Environmentalists: Elk Refuge Among 10 Imperiled

By Beacon Staff

JACKSON, Wyo. – An environmental group has listed the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole among what it says are the nation’s 10 most imperiled wildlife refuges.

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility criticized artificial feeding of elk at the refuge during the winter, saying the practice spreads disease and degrades habitat.

Diseases threatening refuge elk include chronic wasting disease, a deadly pathogen some say could devastate the Jackson Elk Herd if it makes its way to the region’s feedgrounds. Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, said artificial feeding also causes elk to depend on feed to survive.

Feeding, he said, “becomes a reinforcing cycle that requires more and more artificial feeding.”

The report also calls attention to a staff shortage on the refuge.

“Currently, the refuge has just seven employees,” the report reads. “The National Elk Refuge has no resources to undertake urgently needed management, research and education tasks.”

National Elk Refuge Manager Steve Kallin agreed with many criticisms in last week’s report.

“I don’t disagree with the statement that there are threats to a healthy elk herd,” he said. “The herd has brucellosis, there’s no doubt about that, and certainly chronic wasting disease is a serious concern.”

He also agreed that the refuge is understaffed.

“I can’t say that a bigger staff is going to prevent chronic wasting disease from coming, but there are a number of other opportunities and tasks that we’re just having a hard time getting to because of the lack of staff,” he said.

PEER chose the 10 refuges from the more than 540 wildlife refuges in all 50 states.

Ruch said many refuges on the top 10 list face threats from climate change, but politics — namely pressure to maintain artificial feeding — are driving decisions endangering the National Elk Refuge.

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