This is just one more situation that highlights the inherent consistency between conservation and the consumptive use of wildlife. When you’re only interested in conserving wildlife in order to kill it, it’s hard to keep straight which priority is your top priority, the conserving or the killing. This is why, when you take a hard objective look at actual outcomes, hook and bullet based conservation groups have such a murky track record on real conservation.
No the real problem is the loss of winter habitat that has occurred in the Jackson Hole Valley over the last twenty years.
Twenty years ago closing the feed grounds around Jackson Hole would have been a realistic option, but not today. The summer ranges are more than plentiful to sustain the current populations of elk, but the winter ranges in the valley are not. The biggest reason for the habitat loss is the construction of “Trophy” homes from people who only visit once or twice a year.
Perhaps the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance or the Greater Yellowstone Coalition should have purchased lands as they became available and returned them to wildife habitat, rather than some of their members building houses. Just a thought!
Bogo, I am not talking about people buying up ranches and then refusing to allow wildlife use during the winter months.
Jackson Hole valley has become one big ass subdivision from the airport, south to Jackson, west to Wilson, and north to Teton Village, just so some idiot can have a wonderful view of the Tetons while visiting a couple times a year.
We also have the subdivision development south of Jackson towards that extends all the way to Hoback Junction and Snake River Canyon. Hell it would go all the way to Alpine if the Forest Service would sell the land.
The elk “winter range” in Jackson Hole has not and was in fact NEVER, EVER able to sustain today’s unnaturally large elk populations. Today’s huge elk herds in the mountains only came to pass as us “whites” drove the elk into the remotest areas. Before we become involved most elk lived out on the grass lands. today’s populations are simply NOT natural. They exist solely so hunters can “harvest” elk. After all back in them days the elk wintered in the Red Desert – not South Park.
This group brings in a few bales for one purpose only – to have more elk to kill next Fall. The second elk go on the endangered list is when they bring no more hay!
When I first started patrolling the Thorofare in 1972 there were probably 1500-2000 – 2500 elk to be seen in the fall stockpiling up on the upper Yellowstone river bottoms. One literally could not sleep at night with all the bugling going on around the Thorofare Ranger Station. By the time of my last season (2003) the numbers were down to maybe 150 in the 6 mile stretch of the Yellowstone from Thorofare to Mountain Ck.
The elk I talk of migrated south to Jackson Hole area. Yellowstone also had large migrations of elk going behind the cabin, around the Trident and then up the Thorofare and down to the South fork of the Shoshone…Cody way.
The migration of elk…and bison….historically always had them going South over Two Ocean Pass towards Jackson Hole. John Colter went this way snowshoeing.
Now, where the bison and elk ended up for winter I do not know. I would have to assume it was elk and bison families spreading out to their own individual geographic winter homes…places they went back to every winter…turf summer guarded by very mature bulls from their families during the summer. “Home” would have been all wind blown slopes available and large enough to sustain 30 to 300 animals from that family for the winter. It would have been the same system as one sees with Yellowstone’s indigenous 300 head extended family elk herd in the delta area of the SE arm of Yellowstone Lake.
I point this out above to say there were elk, and lots of them in the mountains prior to Whiteman. The Plains had a lot more elk than the Mountains, true. But the plains elk, simply put, just were eliminated. There is no way the displaced plains elk could have competed with already established Mt. acclimated and local food savvy elk.
If plains elk were “forced” into the Mt. it would have been for a very short life ….if the niche was already full.
Proof of elk being in the Mt….and in large numbers….I saw all the time in Yellowstones backcountry. I would ride the age old elk trails. To find Indian artifacts all one had to do was notice any rock ledge immediately above these trails. The hunters threw spears down from these spots 20 feet up above the trail to kill these elk. All kinds of broken tips were to be seen on the bare slopes below these trails…in hundreds of game trails like this. Tips, I’d take to Mammoth for dating….points made 1500-3000-6500—8000 years ago.
My methodology was to find the camps first (I found more Indian camps than all other camps reported for recorded Yellowstone archeological archive history) and then figure where the hunters from that camp would go from there. The color and types of stone chips in those camps would match those found on the hunter routes so one knew it wasn’t hunters on a long journey.
It was like living 3000 years ago because it was one logical path of discovery after the other. The hollowed out talus slope blinds ten feet from an ELK trail (yes an elk trail is defineable from a sheep, deer or buffalo trail), the ledge tops where hunters chipped points waiting for elk to come below, the weird scatchings on soft rock…yes, elk were in the mts. …and in large numbers before Whiteman. The Plains elk, forced out or otherwise, could not compete with these resident elk.
My assessment of the Jackson hole wintering grounds is as elk lost their infrastructure, as the males were eliminated from the families, we were left with fractured “herds” who easily stayed and congregated in high artifical food areas.
Yes, historically a majority of elk did migrate out of the Jackson and southern Yellowstone regions towards the Green River Basin with a few even making the longer trip to the Red Desert. However feedgrounds were not the contributing factor that ended this migration. Nor do they artificially hold the elk there today.
Every historical record that I have read leads to the indication that the mere presence of settlements by the whites in the mid to late 1800’s led to the fracturing of the of the migration routes. The introduction of cattle and sheep into the area along with the settlements of the upper Green River basin by far is largest contributing factors to the fracture. This was admitted in 1927 by the Commission on the Conservation of the Jackson Hole Elk.
The simple fact is the Jackson Hole and southern Yellowstone elk herds will never go back to traditional migration patterns. Not only do we still have the settlements which stopped the migration in the mid 1800’s, we also have significantly increased the fracture with the addition of “Trophy” homes, highways, and more barbed wire fences than have ever been seen. Then add in the fact that natural instinct of the historical migration routes has evolved away from the herds, and you will see the conundrum these elk face.
On last thing on this subject. There are also historical accounts and interviews completed by the National Elk Refuge before it’s conception. During the late 1800’s after the fracturing of the migration routes the Jackson Hole Valley was successfully wintering between 35-40,000 elk without feedgrounds.
It was not until the early 1900’s when cattle and sheep numbers were inflated to numbers that reduced forage for elk winter use, did we start to see conflicts between ranchers and elk that led to the conception of feedgrounds. The land in the valley was capable of supporting much higher numbers of elk in the winter than is even there now. Unfortunately we will never see it because this land has become better used for “Trophy” homes than for habitat.
Not to change the subject, but it never ceases to astound me how damn short sited these things get.
Whiners abound when-no matter how misguided their opinions may be- taht elk are vanishing from the land scape. Yet, the truth be told, the number of sportsmen who depend solely on wild elk to feed their families is minimal.
Where is this mentality for bringing bison numbers back to the number of historical signifigance? Millions? This is not an issue of environmental rightfulness…it is simply about a bucnh of egos and ignornaces being the guiding force behind a big mistake.
Interesting discussion. Considerable confusion as to what is fact and what is wishful thinking or sheer propaganda for keeping elk feedgrounds open.
1) SFW’s hay day is an extraordinary example of ignorance and stupidity. The first hay day was organized several years ago to give hay to the National Elk Refuge; the Refuge manager refused to accept it but was overruled by his boss in Denver for political reasons so the hay was accepted, but not used for feeding elk, as elk are fed alfalfa pellets on the Refuge, because feeding hay has long since been recognized as contributing to elk diseases by keeping elk on feedlines in unsanitary conditions longer than does feeding pellets.
Aside from brucellosis, the greatest disease of concern from feeding hay is necrotic stomatitis, a bacterial disease that causes infections known as “lumpy jaw” and “foot rot” in elk. Elk eating hay get cuts in their mouths or on their feet and bacteria, which occur naturally in the soil, enter to cause infections, severely incapacitating the victims.
(Feeding pellets to elk does not altogether prevent necrotic stomatitis, but it does significantly lower its incidence. Interestingly, many of the elk killed by wolves on the NER had suffered from necrotic stomatitis, primarily lumpy jaw. I’ve seen the infected jaws attached to skulls of wolf killed elk in the NER biologist’s office).
Necrotic stomatitis was a great concern to Refuge biologist Olaus Murie in the late 1930s and 1940s; his push to significantly reduce the number of elk on feed on the NER, contrary to the demands of the G&F Commission for more elk, to spread elk out and reduce the incidence of this disease was the main cause of the Red Desert trans migration experiment carried out by G&F in the 1940s that I will discuss below.
In any case, regarding Hay Day, eventually FWS biologists managed to talk the FWS bureaucrats into turning down the hay altogether as violation of the purposes of the national wildlife refuge system and the National Elk Refuge in particular. (The law creating the NER says nothing about feeding; the NER was created to provide winter range).
SFW then decided to donate hay to the Wyoming G&F Fish Department, which still uses hay on its feedgrounds, hay that is profitably provided by local ranchers. So, not only do feedgrounds benefit local ranchers by keeping elk away from range ranchers believe is devoted to cattle, but feedgrounds also provide a direct source of profit from hay sales for use by G&F on the feedgrounds. What a deal. Just another subsidy to the livestock industry.
2) There is no evidence whatsoever that Jackson Hole, with perhaps parts of southern JH and the Gros Ventre River Valley excepted, ever served as significant winter range for elk (or bison for that matter) of the Yellowstone Country prior to European settlement. It was too high and too snowed in to serve as good winter range. Instead, elk only retreated to JH after other migration routes and winter ranges were choked off.
You don’t read, for example, of Natives or fur trappers wintering in JH, except for the occasional masochistic fur trapper. Both natives and fur trappers wintered where the animals were, for example, at the base of Snake River Canyon below JH, where Pallisades Reservoir is now located, or on the Wyoming Range eastern front down toward where Evanston is now located. (See Osborne Russells’s Journal of a Trapper for more information on wintering habits of fur trappers). Natives and some trappers wintered in the Wind River Basin of course. Elk and bison certainly weren’t in JH during the winter.
Old timers have testified to numerous elk trails running out of JH up the Gros Ventre or up the Hoback to the Upper Green River Basin down to the Red and Little Colorado Deserts, into the Upper Wind River Basin (where I live, known to the Shoshone as the “valley of warm winds,” some of the best winter range in northwestern Wyoming), or down the Snake to the Snake River Plains.
The historical record is not clear, but it is likely that there are two main causes for elk being forced to winter in JH in the late 1800s and early 1900s: one) the occupation and eventual fencing (after the winter of 1886/1887) of old migration routes in the Upper Green and other river valleys coming out of the mountains by ranches and two) the deliberate slaughter of elk (bulls, cows, calves) to reduce competition with livestock as well as targeting of bulls to procure their ivory tusks for sale to jewelers (market hunting; several old timers testified that they were able to start their own ranches from the profits of selling tusks) .
As JH was generally the last area of western Wyoming to be settled, elk had nowhere else to go but JH. The last recorded migration of elk into the Red Desert was 1913, the same year the National Elk Refuge was created by Congress.
There is no good evidence about how many elk eventually retreated to/stayed in JH after their migrations out of the mountains to traditional winter ranges into the Upper Green, the Snake, and the Wind River were blocked, their social groups severely disrupted, and their overall numbers reduced. Wyo Native above talks about 35-40K elk in JH. I doubt this number, but there’s no strong evidence one way or another. The Biological Survey’s Edward Preble, in his 1911 report on JH elk, estimated 20-25K elk, and that is probably more accurate.
3) Wyo Native above states that feedgrounds do not “artificially hold elk” from migration and that “Jackson Hole and southern Yellowstone elk herds will never go back to traditional migration patterns.” Neither statement is true, but both are frequently stated Wyo G&F/SFW propaganda. Makes me wonder if Wyo Native works for G&F.
I mentioned above the Wyo G&F Commission’s Red Desert transmigration experiment of the 1940s. As a consequence of Olaus Murie’s push to reduce the number of elk wintering on the NER and in JH, the Wyoming G&F Commission, under the direction of G&F Biologist Warren Allred, in 1943 began an experiment to restore the old pre-settlement migration routes to the Red and Little Colorado Deserts of the Upper Green. Elk were captured in JH, had tags stuck in their ears for identification, trucked to both desert areas, and turned loose. (The current well known Red Desert Elk Herd, which remains in the Desert year round, originated with this experiment).
To make a long story short, the experiment succeeded, as elk began to move back and forth between the mountains and the desert and were identified by their tags. Unfortunately, they also stopped in at ranchers’ haystacks on the trip. Most of the feedgrounds now in the Upper Green date to the late 1940s and 1950s, and they were created to block the migrations that were just beginning to be restored merely because elk were getting into haystacks. Each of these feedgrounds is on the upland side of ranches. The experiment proved too successful, and G&F abandoned it in the face of rancher politics and its control over G&F. Allred quit G&F in 1950 and took a job with the FWS in New Mexico.
Nor is it true that the old migrations cannot be restored. Wyo Native implies that memory of the routes has been lost in the elk herds. However, the migrations do not depend upon memory, but upon weather and topography. Given the opportunity–that is, the closure of feedgrounds–elk would pick up the migrations again.
This was proven in 1995/1996 when G&F experimented with closing the high elevation, deep snow North Piney FG on the Wyoming Range eastern front to get elk to move down to a lower elevation, generally snow-blown Bench Corral feedground that also had good BLM winter range around it–30K acres worth of winter range. G&F ceased feeding elk on the North Piney FG and baited elk with hay down to Bench Corral. The experiment was enormously successful. Trouble is, local ranchers, especially in Cottonwood Creek, complained about the experiment–after all, they wanted that 30K acres of BLM winter range around the Bench Corral for their cattle, and G&F began moving hay back to North Piney to try and shortstop elk from moving down to Bench Corral. However, and this is where memory does kick in, elk have remembered the better snow conditions at Bench Corral and the open winter range around it, and simply blow right through North Piney FG after grabbing a hay snack and move down to Bench Corral.
As noted in the Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. 2004 report, “Summary of Elk Feedgrounds Operated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department,” page 63, “The elk have voluntarily moved to Bench Corral each year since [1995-96], which has reduced feeding costs and increased the days that the elk free range. However, it is our understanding that because of concerns expressed by some elements of the public about overgrazing and their interest in reducing livestock grazing in the area, the livestock industry has asked that both feedgrounds be operated as they were prior to 1995-96 … [However] feed seasons in recent years have been unusually short because of elk moving off North Piney and onto Bench Corral.”
In short, the North Piney FG closure experiment proves that if feedgrounds were closed, elk would continue to migrate down range as far as they go until blocked again. Elk would adapt to current conditions only if allowed to. But they aren’t because the livestock industry is determined to keep the feedgrounds open to protect “their” grass.
You are a wealth of information! Thank you for that last comment. I had only heard portions of it and most of the info was from the ranching perspective that justified the feed grounds.
I always question human interference in wildlife’s lifestyles. This is just another example of what a mistake it is to try and second guess the natural cycles of life which humans usually misunderstand and misinterpret for their own benefit. However, the joke’s on the humans because they are so short-sighted that they do this to their own detriment in the long run and they can’t see past the immediate gratification of “overlord-ness”.
Thanks. I’ve been studying the history of wildlife, elk feedgrounds, and habitat in western Wyoming for over a decade. I know what we know about these topics and I also know what we don’t know, which, unfortunately, is an awful lot.
Actually, SFW-Wyoming is a front for Wyoming’s livestock and outfitting industries, supporting commercialization and privatization of wildlife contrary to the interests of the hunters it claims to represent. It has gotten a tremendous hunter membership nonetheless from beating the anti-predator drum and also falsely claiming that closing feedgrounds is an anti-hunter plot to kill off all the elk so there’ll be no hunting. That’s rather amusing, since I myself am an elk hunter, and one could hardly expect me to support something that would stop hunting elk.
Anyway, SFW claims that there’s no winter range for elk and if feedgrounds are closed, 80% of the elk will die. Well, the fact is, and even G&F agrees, that there is adequate winter range for elk in the Upper Green and the Gros Ventre, if not in JH proper. The problem is, of course, is that that range is reserved for livestock. This means that a necessary prerequisite to closing feedgrounds is switching AUMS from livestock to elk and other wildlife.
For the record I do not work for the Game and Fish department. I am an electrical engineer and live in the Bridger Valley.
If you want to be accurate in the information you accept or state as fact, your statement of the last recorded migration occurring in 1913 is also subject to the historical record. No one knows for sure when the last migration occurred. Some accounts have it in 1905 while others have it as 1913. Neither can be verified as fact.
However it is well known that elk were wintering in the Jackson Hole valley well before either date. Whether it was 35-40k or the 20-25k that you mention really does not matter. Migration routes and numbers were being noticed and reported by Upper Green inhabitants and Jackson Hole residents well before the conception of the NER.
Fencing of the land, grazing of livestock, and human presence in the late 1800’s all contributed to the eventual wintering in the Jackson Hole Valley. This occurred before the refuge and prior to feeding.
I also am aware of the Allred led experiment in 1943. However I am not naive enough to not realize that the migration routes are even more fractured today then they were in 1943. The number of homes, roads and fences have increased ten fold in the Jackson Hole Valley, through the Hoback and into the Upper Green. Even the development in the upper Wind River Valley where you live has significantly increased the fracturing of historic migration routes. Look at Dubois now compared to twenty years ago.
All of this fracturing of migration routes by homes, roads, fencing, and grazing and we have yet to discuss the Clinton administration’s assault on Wyoming with the approval of leasing the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Field.
Pay attention. I said the last recorded migration was 1913. It’s a fact that it was recorded. Whether it is indeed the last migration, who knows? By saying recorded, I was acknowledging that. I do know that elk began migrating back into the Upper Wind from JH during the deadly 1919/20 winter. However, above I was talking about the Upper Green.
Actually, elk migrations are pretty much complete in the Dubois area; the Dunoir segment of the Wiggins Fork Herd summers on the Buffalo Plateau with Jackson elk, migrates through the Dunoir in fall and spring along the Ramshorn Front to and from Spring Mountain north of Dubois.
You want to support feedgrounds, that’s your business. But you’re going to look awful foolish when CWD hits the feedgrounds. What do you propose doing then?
Has CWD spread in areas of Wyoming and Colorado without feedgrounds present?
Have brucellosis rates increased in elk herds in Wyoming that do not visit feedgrounds?
You are also making the assumption that I am for ALL feedrounds, when I am not. I would love to see every feedground in the Green River basin closed, as there is sufficient winter range to support the numbers of elk who frequent these areas from the Wyoming and Wind River Ranges. Case in point the North Piney case you earlier referenced.
However I fully do support the Jackson area feedgrounds because even with the threat of disease (which is still occurring in herds not using feedgrounds), because of different circumstances surrounding this area.
I suggest that folks who think that elk do not naturally congregate in large herds in close quarters with wolves present, take a drive from Kemmerer to Cokeville, or from my home in the Bridger Valley to Manila UT.
Just yesterday I was in Nugget Canyon up through Rock Creek (all BLM) and counted over 1500 elk. If I did not know any better I would have thought these elk were on a feedground as close as they were to each other.
I suggest that folks who think that elk do not naturally congregate in large herds in close quarters with wolves present, take a drive from Kemmerer to Cokeville, or from my home in the Bridger Valley to Manila UT.
That is going against what people in Idaho seem to be saying about no elk being around. Interesting.