A Yellowstone National Park bull elk known as No. Together, Nat Hab and World Wildlife Fund have teamed up to arrange nearly a hundred nature travel experiences around the planet, while helping to protect the wondrous places we visit. Scientists say that whether Jackson Hole CWD Elk Case No. But it isn’t the first time that Wyoming wildlife officials have implied that when it comes to CWD and elk, the laws of disease transmission recognized by professionals in other states do not apply to Wyoming. Yet bewildering to conservationists is that while some agencies have written general plans for responding to CWD, there is not yet a single uniform strategy for addressing CWD in a way that recognizes elk and deer moving in long distance migrations, across the lines of three different states, 20 different counties and a mosaic of federal, state and private land. He pointed to a map provided by Game and Fish that showed where the CWD elk north of Dubois was killed. Additionally, the Department will communicate with the appropriate land management agency(s) as it pertains to hay use and CWD at elk feedgrounds.”. Yellowstone’s Wildlife in Transition. "Thus, our disease management objectives will focus on early detection and monitoring. Coyotes live an average of about 6 years, although one Yellowstone coyote lived to be more than 13 before she was killed and eaten by a cougar . Elk sightings in the Wyoming and Montana area are fairly common, but seeing a herd of this size is not as common. Bull elk are 4.5 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 550 to 800 pounds. On any given winter, 80 percent of those wapiti get artificial nourishment at the National Elk Refuge. In November 2018, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), an incurable affliction that infects all species of North American deer, manifested itself near Jackson, WY. ®WWF and World Wildlife Fund are WWF Registered Trademarks. What makes Jackson Hole geo-biologically unique, Roffe says, is that never before has the debilitating plague reached such a large concentration of wintering wild elk (or any deer family species) which, come spring, will disperse across thousands of square miles throughout the three-state Greater Yellowstone region. Recent studies suggest that aberrant brain proteins known as prions cause CWD. An elk taken by a Montana bowhunter this past season was the largest ever taken in the state and the largest recorded in the U.S. in 48 years — and it could yet turn out to be a world record. In Wisconsin, millions of dollars have been spent on trying to severely depress white-tail deer numbers to lower the spread and incidence of CWD but those efforts have failed. and some weigh around 40 pounds (18 kg). Reiswig says that in the case of the Elk Refuge, the only way feeding will be stopped is if an edict comes down from the Fish and Wildlife Service Director in Washington DC, or arrives via a federal court order compelling the Elk Refuge to take action, or involves an act of Congress. Wyoming governors, political appointees on the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and members of the state’s Congressional Delegation have stalled the discontinuation of feeding because it’s what hunting guides and outfitters, as well as ranchers, desire. Studies suggest that because prions are composed of protein, they do not contain DNA. Prior to his political appointment, Hoffman was director of the Cody Chamber of Commerce. They cannot be destroyed simply by cooking meat at higher temperatures. “Unfortunately the U.S. “Our sampling here is robust,” Durbian said. Disease experts say, ironically, that feedgrounds bolster brucellosis infection rates in elk that disperse more widely around the ecosystem yet of graver concern is that feedgrounds will exacerbate the spread of CWD. As a result, it created an unnatural massing of elk in the high-elevation valley that previously did not exist prior to the arrival of white homesteaders. 1 was confirmed, is located immediately adjacent to the Elk Refuge where thousands of wild wapiti are again present. Therefore, the immune system does not recognize the prions as a threat. Elk are the second largest antlered animals in the world, only moose are larger. 2nd ed. "Also, deer and elk from different populations intermix during summer, making it impossible to differentiate animals from different target populations and difficult to define sampling units.”. Maybe we need to ‘manage from the seat of our pants’ is a good term, I think. Photo courtesy USGS/Christina Carlson, “Prions are primarily retained in surface soils and the close contact of ruminant animals with soils renders soil-bound prions a likely source for prion disease transmission through ingestion or inhalation,” authors of a study published in. - In northwestern Wyoming, growing rural communities, such as Jackson, utilized large amounts of land for livestock. Seth Royal Kroft shares a video of a grizzly bear along the Yellowstone River defending the bull elk it killed from a grey wolf. With the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease in a Jackson Hole elk confirmed in nearby Grand Teton National Park, wildlife officials worry about the deadly disease spreading to animals at the Elk Refuge. Of course, it's just getting started, but we are really optimistic that we will come away with a solid, publicly-supported long-term management plan with some innovative ideas for moving forward.”. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press. At first light this morning I pulled over noting a Bull Elk with a few cows in the upper right of the meadow depicted in the opening photograph. The Northern Yellowstone elk herd, one of the most famous and closely watched in the world, is finally growing at a healthy clip. Led by world-class naturalist guides, our eco-conscious expeditions take you to the world's most remarkable nature locales. “No strategy has been effective at eradicating CWD from areas where the disease is present," the document further states. Wyoming’s CWD Plan goes so far as to acknowledge that hay from CWD endemic areas—therefore potentially contaminated with prions— should not be fed to elk at the Elk Refuge and feedgrounds. Back in the late 1990s, the Clinton Administration was poised to support the gradual phase out of feeding. However, it is possible that one or several CWD-infected elk or deer could wander around live and remain undetected for a couple of years. With the town of Jackson, Wyoming in the distance, visitors take a gander at elk, among several thousand wapiti that mass at the National Elk Refuge every winter. Wyoming and the Elk Refuge, in their own CWD plans, puts a lot of stock in surveillance both through testing but also visual observation. CWD management is a long-term commitment of personnel and funding because reducing transmission risk factors and prevalence by any conceivable approach will take many decades. 2012. Increase our impact by sharing this story. It would be one thing if all of this involved a population of white-tailed deer in the Upper Midwest, but Wyoming’s “obstinance,” he says, is putting the ecological integrity of the globally-renowned Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at risk. Reiswig agrees, saying he experienced it firsthand. Perhaps the closest thing to a mea culpa for inaction coming from Wyoming is this passage in its CWD plan, which people like Roffe, Reiswig, Smith and others agree with. “The best ideas for managing CWD and elk in western Wyoming” have actually been known and touted for a quarter century—and that’s phasing out feeding, he said. An outbreak of CWD that begins in Jackson Hole is not going to stay confined to Jackson Hole, epidemiologists say. “Surveillance for the majority of these populations is difficult because they are widely distributed in high mountain habitats during summer and winter at lower elevations outside the park,” authors of Yellowstone CWD Surveillance Strategy add. Good Nature is the official nature and adventure travel blog of. In: White PJ, Garrott RA, Plumb GE, editors. Where would the elk go? Implementation of this plan could be expensive and exceed the park’s current financial capability with regards to wildlife disease management.”, Yellowstone provides summer range for more than 10,000 deer and elk from multiple herds. They go on: "From the perspective of control and management of infectious diseases, anything that aggregates animals will, in most circumstances, also increase the opportunity for disease transmission. When these rogue prions become present in an animal they cause healthy brain tissues to become porous, giving the brain a spongy appearance. For decades, both Roffe’s former employer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Elk Refuge, and the US Forest Service which permits Wyoming to operate feedgrounds on federal public lands under its jurisdiction, have faced professional and judicial excoriation for being less than vigilant in taking precautionary action. In a number of mountain valleys in Greater Yellowstone and throughout the Rockies, herds of wild elk are at or above population objectives without getting food rations from humans. Smith says the argument Wyoming uses is absurd. I love seeing the elk in Yellowstone and the herds of bison and hearing the sounds they make. Following her departure, Wyoming in July 2020 released an updated CWD Management Plan and offered this assessment of the toll CWD is likely to take. At present there is no CWD vaccine and none expected for the foreseeable future. Elk are fed on the same 5,000 acres of [the National Elk Refuge] each year, and “given the persistence of CWD prions in the environment, these areas will likely … Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd. A Yellowstone wolf. At that meeting, Rocky Mountain National Park was cited as a reference point. Infectious agents may be transmitted in saliva, urine or feces. Every winter, as the snows fall deep in the high country of Yellowstone, between 7,000 and 9,000 elk migrate down into the Jackson Valley were they are fed through the harshest part of the season by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. In a study produced by Yellowstone National Park, biologists determined that elk make up approximately ninety percent of winter wolf (Canis lupus) kills and are an important food for grizzly and black bears (Ursus arctos, Ursus americanus), mountain lions (Puma concolor), and at least twelve scavenger species, including coyotes (Canis latrans), ravens (Corvus corax) and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). To see more of Showalter's collectible work, go to dave showalter.com. In 2020, 312 tissue samples were submitted to a lab, pertaining to 272 hunter-killed elk, road killed wapiti or other causes of death. Grazing and Migration. And, of course, CWD infected animals would be shedding prions along the way. We may be better off than trying to initiate or use too much science to manage maybe what science shouldn’t be doing that.”, Apparently lost on Taylor was that letting animals kind of do their thing would mean not feeding elk. A similar strain is found in cattle and is commonly known as mad-cow-disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). Wyoming makes several assertions in its 2020 CWD Plan that wildlife disease experts characterize as dubious, such as claiming the results of CWD reaching feedgrounds cannot be predicted. Still another contradiction is that Wyoming’s CWD Management Plan has a literature citation at the end, listing numerous studies on disease management, CWD and epidemiology. Today there are several thousand more elk than the population target of 5000 recommended in the plan and most wapiti bunch up on the refuge. More recent projections suggest CWD may have significant population-level impacts in Rocky Mountain National Park elk, Wyoming white-tailed deer, and Wyoming mule deer. Early in the 20th century, Jackson Hole rose as a beacon in American wildlife conservation history when, in 1912, the National Elk Refuge was established as a rescue mission. In Wyoming, humans reported killing 25,852 elk in 2016, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Some say we’ll come up with a vaccine, which we don’t have. This, then, raises a question: how could thousands of acres encompassing feedgrounds and the Elk Refuge be decontaminated in a way that renders prions inactive and unlikely to infect elk and deer year after year? Still looming is the question of potential CWD transmissibility from infected elk, deer or moose to humans via game meet consumptions. § 673a (creating a “refuge” for the elk).," justices with the DC Circuit wrote. Hence, that’s what scientists mean by potential superspreading. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Natural Habitat Adventures or WWF. “Potential impacts from CWD on feedground elk populations are largely unknown, although it is possible that CWD prevalence within feedground elk may exceed that of unfed elk,” authors of Wyoming’s plan write. 2003. Nat Hab’s weekly eNewsletter highlights exclusive offers, webinars, nature news, travel ideas, photography hints and more. Another irony, he notes, is that Montana and Wyoming forbid individual citizens from feeding wildlife because of disease concerns and most states where CWD infection rates are rising have also banned the practice. “Unfortunately, CWD has since been documented throughout most of the state, with many mule deer and white-tailed deer herds now exhibiting CWD prevalence levels high enough to potentially impact population performance. As competition between Jackson residents and wildlife persisted, the region’s elk population began to dwindle. Prominent wildlife disease experts, former Elk Refuge senior managers and an environmental attorney who has brought a lawsuit to halt feeding say that CWD reaching the Elk Refuge is unprecedented and could, because of the conditions, result in a “superspreading event.”, Prions can be exchanged between elk, deer and moose through direct nose to nose contact and saliva. This largest member of the deer family loves cold weather and frequents marshy meadows and edges of lakes and streams. Part of the park's CWD surveillance plan is identifying animals that appear ill or in physical distress. Now, epidemiologists say, a high-profile unintended experiment in how a frightening disease spreads may be about to unfold. The NER is a place where healthy and sick animals come together and, therefore, is naturally an area of concern. Now, in more ecologically-enlightened times, this management practice is highly controversial. Helena (MT): Montana Historical Society Press. In places like the lower Ruby River corridor in southwest Montana where the infection of rate of white-tailed deer tested. Baltimore (MD): The John Hopkins University Press. Moose are most heavily concentrated in Grand Teton Park. When did they know what was coming? Current research reveals the dangers of manipulative wildlife management and surplus feeding, and the issues have no clear solution. Elk, also called wapiti, experienced a vast reduction of its historic range. Keeping more elk alive provides more wapiti available for clients to hunt. Research has demonstrated in both Wyoming and Colorado that animals can catch CWD merely by coming in contact with. Where would the elk go? As far as any adjustments to feeding, we will continue to start feeding as late as possible and end feeding as soon as possible to shorten the feeding season or not feed at all where possible. It is assumed that if the disease becomes established, artificially concentrating elk on feedgrounds may result in more rapid spread of CWD and contribute to increased persistence of prions in the soil and uptake by vegetation.”. While the establishment of the NER undoubtedly contributed to the preservation of a species that was on the brink of catastrophe, the NER’s feeding program is now rapidly trying to phase out. Earlier in the fall, tourists in Wyoming got to see the unique sight of a grizzly bear taking down an elk in Yellowstone. Photo courtesy Diane Renkin/NPS, The Elk Refuge has a monitoring program that requires hunters of harvested elk to provide heads for testing. But it is not merely a local concern. Our region has unsurpassed opportunities for trophy elk. There is currently no cure or vaccine to prevent its spread. The refuge could just as easily become a conduit for disease and death, potentially collapsing one of the largest elk herds in the world. “Wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges and National Park lands in the US is a public trust managed for the benefit of all citizens, not just a few, and not just the state of Wyoming,” Roffe wrote. Let the animals kind of do their thing. In his critique of the Elk Refuge feeding step-down plan, Roffe expresses incredulity that a landscape-level infectious disease like CWD is not being met with a comprehensive strategy from federal and state agencies in the three-state Greater Yellowstone region. Photo courtesy Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish. Traveler Story: Sunrise Over the Grand Tetons, Small Wonders on a Yellowstone Wolf & Wildlife Photo Safari, Traveler Story: Mammoth Springs, Moose and More in Yellowstone, Asian Elephants Have Distinct Personalities Similar to Ours, See the Natural Wonders of the World in 2021, Bryce Canyon Video: A Bright Spot in a Bleak Year, A City Park Visit Lifts Your Mood as Much as Christmas. Western Wyoming is home to the largest unnatural wildlife feedground complex in the world. Just as Wyoming politicians have been in lockstep with the coal industry in denying that carbon emissions from the burning of that fossil fuel is a major contributor to climate change, so too are its top elected officials and political appointees in expected alliance with outfitters, guides and ranchers in claiming CWD fears are overblown. In: Chapman J, Feldhamer G, Thompson B, editors. Nevertheless, with the advent of CWD, the unnatural concentration of Yellowstone elk herds might be their downfall. For one state to defy a neighbor’s desire to not want more cases of a contagious disease creeping across its border is problematic. Up to that point, a state wildlife biologist had claimed erroneously. "The Refuge can hardly provide such a sanctuary if, every winter, elk and bison are drawn by the siren song of human-provided food to what becomes, through the act of gathering, a miasmic zone of life-threatening diseases.”. The Future of Ecological Process Management. With an elk testing CWD-positive in the Jackson Elk Herd, and many of its animals wintering on the Elk Refuge, the Elk Refuge immediately started adhering to its “Disease Response Strategy” that is 19 pages long, Refuge Manager Frank Durbian told, The Elk Refuge, in response to court action brought by the environmental law firm EarthJustice and conservation groups it represents, has been actively engaged in what it calls a “step-down” plan to wean elk off alfalfa pellets and hay over a course of years. 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