This history of the Jackson elk herd and the National Elk Refuge is intimately woven into the fabric of the people the settled here. Both their fate and ultimate conservation rested in the dedication of the citizens of Jackson Hole.
Hundreds of years before the settlement of this country, elk ranged from the eastern states through central and western North America. They grazed the open prairies, mountain valleys, and foothills. As settlers pushed slowly westward, the distribution of the elk was rapidly reduced to the western mountains. By 1900, elk had disappeared from more than 90 percent of their original range.
When settlers arrived in Jackson Hole in the late 1800s, there may have been as many as 25,000 elk in the entire valley. The town of Jackson was built in a large portion of elk winter range. Establishment of farms and ranches fuAugust 12, 2010bsp; Livestock competed for winter food, and hungry elk raided haystacks. These severe conflicts between humans and elk diminished the Jackson elk population.
In the early 1900s, severe winters with deep, crusted snow also took a serious toll on the wintering elk. The refuge was created in 1912 as a result of public interest in the survival of the Jackson elk herd. Today the refuge continues to preserve much of the remaining elk winter range in the valley, approximately one-quarter of the original Jackson Hole winter range. Elk stay on the refuge for approximately six months each winter. An 8-foot high fence along the main highway and the northern border of town prevents elk from moving through Jackson and onto private lands.
Today the refuge consists of nearly 25,000 acres devoted to elk winter range. This represents the last remaining elk winter range in Jackson Hole The National Elk Refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is one of more than 545 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. This system was established to preserve a national network of lands and waters for the conservation and management of the fish, wildlife and plants of the United States for the benefit of present and future generations.
Expanded Refuge History (pdf File)
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