Conservation

Conservation - Winter

Lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System are different from other federal lands because they are closed to all public uses unless specifically and legally opened. Refuge uses must not interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System or the purposes of the refuge.

  • Environmental Assessment and Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan

    promo_ea

    Update - December 2019: Final Environmental Assessment and Final Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan to Guide Future Management at National Elk Refuge

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a final Environmental Assessment (EA) and final Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan (with an addendum) to guide future management at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming. These documents support the Service’s ongoing planning and management efforts to ensure the refuge maintains healthy native habitats and sustainable wildlife populations. In particular, the Step-down Plan provides a structured framework that refuge staff and partners can implement over the next five years to achieve measurable progress towards reaching the objective of 5,000 wintering elk on the refuge.

    The final Step-down Plan does not aim to reduce the total number of elk in the Jackson herd. Rather, the plan aims to gradually reduce the number of elk wintering on the refuge over time.

    The primary strategy that will be employed to achieve sustainable wintering elk numbers on the refuge includes shortening the feeding season.

    The Step-down Plan’s target of 5,000 wintering elk on refuge lands was developed with our conservation partners. There are currently an estimated 11,000 elk in the Jackson herd and upwards of 6,000-7,000 elk winter on the refuge. 

    Reducing both the number and concentration of wintering elk on refuge lands can help to reduce wildlife disease threats, lessen or prevent habitat degradation, and yield positive impacts for other native wildlife. Reduction in supplemental feeding will also encourage natural elk behavior.

    The final EA, associated Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and final Step-down Plan are available below.

    Timeline and Next Steps

    The Service intends to begin implementation of the final Step-down Plan in 2020 and commits to keeping the public informed about future updates and involvement opportunities.

    The Service’s refuge management actions and decisions related to supplemental feeding will continue to be informed by current data, science, and continued coordination and collaboration with local, state and federal partners, including Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

    Data gathered during the final Step-down Plan’s five-year implementation will also inform future planning as the Service begins to explore needed revisions and/or updates to the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan and associated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance. 

    Resources and Additional Information

    Press release: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Final Environmental Assessment to Guide Management at National Elk Refuge

    Final Environmental Assessment for Bison and Elk Management Step-Down Plan

    Final Step-Down Plan: Bison and Elk Management

    Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision to Implement Bison and Elk Management Step-Down Plan

     


    Fall 2019 Update: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted public comments on a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) associated with the National Elk Refuge’s Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan during a 30-day public comment period (September 30 - October 30, 2019).

    • The EA and Step-down Plan outline reasonable steps to manage elk, protect habitat, and mitigate against serious wildlife disease threats (such as chronic wasting disease).
    • The EA and Step-down Plan outline strategies to reduce the reliance of wintering elk on supplemental feeding at the refuge, encourage natural elk behavior, and support healthy, sustainable elk numbers on the refuge now and in the future.
    • Once finalized, the Step-down Plan will help the Service and partners achieve measurable progress towards reaching the objective of 5,000 wintering elk on the refuge.
    • The Step-down Plan does not aim to reduce the total number of elk in the Jackson herd. Rather, the plan aims to gradually reduce the number of elk wintering on the refuge.
    • Currently, there are an estimated 11,000 elk in the Jackson herd, and upwards of 6,000-7,000 of those individuals winter on the refuge. The Step-down Plan, developed with Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff and other conservation partners, sets a target of 5,000 wintering elk on refuge lands to sustain healthy wildlife and habitats.


    Timeline and Next Steps

    Following the public comment period, the Service will analyze comments received, publish a final EA and Step-down Plan by December 31, 2019, and then begin implementation. Moving forward, the Service remains committed to working with local, state, and federal partners.

    Please continue to visit this website for future updates, or contact refuge staff at: nationalelkrefuge@fws.gov

    Resources and Additional Information

    Note: For faster download of files, please try using Google Chrome.

    News Release: Draft Plan to Guide Future Wildlife Management at the National Elk Refuge Open for Public Comment (September 30, 2019)

    Environmental Assessment for Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan: A Structured Framework for Reducing Reliance on Supplemental Winter Feeding (September 30, 2019)

    Draft Bison and Elk Management Step-down Plan (September 30, 2019)

     

  • Comprehensive Conservation Plan

    Conservation - Cattail

    Refuge conservation plans are called Comprehensive Conservation Plans, or CCPs. The purpose of a CCP is to specify a management direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving Refuge conditions—including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions – are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the Refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well.

    Learn More
  • Bison and Elk Management Plan

    Conservation_BEMP_Promo

    A Bison and Elk Management Plan was finalized in April 2007 with the signing of the Record of Decision. This 15-year plan guides management of both species for both the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park.

    Learn More
  • National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act

    Conservation_NWRS_Promo

    The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) Improvement Act of 1997 defines a unifying mission for all refuges, including a process for determining compatible uses on refuges. It also requires that each refuge be managed according to a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). 

    The NWRS Improvement Act expressly states that wildlife conservation is the priority of System lands and that the Secretary shall ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of refuge lands are maintained. Each refuge must be managed to fulfill the specific purposes for which the refuge was established and the System mission. The first priority of each refuge is to conserve, manage, and if needed, restore fish and wildlife populations and habitats according to its purpose.

    Learn More
  • National Elk Refuge Irrigation Expansion Project Final Plan and Environmental Assessment

    07_06_16_RevenueSharing_Article.jpg

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has explored the potential to improve and expand the existing irrigation system. By expanding the irrigation system it is anticipated that there will be a reduction on the reliance for supplemental winter feeding, which is a primary management strategy identified in the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (Plan/EIS).  Water resources will be utilized more efficiently.  More water will be available to support Flat Creek fisheries resources and riparian habitat growth. Forage production will increase over an expanded area, increasing dispersal of elk and bison, thus reducing the opportunity to transmit diseases between animals. In addition to increasing the production of grazing forage by expanding the use of irrigation, decreasing the bison and elk herd size through hunting and achieving population management goals is vital.  Inadequate forage production has contributed to the need to artificially feed elk during the winter for 87 of the last 96 years.

    Learn More