What We Do
Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It drives everything on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and waters managed within the Refuge System, from the purposes for which ais established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Using conservation best practices, the Refuge System manages Service lands and waters to help ensure the survival of native wildlife species.
Management and Conservation
Comprehensive Conservation Plan
The Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) was finalized in Fall 2016. This 15-year plan guides the management and use of the National Elk Refuge.
Bison & Elk Management Plan
The Bison and Elk Management Plan was finalized in Spring 2007. This 15-year plan guides management of bison and elk for both the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park.
When deep or crusted snow prevents elk from grazing, or when little natural forage remains, the Refuge provides supplemental feed to bison and elk. The initiation of feeding in any given year depends on elk numbers, the timing of migration, winter temperatures, snow depths, and the accessibility of standing forage. Biologists evaluate these factors to determine whether feeding is needed. Current Refuge goals are to reduce reliance on supplemental feeding to mitigate disease risk and prevent habitat degradation on the landscape. Please read Step-Down Plan - Bison and Elk Management for more information on our continue efforts to reduce the reliance on supplemental feed.
Chronic Wasting Disease Response Strategy
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy related to mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and is fatal. Its origin is unknown. On December 16, 2020, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Health Laboratory confirmed that an elk in Grand Teton National Park tested positive for CWD. In response, the National Elk Refuge is increasing surveillance during all field operations to watch for animals displaying symptoms of CWD; euthanizing and testing suspect animals; coordinating public outreach with state, federal, and local partners. For more information, please read the National Elk Refuge Chronic Wasting Disease Response Strategy.
The National Elk Refuge adaptively manages bison, elk, and other wildlife populations and their habitat. Staff at the Refuge operate an extensive irrigation program that runs from spring through summer annually. The irrigation program focuses on producing high-quality, standing forage for wintering elk and bison.
Special Use Permits
Some commercial, recreational, and research activities are allowed on national wildlife refuges only with a special use permit issued by the local office, and are subject to specific conditions and fees. This permit requirement is meant to ensure that all activities at the federal site are compatible with the refuge’s Congressionally mandated wildlife conservation goals. Special use permits may limit the scope, timing and location of the activity, as determined by the refuge where the activity would take place.
Includes: workshops, professional photography, & wildlife viewing tours. Application Form
Research & Monitoring
Includes: biological work & geological monitoring. Application Form
All other permits. Application Form
A minimum of ten business days is required to request a permit.
Our Projects and Research
Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It drives everything on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and waters managed within the Refuge System, from the purposes for which a national wildlife refuge is established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Using conservation best practices, the Refuge System manages Service lands and waters to help ensure the survival of native wildlife species.
Current and recent projects include:
- Monitoring and researching the population and distribution of the Jackson Elk Herd
- Monitoring for wildlife diseases in ungulates
- Weed mapping
- Trumpeter swan nesting season observations
- Curlew observations
- Pollinator surveys
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.
The mission of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is to protect wildlife and plant resources through the effective enforcement of federal laws. By working with federal, state, tribal and foreign enforcement agencies and other conservation partners, we combat wildlife trafficking, help recover endangered species, conserve migratory birds, preserve wildlife habitat, safeguard fisheries, prevent the introduction and spread of, and promote international wildlife conservation
Laws and Regulations
Law enforcement is essential to virtually every aspect of wildlife conservation. Refuge officers work with other Federal and State law enforcement personnel and the Teton County Sheriff's Department to make the National Elk Refuge a better place for wildlife and people.