Upcoming Bison and Elk Management Plan  

On August 1, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a Notice of Intent to develop an updated Bison and Elk Management Plan and an associated Environmental Impact Statement for managing elk, bison and habitat on the National Elk Refuge. The documents associated with this announcement are in the Federal Register.

Comments may be submitted beginning August 1, 2023 through August 31, 2023 via the following methods: 

  • Online: https://www.regulations.gov, Docket No. FWS-R6-NWRS-2023-0062.  

  • or by U.S. mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-NWRS-2023-0062;  

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803. Please note in your submission that your comments are regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bison and Elk Management Plan. 

In 2007, the Service completed the first plan to guide management of bison and elk herds on the National Elk Refuge for a 15-year timeframe. The Service also completed a 5-year Step-down Plan in 2019 to reduce supplemental feeding on the refuge. Updates to the management plan seek to address newly available scientific information and changed conditions since adoption of the original management plan. New conditions include the detection of chronic wasting disease in the Jackson area. The updated management plan will also set new desired conditions, management goals, objectives and strategies to guide future management of bison and elk on the refuge.  

 

The Service is working closely with Tribes, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and others to update the plan as the Jackson elk and bison herds migrate across several jurisdictional boundaries.  

For more information, view the National Elk Refuge Bison and Elk Management Plan Fact Sheet.

Public Meetings  

The Service is looking to create meaningful and accessible opportunities for public engagement in the decision-making process, and we are seeking diverse public feedback and the best available science to inform the NEPA process. 

We will hold public scoping meetings on August 21 and 22, 2023 in Jackson, Wyoming, and Pinedale, Wyoming, respectively. In addition, we will present a public webinar on August 23, 2023.

  • August 21, 2023, 5:00-7:00 PM MT: Jackson, WY, Teton County Library (125 Virginian Lane, Jackson, WY  83001)
  • August 22, 2023, 5:00-7:00 PM MT: Pinedale, WY, Sublette County Library (155 S Tyler Ave, Pinedale, WY  82941)
  • August 23, 2023, 12:00-1:00 PM MT: Virtual. Watch the recording on YouTube.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: Why is the National Elk Refuge considering updating the Bison and Elk Management Plan (BEMP) now?  

A:  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service updating the plan based on the original timeline outlined in the 2007 BEMP. In addition, the 2019 Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan (Step-down Plan) to reduce supplemental feeding on the National Elk Refuge (NER) expires in December 2024. Elk management, including supplemental winter feeding, remains one of the most important management actions for the NER.  

Q: What is the purpose of an updated BEMP?   

A: An updated BEMP is needed to fill the gap left by the expiration of the 2007 BEMP. The updated BEMP will address changed conditions and new available scientific information from the past 15 years. The updated BEMP will also set new desired conditions, management goals, objectives, and strategies to guide the management of bison and elk on the NER in the future.  

Q: What has changed since the previous BEMP was adopted?  

A: In December 2019, NER completed the Step-down Plan and associated Environmental Assessment. NER has been implementing the Step-down Plan to reduce reliance on supplemental winter feeding.  The principal goal of this Step-down is to reduce the number of elk wintering on the NER to a 5,000 elk objective.  The primary strategy to achieve this goal is reducing feed season length.   

Since the previous BEMP was adopted, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been detected in the Jackson elk herd.  The best available evidence suggests that CWD will have significant negative effects on the Jackson elk herd over time, and that supplemental feeding will exacerbate these effects.  

Q: What is NEPA and why does it matter?  

A: Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), agencies are required to consider environmental, social, and economic effects of proposed actions and determine if proposed actions may have significant environmental effects.  

NEPA provides a valuable way for the public to engage in government activities and provide input. Our goal is to create opportunities for meaningful public engagement into decision-making by actively engaging diverse interests to obtain inclusive public feedback and the best available science (biological information, potential effects to the human environment, etc.) to inform the NEPA process.  

Q: What is an Environmental Impact Statement?   

A: Under NEPA, a federal agency may prepare three different levels of documentation to analyze a proposed action: 1) a categorical exclusion; 2) an Environmental Assessment ; or, 3) an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An agency may prepare an EIS if the agency determines the proposed action may involve scientific controversy or may be determined to have a significant environmental impact.  

Q: Will the public have opportunities to provide input on  the updated BEMP?  

A: Yes. Public scoping meetings and a public scoping comment period will follow the publication of the Notice of Intent (NOI). In addition, a draft of the updated BEMP will be provided with the draft EIS for public review and comment. We strongly encourage public participation during scoping engagement opportunities to advise the formulation of the BEMP and draft EIS.  

Q: When could the public expect to review and comment on a draft EIS?  

A: We anticipate having the draft BEMP and draft EIS available for public review in late summer to fall 2024.  

Q: What is the legal authority for managing the bison and elk on NER?  

A: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to administer National Wildlife Refuges, which includes actions to manage bison and elk on the NER, pursuant to the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956, the Refuge Recreation Act of 1962, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act as amended 1974 and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.   

Q: Why manage bison and elk on NER?  

A: Bison and elk are managed on NER to ensure healthy and sustainable populations of these species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  

Q: What size herd would the Service manage on NER?  

A: Currently the NER manages for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department herd objective of 500 bison and 11,000 elk. NER’s management objectives will be evaluated in conjunction with our cooperating agencies during the BEMP planning process with the goal of maintaining sustainable and healthy bison and elk herds.  

Q: Will the updated BEMP supersede the Step-down Plan?  

Yes. The Step-down Plan is a 5-year plan that is current through December 2024. The updated BEMP will provide future guidance on feeding.   

Q: Will the results of the Step-down help inform the analysis of the BEMP?  

A: One of the primary purposes of the Step-down is to gather information on bison and elk behavior in relation to the reduction of supplemental feeding, with the goal of reducing reliance of supplemental feeding for a 5-year period.  Information gathered during this 5-year period will be used to inform the development of the updated BEMP. 

Previous Planning Documents 

2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement 

2019 Step-down Plan and Environmental Assessment  

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT  

Alice Lee, Conservation Planner via email at fws-bemp@doimspp.onmicrosoft.com. Individuals in the United States who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability may dial 711 (TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille) to access telecommunications relay services. Individuals outside the United States should use the relay services offered within their country to make international calls to the point-of-contact in the United States.  

Documents

National Elk Refuge Bison and Elk Management Plan Fact Sheet

An overview of the National Elk Refuge's plan to update their Bison and Elk Management Plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to develop an updated Bison and Elk Management Plan to ensure healthy, sustainable bison and elk herds.

Programs

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages an unparalleled network of public lands and waters called the National Wildlife Refuge System. With more than 560 refuges spanning the country, this system protects iconic species and provides some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities on Earth.

Facilities

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Wildlife conservation is at the heart of what makes the National Elk Refuge unique and unparalleled in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Conservation of native species and their habitats is the core management mission of the Refuge. The Refuge protects critically important habitat for numerous...