, as a professional elk guide in northwest Wyoming, I am going to bash the Eastman’s name as much as I can. Nice work! Great business model.

    • Thanks James for contributing another local voice. Agreed, Eastman’s just lost so much credibility. The rest of you reading this – notice how hunters that live in NW Wyoming both hunt elk and take CWD seriously. Reducing the refuge population is the responsible thing to do.

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