January 4, 2017 (NER 17-01)
Wildlife managers have determined that available forage on the National Elk Refuge will decline to levels where supplemental feeding of elk and bison will begin soon, perhaps as early as this weekend.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming Game & Fish Department biologists have been intensely monitoring environmental conditions on the Refuge to measure and assess the quantity and accessibility of remaining forage. They have noted available forage has been gradually declining since monitoring began in mid-December and is now approaching the threshold to begin supplemental feeding. Snow depth and density are higher than is typically seen in early January, both important criteria for implementing the winter feeding program. Additionally, small groups of elk have been leaving for Spring Gulch by way of the Gros Ventre River corridor. The Refuge's feeding protocol is designed to mitigate elk co-mingling and spreading disease to livestock as well as causing damage on private land.
The ten-year average start date for initiating supplemental feeding is January 25. The start date, ranging from January 5 to February 12, varies widely depending on winter severity, available forage, and the number of animals on the Refuge.
Roughly 5,500 to 6,000 elk are currently on the Refuge, with additional elk on adjoining lands. Up to 400 bison have also been occupying the Refuge. As a result of the early start of supplemental feeding, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department will be closing the Refuge bison hunt early. The hunt, scheduled through January 10, will instead conclude on Friday, January 6.
More elk and bison may move onto the Refuge once the supplemental feeding program begins for the season. Travelers on nearby roads should continue to use caution and watch for migrating animals.
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Elk aren't the only species of wildlife you may see on the National Elk Refuge.