February 9, 2021 – Eric Galatas, Public News Service (WY)
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming lawmakers are considering a proposal which would require a governor’s order before any of the state’s winter elk feedlots could be phased out.
Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming director for the Western Watersheds Project, said the move ignores basic science, and warned it would make it much more difficult to address the potential for permanent Chronic Wasting Disease contamination across western Wyoming.
“They’re making it much harder to solve this problem by cementing in the current status quo which was developed approximately a hundred years ago, prior to any understanding of disease-transmission issues or wildlife-management ethics,” Ratner contended.
Conservationists warned that feedlots, where large numbers of elk gather in close quarters, are potential superspreading events for the disease.
Livestock producers and outfitters have defended winter lots to keep elk away from cattle feed and maintain large herd numbers.
House Bill 101 was introduced last week by Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, who said more voices need to be heard before feedlots are phased out.
Ratner believes the new law is unnecessary because Wyoming Game and Fish already is conducting a review of feedlots, gathering input from all stakeholders.
He noted Chronic Wasting Disease spreads through prions, which, unlike bacterial and viral infections, don’t die with infected animals. Prions persist in the soil, and can be transmitted to animals through plants growing in infected areas.
“The implications of getting a prion-contaminated ecosystem, particularly the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, is certainly the largest wildlife nightmare in U.S. history,” Ratner asserted.
Ratner pointed to studies that showed there is ample natural winter forage to keep elk populations strong without feedlots, which he added could lead to the elimination of entire herds once Chronic Wasting Disease takes hold.
In December, an elk infected with Chronic Wasting Disease was identified in Jackson Hole, part of a herd that relies on nearby winter feedlots.