SUBLETTE COUNTY – Wyoming Game and Fish is sorting out the expiration of its Dell Creek winter elk feedground permit.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled on Sept. 21 in a case involving three of 22 Game and Fish feedgrounds. Her ruling for the Dell Creek facility on Forest Service lands was that the Game and Fish’s 2017 permit expired when it did not officially request its extension.
The Dell Creek elk feedground is located in Bridger-Teton National Forest near Riling Draw at the edge of the Gros Ventre Mountains in Hoback Basin. Family ranches and private property are adjacent.
Wyoming Game announced it asked the Forest Service for a one-winter permit for Dell Creek feedground’s 2021-2022 winter-feeding season. The elk are fed bales of hay daily by a feeder with a team of workhorses; there are two covered hay stackyards, a corral for the horses and a tack shed.
“Game and Fish believes (Judge Freudenthal’s) recent court decision provides clarity in what was required to continue feedground operations at Dell Creek, and we’re interested in a pathway forward,” said Richard King, chief of the Game and Fish Wildlife Division.
Game and Fish is committed to maintaining feeding at Dell Creek “and is not intending to propose a closure,” public information officer Sara DiRienzo said.
Dell Creek has seen increasing numbers of cows, calves and spikes coming to the feedground when snow covers their forage, often by Thanksgiving. The feedground was permitted decades ago to feed about 250 elk; last winter Game and Fish counted 529 animals.
“We’re planning to continue our operations for this year and will exercise best-practices for elk feeding at Dell Creek, just like we do with all other department-operated elk feedgrounds. That includes beginning feeding as late as possible, patterning feed to spread out elk and ending feeding as soon as reasonable,” King said.
In Hoback Basin’s snowy, frigid winter climate, that could run from November through April some years.
Western Watersheds Project and others have challenged BTNF and the U.S. Forest Service for permitting Game and Fish to feed elk trapped by winter and cut off from traditional migration routes due to human development.
While concerns of brucellosis transmission are one major reason to keep elk separate from livestock on private property, elk with no access to winter forage also damage private haystacks. Game and Fish compensates landowners complying with guidelines for confirmed damages.
Some feedgrounds – such as the McNeel feedground by the Hoback River – are on leased private property. Others on public lands require federal-agency permits.
There are increasing calls for deeper environmental analyses of public lands where elk feeding takes place.
Game and Fish is engaging the public to help shape future long-term elk-feedground management plans with a steering committee. For more information, visit https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Get-Involved/elk-feedgrounds.