National Elk Refuge works to lower size of herd

National Elk Refuge supplemental elk feeding

The National Elk Refuge has just reported on the progress in their efforts to reduce reliance on supplemental elk feeding operations during the winter.
The Elk Refuge in 2019 began a step-down elk management plan to reduce the number of elk wintering on refuge from the current 7,500 elk to about 5,000 and reduce reliance on supplemental feeding.
Eric K. Cole, the Senior wildlife biologist on the National Elk Refuge explained that reducing feed season length is the main strategy to achieve these goals.
Cole noted that the carrying capacity of the refuge is about 5,000 elk and 500 bison during an average winter without supplemental food’
If the plan is successful and a decrease in the population were accomplished, feeding would only be needed in severe winters.
So far, a review of the plan to date shows that even though they created a 22% reduction in feed season length, the numbers of elk using refuge is did not go down.
More shortening of feeding season over several more years will likely be needed to see if the program is successful.
Refuge managers caution however, the approach could increase winter-killed elk, and could increase the likelihood that elk will leave the Refuge and enter the town of Jackson and other private land.
Cole said they will continue to closely monitor elk and bison populations.