Scoping Report

Bison and Elk Management Plan and Environmental
Impact Statement for the National Elk Refuge and
Grand Teton National Park

June 4, 2002
 
 
 
 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

and National Park Service
 
 
 
 

Contact: Don DeLong

National Elk Refuge

P.O. Box 510

Jackson, WY 83001

(307) 733-9212, ext. 235

Table of Contents

Planning Information 3

Introduction 4

Purpose of the Bison and Elk Management Plan 4

Need for the Bison and Elk Management Plan 4

History of Bison and Elk Management on the NER and GTNP 6

Elk 6

Bison 7

Missions of the FWS and NPS and the Establishing Authorities of the
NER and GTNP 8

Summary of Stakeholder Involvement to Date 9

How Stakeholder Input Fits into the Process 10

Intra-and Interagency Meetings and Briefings 10

Tribal Involvement and Consultation 11

Situation Assessment 12

News Releases 12

Planning Updates, Worksheets, and Brochures 12

Website 13

Stakeholder Meetings 14

Summary of Stakeholder Input to Date 17

Public Involvement 17

Desired Future Conditions 18

Issues 19 Alternatives 21

Scope of the Project and Analysis 23

Project Area 23

Management Programs, and Actions to be Analyzed in the
Planning Process 23

EIS Analysis Area 24

Glossary of Terms 25
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Planning Information

Lead Agencies: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service &
National Park Service (U.S. Department of the Interior)  
 
Cooperators: U.S. Forest Service, Animal and Plant
Health Inspection

Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture), and Bureau of

Land Management (U.S. Department of the Interior)

Partners: State of Wyoming, (Wyoming Game and Fish
Department (WGFD))
 
 

Product of the
Planning Process: A bison and elk management plan for the National Elk Refuge (NER) and
Grand Teton National Park (GTNP),

NEPA Compliance: Environmental impact statement (EIS)

Decision Area: Decisions resulting from the planning process will be limited to management
activities on the NER and GTNP

EIS Analysis Area: The area encompassed within the outer boundaries of the
Jackson elk herd, as defined by WGFD. The Jackson bison herd is located within this area.
Potential effects on socio-economic factors will be evaluated within Teton County,Wyoming
and the Greater Yellowstone area.

Affected programs: Supplemental (winter) feeding, recreation, habitat management, hunting,
population control, disease management, population goals, and others to be determined
during scoping
 

Introduction

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service (NPS) are developing a
comprehensive plan for managing bison and elk inhabiting the National Elk Refuge (NER) and
Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). An environmental impact statement (EIS) is being prepared
to analyze potential impacts of alternatives on the human environment in compliance with the
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NER and GTNP are adjacent to one another
and are located just north of Jackson, Wyoming. They are situated at the southern end of the
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The NER is approximately 25,000 acres and GTNP is about
304,000 acres. The elk and bison that inhabit the NER and GTNP are part of the Jackson elk
and bison herds, which comprise one of the largest concentrations of free-ranging elk and
bison in North Americaóapproximately 14,000 elk and 600 bison. The Jackson elk and bison
herds migrate across several jurisdictional boundaries including the NER, GTNP, Yellowstone
National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Bureau of Land Management resource areas,
and state and private lands. Because of the wide range of authorities and interests, the FWS
and NPS are using a cooperative approach to management planning involving all of the
associated federal and state agencies and a broad range of organized and private interests.

Purpose of the Bison and Elk Management Plan

The purpose of the bison and elk management plan is to provide managers with goals, objectives,
and strategies for managing bison and elk on the NER and GTNP in support of the purposes for
which the two areas were established and to contribute to the missions of the FWS and NPS. The
plan will also support the WGFD herd objectives for the two species to the extent that these
objectives comply with the laws and policies governing management of the wildlife inhabiting
NER and GTNP.

Need for a Bison and Elk Management Plan

The needs for this process come from many directions. In 1996 a Jackson Bison Herd
Long Term Management Plan and Environmental Assessment was completed by GTNP
and the NER, with the WGFD and BTNF participating as cooperating agencies. That
plan called for public hunting on the NER and BTNF to control the size of the rapidly
increasing Jackson Bison Herd. According to the environmental assessment, action was
needed to address the increased risk of disease transmission, competition with elk and
other wildlife, property damage, and erosion and overgrazing resulting from the rapidly
growing population (NPS et al. 1996). But a lawsuit brought by the Fund for Animals
in 1998 resulted in enjoinment of all destructive management of bison for population
control on the NER and GTNP until additional NEPA analysis is performed on the
effects of NERís winter feeding program on the bison population.

The Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 requires that all National Wildlife
Refuges complete Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) to describe desired
future conditions and to provide direction and guidance for managing all refuge
programs in order to achieve refuge purposes and other legal directives. The NER
was scheduled to begin that planning process soon after the DC district court
ordered the actions described above. The most significant aspect of that CCP for
the NER would have been elk management. As a result, it was decided by the FWS
and NPS that the closely related issues of bison and elk management should be
considered together (1) to ensure close coordination of the requirements of the
DC district court and (2) to prevent a confusing and lengthy public and agency
involvement process in two subsequent planning processes.

The needs for both bison and elk management planning are also driven by the
effects of current management on the ability of the FWS and NPS to achieve
refuge and park purposes, and on related values that have evolved over the years.
Winter feeding of elk began just prior to a "winter game (elk) reserve" being
established by Congress in Jackson Hole in 1912. Primarily, this practice was
established to mitigate the loss of available winter range to elk by reducing winter
mortality and to prevent associated depredation by elk on private livestock feed
sources. Over the years, the winter feeding of elk has allowed the population to
remain relatively high, and the elk population is now accompanied by a growing
bison population.

Concentrating large numbers of bison and elk for several months at a time - as
currently done on the feedlines - creates an unnatural situation which has
contributed to (1) high rates of endemic diseases, which previously had existed
at low rates; (2) a high rate of brucellosis, or "Bangís Disease" - also called "undulant
fever" in humans; and (3) an increased risk of other exotic diseases spreading
within the elk and bison herds and the increased potential for catastrophic disease
outbreaks. The latter problem (no. 3) is of concern because it has the potential to
impair the FWSís ability to accomplish refuge purposes and contribute to the
Refuge System mission. Brucellosis is of concern because it can potentially be
transmitted from bison and/or elk to cattle. Other needs include reducing the
impacts of bison and elk numbers on vegetation, primarily within the NER,
and balancing the hunter harvest across elk herd subunits.

While the needs for action come from many directions, their biological precursors
all relate to the "core problem" of an insufficient amount of winter range being
used to support the desired numbers of bison and elk, and the use of winter
feeding to mitigate this problem. Given the extent of habitat degradation and
disease risks on the NER and GTNP, which stem from the winter feeding
program on the NER, and the requirement to analyze the winter feeding program,
there is an underlying need to reevaluate the roles that the NER and GTNP play
in mitigating the core problem. Because the NER and GTNP play such a pivotal
role in elk and bison conservation in Jackson Holeó the NER overwinters more
than half the Jackson Elk Herd and almost all of the Jackson Bison Herd and
GTNP summers nearly all of the bisonó alternatives for resolving existing and
potential management problems on the NER and GTNP must be developed in
the context of the entire Jackson herds. Effects that management goals and
actions within the NER and GTNP would have outside those areas must be
analyzed. And, the effects management goals and actions of other agencies
(e.g. cooperating agencies and "partners") outside the refuge and park might
have inside those areas, must also be assessed.
 
 

History of Bison and Elk Management on the NER and GTNP

To understand the issues that we face today in managing bison and elk in
Jackson Hole, one must understand the reasons why the various
management activities are being carried out and why they were initiated.
Bison and elk, which were abundant at times in Jackson Hole prior to
settlement of the region by Euro-Americans, primarily used the valley
during the spring, summer, and fall. Available information indicates that
most bison and elk left Jackson Hole before the onset of winter to spend
this difficult time of year in more favorable locations.

Elk

Winter feeding of elk, which began in 1910 in Jackson Hole, was originally initiated
to reduce winter mortality of elk, thereby avoiding marked reductions in a population
of animals important to local residents and interest groups, as well as to minimize
depredation of ranchersí hay. Although these immediate factors prompted the
initiation of winter feeding, the need for the NERís winter feeding program can
be traced back to reduced access to significant parts of their native winter range.
Historically, elk that summered in the area now inhabited by the "Jackson elk herd"
wintered in the southern portion of Jackson Hole (present location of the NER and
the town of Jackson) and areas outside of Jackson Hole, including the Green River
and Wind River basins to the south and east, respectively, and the Snake River
basin to the southwest in what is now eastern Idaho. Migration to these wintering
areas probably varied significantly from year to year, but little actual evidence
remains to document that process. These migrations, were eventually abandoned
due to hay production and settlement in Jackson Hole and human activities
beyond the Jackson Hole area.

The considerable amount of snow that can accumulate in Jackson Hole, combined
with other factors, created a far from ideal wintering environment. Reduced
migrations, compounded with the loss of available winter range in Jackson Hole
to ranching operations and a growing town, caused significant numbers of elk to
die during several unusually severe winters in the late 1800's and early 1900's
(prior to 1911). This prompted local citizens and organizations, and state and
federal officials in Jackson Hole to begin feeding elk in the winter of 1910-1911.
Congress heeded the appeals for assistance and on August 10, 1912, appropriated
$45,000 for the purchase of lands and maintenance of a refuge for wintering elk.

Bison

Historically bison inhabited Jackson Hole as evidenced by the presence of prehistoric
bison remains there. These animals were extirpated in Wyoming by the mid-1800s.
In 1948, twenty bison from YNP were introduced to the 1500-acre Jackson Hole
Wildlife Park near Moran. A population of 15-30 bison was maintained in a large
enclosure there until 1963, when brucellosis was discovered in the herd. All the
adult animals were destroyed, but 4 vaccinated yearlings and 5 vaccinated calves
were retained. Twelve certified brucellosis-free bison were added soon afterward.
In 1968 the herd (now down to 11 animals) escaped from the confines of the
wildlife park and a year later the decision was made to allow them to range freely.
In 1975, the small Jackson bison herd (then 18 animals) began wintering on the
NER. Bison use of standing forage on this natural winter range is viewed as natural
behavior and was not discouraged by managers. In 1980, however, the bison began
eating supplemental feed being provided for elk, and they have continued to do so
every winter since.

The bisonís discovery of supplemental feed led to several consequences. Winter
mortality declined and the populationís growth rate increased. The formerly
free-ranging and relatively naturally regulated population came under human
influence to a much greater degree than it had before, migrating to the NER
every winter and relying on the supplemental feed. Bison on the elk feedlines
disrupted feeding operations and displaced and injured elk. In order to minimize
conflicts between bison and elk, managers have provided separate feedlines for
bison since 1984. As the population has grown, separating elk and bison on
feedlines has become more difficult, and the bison are now fed more than a
maintenance ration to reduce displacement of elk from feedlines.

As long as the bison continue eating supplemental feed, their population is
expected to continue growing at a high rate. Since becoming free-ranging in 1969,
the Jackson bison herd has grown to approximately 600 animals, and it continues
to increase by about 16% annually. It is not clear how large the population would
become before it leveled off without any control measures (like hunting,
sterilization, culling) being implemented. There are concerns about increased habitat
degradation, competition with elk, risk of disease transmission to domestic livestock,
risk to human safety and private property. Costs of providing supplemental feed for
bison will continue to grow as well.

The bison herd now represents a substantive presence in Jackson Hole. Many of
the management issues surrounding the herd are controversial, and a wide range
of opinions have been expressed by various interest groups about how the herd
should be managed. Because of its distribution, the herd falls under the land
management jurisdictions of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), the National Elk
Refuge, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF), as well as private lands,
and the wildlife management jurisdictions of GTNP, NER, and the Wyoming Game
and Fish Department (WGFD). In addition, the Wyoming Livestock Board has
authority to remove bison from some public and private lands if there are conflicts
with landowners. These attributes combine to create a wildlife management
challenge with no precedent, a challenge that demands an informed, thorough,
and cooperative approach among the responsible agencies and that recognizes
the publicís varied interests.

Missions of the FWS and NPS and the Establishing Authorities of the
NER and GTNP

National Elk Refuge. The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System "is to
administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management,
and where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife, and plan resources and their
habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations
of Americans." Key in this mission is to sustain healthy populations of wildlife.
The NER was established in 1912 as a "winter game (elk) reserve" (37 Stat. 293),
and this was followed in 1913 with another Act of Congress designating the area as
"a winter elk refuge" (37 Stat. 847). Thus, the lands within the NER have primarily
been reserved and set apart for the purpose of providing long-term protection to elk
winter habitat. Nine years after the NER was established, providing birds with a
"refuge and breeding ground" was added as a purpose for which the refuge is to be
managed (Exec. Order 3596). This was followed in 1927 by an expansion of the
NER for the purpose of providing "for the grazing of, and as a refuge for, American
elk and other big game animals" (44 Stat. 1246). These purposes apply to all or most
of the lands now within the NER. Several parcels have been added to the NER
that have specific purposes associated with their addition to the NER, including
the conservation of fish and wildlife, providing opportunities for fish and
wildlife-oriented recreation, conservation of threatened and endangered species,
and protection of natural resources.

Grand Teton National Park. In their management of national parks, monuments,
and reservations, the fundamental mission of National Park Service is "... to conserve
the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide
for the enjoyment for the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave
them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" (16 U.S.C. 1). Grand
Teton National Park was established for the purpose of protecting the areaís native
plant and animal life and its spectacular values, as characterized by the geologic
features of the Teton Range and Jackson Hole. In the legislation that established
the park, Congress called for "the permanent conservation of the elk within the
Grand Teton National Park" (64 Stat. 849). Elk is the only wildlife species
specifically mentioned in the establishing legislation.

Summary of Stakeholder Involvement to Date

Stakeholder involvement thus far has focused on the identification of issues and
information sharing; development of the planning process (preplanning); identification
of how people want to be involved in the planning process: descriptions of the
conditions people would like to see in the future with respect to the elk and bison
populations, their habitat, and recreational opportunities associated with these species
on the NER and GTNP; and identification at alternative management approaches,
strategies, and actions.

The three main types of stakeholders, for which the agencies have different
responsibilities in planning processes, are the lead agencies themselves, cooperating
agencies, tribes, and the public. Scoping involves gathering input from all of these
stakeholders. The lead and cooperating agencies are working together in an
"interagency working group." The lead agencies have been meeting with various
tribal interests. Public involvement is being addressed as part of a larger effort to
involve all stakeholders together. Each of these is described in more detail below.

How Stakeholder Input Fits into the Process

Stakeholders play an important role in determining the desired conditions for bison,
elk, and their habitat on the NER and GTNP, and the management program to
achieve these conditions. However, stakeholder input must be addressed in the
development of the bison and elk management plan within the context of overriding
legal directives governing the management of the NER and GTNP. In other words,
legal directives and agency policies have the most influence on how bison and elk
are managed on the two areas. These directives define the ultimate target of
management and set the broad sideboards within which management must occur.

Stakeholders have been invited to help the agencies formulate the best possible plan
to accomplish the agenciesí legal responsibilities, including consistency with wildlife
management principles and scientific information. Additionally, to the extent it would
not conflict with legal directives, the goals, objectives, and strategies for managing
bison and elk can be tailored somewhat to (1) accommodate the needs and interests
of non-federal stakeholders and (2) to mitigate potential adverse impacts on the
human environment.

Intra- and Interagency Meetings and Briefings

Interagency Working Group Meetings

Interagency working group meetings have been held as needed starting in October
2000. The main purposes of the meetings have been to help the lead agencies to
design and carry out the pre-scoping process (using input from the public), monitor
progress being made in the public involvement process, examine information obtained
from the public and help develop preliminary problem definitions, goals, and alternatives
to provide templates for public involvement.
 

Other Interagency and Agency Meetings

Representatives of the planning team have met regularly and provided briefings at
other inter-agency meetings. Planning team representatives attended annual Elk
Studies Group meetings and provided background information and status updates.
Planning team representatives have provided briefings on project status at each of
the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee (GYIBC) meetings
(11/01/00, 6/20/01, 9/20/01).

Tribal Involvement and Consultation

Several tribal representatives participated in the Situation Assessment (see page 13)
and have attended stakeholder meetings conducted during the last nine months. Each
of the 11 tribes affiliated with this region were sent project initiation letters and were
faxed news releases notifying them of each of the stakeholder/public meetings.

Briefings were provided at meetings of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Fish and Game
Commissioners (11/29/01 and 4/25/02), Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council
(2/27/01), Intertribal Bison Cooperative (10/5/01, and 2/13/02, 2/14/02), Northern
Arapaho Business Council (7/31/01), Shoshone-Bannock Business Council (8/9/01),
the Eastern Shoshone Business Council (8/9/01,1/24/02), and the Yellowstone
National Park government-to-government consultation meeting (10/2/01).

As part of the briefings, the FWS and NPS described the history of the planning project,
why we are preparing an EIS, the planning process and schedule, and the different
options that have been identified for tribal involvement. Representatives were asked
how they would like to be involved in the process. Briefing statements were handed
out to representatives and, during the summer of 2001 (about the time scoping meetings
were being held), a slide presentation on history and background information was
presented.

A meeting in Jackson, Wyoming (April 16, 2002) was held for all the affiliated tribes
to solicit input on alternatives for the EIS. The meeting included a tour of the NER
and GTNP to familiarize the tribal representatives with current management practices.

Situation Assessment

In the fall of 1999, the FWS and the NPS enlisted the services of the U.S. Institute
for Environmental Conflict Resolution (IECR) based in Tucson, AZ. The IECR
obtained input from 130 people from various agencies, tribes, organizations, governing
bodies, and private citizens on issues of interest to them and to assess how people
wanted to be involved in the planning process. Based on this input, IECR developed
a preliminary list of issues and a set of recommendations related to the public
involvement process for the upcoming elk and bison management planning process.
To develop those recommendations, the IECR used the services of several cooperators,
including the University of Wyoming Institute for Environmental and Natural Resources.
The final report, or "Situation Assessment," contains recommendations as well as an
overview of specific viewpoints and concerns expressed by a wide range of
government and private stakeholders in the Jackson elk and bison herds. Copies of
the report are available online at www.ecr.gov/new.htm, www.merid.org, and at
www.uwyo.edu/enr/ienr.htm. Additional copies can be viewed at the Teton County
Library or obtained from the NER headquarters in Jackson, WY.

News Releases

News releases announcing the prescoping meetings were distributed on February 2, 2001,
March 2, 2001, March 26, 2001, and April 27, 2001. The news releases identified
the main objective of the prescoping process, which was to begin a dialogue with
stakeholders. Audiences were told that, in this preliminary phase of planning, the
agencies would be sharing information, discussing current conditions, exploring
peopleís views on what they would like to see in the future for elk and bison
conservation, examining obstacles in realizing these possibilities, defining the
project area, and obtaining input on how to carry out a public involvement program
for the formal planning process.

For the scoping meetings, a news release was distributed to the media and other
entities on June 26,2001 announcing the dates and locations of public meetings,
and enlisting the help of the public in identifying desired future conditions and issues.

Planning Updates, Worksheets, and Brochures

Two Planning Update brochures were created for use in the February 10, 2001,
and March 10, 2001 prescoping meetings. Planning Update #1 detailed background
information and specified how to contact the planning team. The purpose, format
and agenda of the February meeting was described and a timeline for the entire
planning process was outlined. Planning Update #2 summarized results of the
February 10th meeting. This included the publicís ideas on how to involve the
public, desired future conditions, and desired strategies. The update ended with
a description of the purpose, format and agenda for the March 10th meeting.

A worksheet was developed for use in the scoping meetings (scheduled from
July 20, 2001 through August 3, 2001). It identified nine management issues
and provided a form for the public to express their concerns and ideas regarding
each specific topic. These nine issues included; bison herd size, bison population
control, winter feeding of bison on the NER, elk herd size, elk population control,
winter feeding of elk on the NER, bison and elk disease, and recreational opportunities
related to bison and elk and habitat. The public was also free to identify additional
issues or additional interested parties, groups, and government agencies that should
be involved in the process. These worksheets could be completed at the scoping
meetings and handed in, or they could be mailed to the planning team at a later date.

A Scoping Brochure was also designed to summarize the background and purpose
and need for the management plan, as well as to bring the public up to date on the
planning process. It reiterated all the agencies involved and the affected programs.
The decision area was described and contrasted to the analysis area. The missions
and management objectives of the NER and GTNP were defined. The brochure
contained a brief summary of the prescoping meetings and a timeline for actions
and products of the planning process. A schedule of the scoping meetings (see the
list in the news release section) was included on the back page. This brochure was
mailed to everyone on the mailing list in July 2001.

An Alternative Development Brochure was developed to summarize prescoping and
scoping results, to solicit additional public involvement in developing the range of
alternatives to be presented in the EIS, and to revise the estimated timeline for actions
and products. This brochure was mailed to everyone on the mailing list in October 2001.

Website

A website for the Bison and Elk Management Plan has been set up on the Internet.
The address is http://bisonandelkplan.fws.gov. It can be reached directly by logging
on to the Internet or by linking to it from the NER website (www.nationalelkrefuge@fws.gov).
The public can contact this site to obtain information on the planning process, news
releases, schedules and timeline, highlights of the public meetings, including all comments
made by the public, background information, map of the project area, project documents,
and how to contact the Interagency Working Group. The public can also add their names
to the mailing lists via this site.

Stakeholder Meetings

Prescoping Meetings
 
February 10, 2001 Jackson, Wyoming
March 10, 2001 Jackson, Wyoming
April 16, 2001 Riverton, Wyoming
April 17, 2001 Casper, Wyoming
April 18, 2001 Cheyenne, Wyoming
April 19, 2001 Rock Springs, Wyoming
May 4, 2001 Jackson, Wyoming
May 5, 2001 Jackson, Wyoming

February 10, 2001

The agencies introduced the planning process and explained the background and history
leading up to the need and purpose for an Environmental Impact Statement for the
management of the bison and elk. The agenda included the history and mission of the
different agencies involved, elk and bison populations, habitat ecology and integrity, winter
feeding programs, elk and bison diseases, recreation programs, social and economic values,
and institutional relationships and wildlife. The speakers spent the morning providing
background information on the issues and problems associated with the Jackson bison
and elk herds. In the afternoon, the stakeholders broke up into small groups to discuss
these issues. Two basic questions were posed: "What conditions would you like to see
in the future? And "How do you want to be involved in the planning process?" The
public then recorded their ideas about desired future conditions or goals for the herds,
and their desired future strategies for reaching those goals.

March 10, 2001

The second prescoping public meeting was primarily devoted to clarification of
group-generated questions, followed by large and small group discussions. The
large group discussion summarized public involvement ideas for this planning process
and small group discussions allowed for more extensive discussions with agency
representatives. Most members of the public felt there was a need for much more
information about disease, habitat, carrying capacity and many other topics.

March 23, 2001

The purpose of the March 23 meeting was threefold: to obtain input (1) on the
format for the informational meetings to be held in late April or early May; (2) dates,
times, and a location that would be acceptable to a wide range of people; and (3)
information needs and how to address them in the meetings. The public had been
invited to sign up for participation in this meeting at the March 10, 2001 meeting.

April 16-19

The April meetings held in Riverton, Casper, Cheyenne, and Rock Springs gave
stakeholders from other parts of the state the opportunity to ask questions about
the key issues and express their opinions on the conditions they would like to see
with respect to the Jackson bison and elk herds and their habitat. The meetings
started with planning team members presenting background information on the
planning process, management issues, and history and missions at the agencies.

May 4-5

The May meetings were designed to answer many of the questions that stakeholders
had asked in the February, March and April meetings. Based in large part on the
input received during the March 23 meeting, a panel was assembled and each individual
gave a presentation on their area of expertise and interest. Panel members included
technical experts (e.g., researchers, biologists, veterinarians) and other professionals
(e.g., conservationists, ranchers). Technical experts were given a list of questions
that had been identified by the public in earlier meetings, and that pertained to their
area of expertise. The topics were habitat, bison population, elk population, diseases
and winter feeding. The meeting objectives were:

1. To increase stakeholders understanding of the existing conditions and the actions
and situations that led to these conditions

2. To increase the extent to which people see the existing situation and "how we got
here" in the same way

3. To continue discussions among different interest groups.

Scoping Meetings
 
July 20, 2001 Jackson, Wyoming
July 21, 2001 Rock Springs, Wyoming
July 23, 2001 Idaho Falls, Idaho
July 24, 2001 Bozeman, Montana
July 25, 2001 Sheridan, Wyoming
July 26, 2001 Casper, Wyoming
July 27, 2001 Riverton, Wyoming
August 1, 2001 Cheyenne, Wyoming
August 2, 2001 Denver, Colorado
August 3, 2001 Arlington, Virginia

 

July 20 - August 3

Ten scoping meetings were held in the following cities: Jackson and Rock Springs,
Wyoming, Idaho Falls, Idaho; Bozeman, Montana; and Sheridan, Casper, Riverton,
and Cheyenne, Wyoming; Denver, Colorado; and Arlington, Virginia. A worksheet
was used to guide discussion during the meetings and to aid stakeholders in focusing
their comments on the major management issues that had been identified during
prescoping. The public expressed a wide variety of opinions on bison and elk herd
size, bison and elk population control, winter feeding of bison and elk, habitat,
recreation, and disease management.

November 28 - November 29

Two alternative development meetings were held in Riverton and Jackson, Wyoming.
They were facilitated by the Center for Resolution. The stakeholders broke into small
groups to develop their own alternative packages. The groups were lead by volunteer
facilitators working for the Center for Resolution. Input was similar to that expressed
during the scoping meetings with a wide variety of opinions represented on all
management issues. A list of all the comments received by the public to date was
handed out at each table.

Meetings and Discussions with Individuals and Groups

Numerous one-on-one discussions and field trips have occurred during the last year.
Agency representatives answered questions and spoke with individuals that called or
stopped by offices. Upon invitation, agency representatives gave briefings and status
updates to attendees of special-interest-group meetings, for example, the County
Commissioners Monthly Agency Briefing (April 24, 2001), Chamber of Commerce
(April 25, 2001), and the Jackson Hole Outfitters and Guides Association (May 3, 2001).

Agency representatives also spoke periodically to individuals and representatives
of other agencies, tribes, other governing bodies, and special interest groups,
one-on-one and in small groups to discuss issues.

Other Meetings and Discussions

Several groups took the initiative to organize meetings with other groups to discuss
issues. For example the Jackson Hole Outfitters and Guides Association invited
several conservation and environmental organizations to identify areas of potential
common ground (6/28/02). The National Wildlife Federation sponsored a panel
discussion about wildlife management in the Jackson Area, with an emphasis on the
bison and elk management planning process (7/12/01). The Adaptive Management
Practitionerís Network held their annual meeting in Jackson, January 14-17, 2001.
They sponsored a two-day forum on the use of adaptive management and collaborative
processes in the Greater Yellowstone Area with a focus on the bison and elk
management planning process.

Letters From Stakeholders and Members of the Public

The Planning Team has received 25 letters from organizations and approximately 600
letters from the general public expressing their views on a variety of issues relating to
management practices, goals, and desired outcomes.

Summary of Stakeholder Input to Date

Public Involvement

In the Situation Assessment and early pre-scoping meetings, the public was asked how
they would like to be involved in the planning process. Participants expressed an interest
in helping the agencies design the public involvement process, providing opportunities
for open debate, and in establishing task oriented work groups. A desire was expressed
to get more agencies involved in the process and to honor tribal traditions and treaties.
Concern was expressed about the "weight" of public comment (e.g., local vs. national,
individual vs. group) and placing emphasis on outreach to people throughout Wyoming
and the nation. Some expressed concerns for well-defined goals and stakeholder
agreement on issues. Specific input was also provided on meeting logistics (e.g., dates,
times, locations, advertisement, etc.).

Desired Future Conditions

The desired future conditions for bison, elk, and their habitat are being written into
broad goal statements and more detailed objectives, thereby laying the foundation
of the bison and elk management program for the NER and GTNP. The public
was asked in early pre-scoping meetings and through a planning update that was
posted to everyone on the mailing list, "what conditions would you like to see in
the future?"

There seems to be general agreement on an overriding goal of sustaining a viable
and healthy elk herd and providing continued access to the elk and bison herds for
a variety of uses. There has been a broad recognition of the importance of the herds
to the Jackson area, as well as to the State of Wyoming and the nation. Much interest
was expressed in herd size objectives and healthy habitat conditions, although the
priorities differed. Some support was expressed for a free-ranging elk herd that uses
its historic summer and winter range. Views on the bison population varied, ranging
from removing bison from the NER to maintaining the herd at specified levels. A
variety of opinions were heard regarding vaccination of animals and related research.
A desire was expressed by most of the public to maintain historic uses (e.g., hunting
and wildlife viewing). The importance of hunting was often expressed, as well as the
desire to have hunting opportunities expanded. Other comments included a diversity
of opportunities and a variety of factors to be weighed equally, including financial,
aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual values.

Although the public plays an important role in identifying the desired conditions that
will eventually be adopted for bison, elk, and their habitat on the NER and GTNP
(in the form of goals and objectives), the conditions are determined primarily by the
legal directives governing the management of the two areas. The overriding desire to
sustain a healthy, viable herd of elk parallels the mission of the NWRS and is
consistent with the NPS mission. The desire by some groups and individuals to
minimize the adverse impacts of bison and elk and their management on other native
wildlife and their habitat is consistent with agency directives. However, on the NER,
it is clear that elk wintering habitat takes precedence. Although the USFWS does
not have any requirements for sustaining any particular number of bison or elk on
the NER, the agency is required to consider the WGFD herd objectives for bison
and elk, as well as wildlife management principles and scientific information.

Issues

Seven issues have been identified as a result of prescoping and scoping.

How Will Bison and Elk Populations and their Ecology Be Affected?

Most members of the public generally agreed that they want healthy bison and
elk herds, whether it is for the abundance of recreational opportunities this
would sustain or for the benefit of the animals themselves and the ecosystem.
There was considerable disagreement over exactly how many animals in each
herd is desirable or needed. Some people thought that there were already too
many bison. Other stakeholders felt that the number of both herds should be
determined by the carrying capacity of the environment and not arbitrarily set
by humans. There were opinions for both increasing the herdsí numbers as well
as decreasing the numbers. Some people thought that the current state objectives
of 350-400 bison and 11,029 elk for the entire Jackson herds were just about right.

Public hunting for bison and elk was recommended as an important management
tool that keeps population numbers in check and offers recreational opportunities
. Some stakeholders were against hunting of any kind and felt that contraception
is the only acceptable means of population control. Some members of the public
felt that Native Americans should be allowed to take bison either by hunting or by
relocating the animals to the reservations.

Predation was viewed by some members of the public as the preferred method of
population control, while some stakeholders worried that recently reintroduced
wolves and a growing grizzly bear population would decimate the elk population.
Some people concerned about growing populations of wolves and bears would like
to see the maximum number of elk on the NER raised to offset predator impacts.
Others stated that predators are a vital part of the ecosystem and viewing of wolves
and bears is important to many visitors and contributes to the economy of Wyoming.

How will Habitat and Other Species of Wildlife Be Affected?

Some people wanted to see habitat restored and improved, but opinions differed
on the specifics of this goal. Some wanted the planning process to look at winter
habitat throughout the region (i.e. taking an ecosystem approach) and to encourage
migration out of Jackson Hole to better distribute the herd. Others emphasized
improving grazing habitat in GTNP and BTNF by eliminating cattle, allowing
wildfires to burn within prescription, and improving habitat on the NER by
continuing prescribed burning, increasing irrigation or, conversely, planting only
native plants and decreasing irrigation. Some people said that thorough analysis
of the effects of both herds on the vegetation in the valley needs to be undertaken
to determine the "carrying capacity". However, some citizens pointed out that
forage "under four feet of snow" is not available to grazers no matter how rich
or diversified it may be. Some people expressed concerns about the adverse
effects that elk and bison may be having on native habitats, especially willow,
aspen, cottonwood communities, and associated wildlife.

How Will Winter Feeding Operations of Bison and Elk Be Affected?

Comments regarding feeding covered every possible scenario, from not feeding
bison or elk at all, to feeding throughout every winter. Some stakeholders did not
want bison to be fed on the NER where they might compete with elk. Feeding on
GTNP was suggested as an alternative. Other people recommended that the
agencies consider long-term phase-out of feeding, taking into account forage
production, habitat improvement and expansion of winter range. Some
stakeholders felt that the NER should continue to feed, but the way in which
elk and bison are fed should change: e.g. switch from pellets to hay, increase
the number of feeding locations, and feed earlier to protect habitat.

How Will Disease Prevalence and Transmission Be Affected?

There was discussion about brucellosis and the high rate of infection in both the
bison and the elk herds. This disease is of concern, because of the economic effect
it could have on livestock producers if contracted by cattle. Conducting more
research, vaccinating elk, bison, and cattle, enforcing DOI Health certificate
requirements, removing cattle from the area, and treating bison and elk equally
when considering the risk of disease transmission to cattle, were all suggestions to
deal with the problem. Some stakeholders were concerned with the potential of
other more serious diseases getting into the herds such as chronic wasting disease,
tuberculosis, pneumonia, bovine viral diarrhea, foot and mouth disease, rinderpest
etc. They felt there is a need to assess this risk with regard to the feeding program
and one person suggested the development of a contingency plan for any epidemic
that may occur. Encouraging elk to leave the NER and migrate to other public lands
was one suggested method of alleviating this risk, while other members of the public
felt that well fed elk were less likely to contract disease. Many agreed that more
research on all of these diseases was warranted.

How Will Recreational Opportunities Be Affected?

Many people expressed concern that changes in the management of elk and bison on
the NER and GTNP would impact hunting and viewing opportunities. Hunting was
identified as a popular form of recreation, but viewing of wildlife, specifically bison
and elk, was also recognized as an important recreational past time for local, national
and international visitors. The agencies were encouraged to consider and manage the
conflicts between winter recreation and wildlife. Although some people felt these
conflicts were an educational matter, others felt that all recreation impacts wildlife
and should be limited to avoid stressing animals during a critical period in their
life cycle.

How Will Cultural Opportunities and Social Values Be Affected?

Tribal representatives and other members of the public have stated that the tribes
should be actively involved in decisions regarding the bison. Native Americans have
traditions and spiritual values that are closely associated with both elk and bison.
Local residents also expressed concern about how the changes in elk and bison
management will effect their own traditions and values, which are dependent on
a western lifestyle that includes wide-open spaces and plentiful wildlife.

How Will Commercial Operations and the Local and Regional Economy Be Affected?

Wildlife viewing and hunting was identified as contributing to the local economy.
Many businesses are dependent on abundant wildlife. Outfitters and dude ranchers
in particular rely on elk and bison to provide hunting opportunities and a wilderness
experience. Some people expressed concerns about the effects of changes in
management of bison and elk on the local economy and quality of life in
Jackson Hole.

Alternatives

Many thoughts on how to accomplish the desired conditions were recorded at the
prescoping and scoping meetings. Strategies included a wide range of
conservation/management actions. Identified strategies included winter feeding,
irrigation, fertilization, prescribed burning, disease management, hunting
and/or immunocontraception as management tools, habitat restoration
and management, acquisition of additional habitat, reestablishment of migration
corridors, adaptive management, and incorporation of tribal uses.

A full range of alternatives will be analyzed in the EIS thereby addressing the
range of issues identified by the agencies and other stakeholders.

Bison and Elk Use Levels on the NER and GTNP

The EIS will analyze bison population sizes from about 200-250, evaluated in
the 1997 Jackson Bison herd management plan environmental assessment, to
an unlimited number of bison. Included in this range will be an objective of
350-400, which is the current WGFD herd objective for bison. The number
of elk to overwinter on the NER will range from an unspecified number
supported without any feeding to an increase in the maximum number of elk
on the NER to 8,500. The alternatives will include the status quo of a maximum
of 7,500 elk as well as an objective number using information from an ongoing
carrying capacity study.

Population Control

Population control programs will range from no-control options to the existing
elk hunt program on the NER and the existing elk herd reduction program on
GTNP, and the initiation of a bison hunt on the NER. Adjustments to the
existing programs will be considered, as pertinent to differences in objective
use levels of elk. Adjustments in hunting programs to allow greater use of
transition ranges at the northern end of the NER and southeast corner of
GTNP will be considered. Also included will be an analysis of
immunocontraceptives and other population control measures for both
bison and elk.

Habitat Management

Grazing habitat management practices in alternatives will range from no active
management to an increased emphasis on irrigation and farming. Included in
the range of alternatives will be the continuation of the existing program and
various levels of irrigation (including increased use of sprinkler systems) and
farming. Options for allowing native habitats damaged by bison and elk to
recover will range from no active management to extensive efforts to restore
these habitats, either by lowering densities of bison and elk or through the use
of fencing. One or more alternatives that include reduced densities on the NER
will include supporting multi-agency efforts to improve elk winter range east of
the NER and GTNP and to restore historic migration pathways.

Disease Management

Disease management options that will be considered in the EIS will range from
efforts to increase the distribution of bison and elk to the use of vaccines and
short-term test and slaughter procedures. Options for reducing concentrations
of animals on the NER and increasing their distribution will include supporting
mult-agency efforts to improve elk winter range east of the NER and GTNP
and to restore historic migration pathways of bison and elk.

Winter Feeding.

Options for winter feeding will range from no feeding to an increase in winter
feeding. Within this range, the existing winter feeding program will be evaluated,
as will reduced feeding options, including an emergency feeding option.
 
 

Scope of the Project and Analysis

Project Area

Decisions resulting from the planning process will be limited to management
activities on the NER and GTNP.

Management Programs, Actions, to be Analyzed in the Planning Process

Given (1) the need to begin managing the growing bison population,
(2) the requirement to analyze the winter feeding program, (3) the need
to address the various elk management programs that are integrally tied
to the feeding program, and (4) the need to identify mitigation measures
to address resource problems related to bison and elk management on the
NER and GTNP, there is a need to comprehensively address the following
programs and actions in an elk and bison management plan for the NER
and GTNP:

- objective use levels of bison and elk on the
NER and GTNP

- population control for bison and elk

- grazing habitat management

- mitigation of bison and elk damage to native habitats

- disease management

- winter feeding
 
 

The comprehensive analysis of the above resources, programs, and wildlife/habitat
concerns will be undertaken in the context of the entire Jackson elk and bison herds.
Because WGFD is responsible for setting herd objectives and managing hunt
programs to meet these targets, the FWS and NPS will work closely with WGFD.
The Jackson elk herd objective at present is 11,029 animals, and the FWS and NPS
will consider management options for contributing to this objective. The Jackson
bison herd objective is 400, based on the 1997 long-range management plan for
the herd. Because the distribution of the herd is nearly exclusively within the
boundaries of the NER and GTNP, the USFWS and NPS may consider other
population sizes for the herd inside the two areas.
 

EIS Analysis Area

The EIS analysis area encompasses the entire current range of the Jackson bison
and elk herds, which includes the NER, GTNP, southern portion of Yellowstone
National Park, and much of the Briger-Teton National Forest (Appendix G).
 

Glossary of Terms

Alternative - Different means of accomplishing refuge and park purposes and goals
and contributing to the Refuge System and National Park missions
(Service Manual 602 FW 1.5)
 
 

Goal - Descriptive, open-ended, and often broad statement of desired future
conditions that conveys a purpose but does not define measurable units
(Service Manual 620 FW 1.5).

Issue - Any unsettled matter that requires a management decision; e.g., a Service
initiative, opportunity, resource management problem, a threat to the resources
of the unit, conflict in uses, public concern, or the presence of an undesirable
resource condition (Service Manual 602 FW 1.5).

Objective - A concise statement of what will be achieved, how much will be
achieved, when and where it will be achieved, and who is responsible for the
work. Objectives are derived from goals and provide the basis for determining
management strategies, monitoring refuge and park accomplishments, and
evaluating the success of the strategies. Objectives should be attainable and
time-specific and should be stated quantitatively to the extent possible. If
objectives cannot be stated quantitatively, they may be stated qualitatively
(Service Manual 602 FW 1.5).

Stakeholder - Individuals, organizations, and groups; officials of Federal,
State, and local government agencies; Native American tribes; and foreign
nations. It may include anyone outside the core planning team. It includes
those who may or may not have indicated an interest in Service issues and
those who do or do not realize that Service decisions may affect them.
 
 

Strategy - A specific action, tool, or technique or combination of actions,
tools, and techniques used to meet unit objectives (Service Manual 602 FW 1.5).