Big Sky Connection - Conservation groups are recommending Wyoming phase out its artificial elk feeding grounds near Yellowstone National Park. The grounds have raised concerns about the spread of disease among the population that could spread beyond Wyoming. Comments from Clinton Nagel (NAY-gull), president, Gallatin Wildlife Association.

Click on the image for the audio. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department manages 22 elk feeding grounds in the northwest part of the state. (Wyoming Game & Fish Department)

Eric Tegethoff

Conservation groups hope artificial elk feeding grounds near Yellowstone National Park are on their last legs.

Six groups have sent recommendations to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department suggesting the agency phase out 22 state-run elk feed grounds by 2028. The groups have raised concerns that the gatherings are a breeding ground for disease, especially chronic wasting disease.

Clinton Nagel is president of Gallatin Wildlife Association in Bozeman, which helped craft the recommendations.

"What happens in the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem could very well move northward into Montana," said Nagel. "In fact, Montana already has some reports of CWD in this state."

Wyoming Game and Fish is expected to release a draft management plan for the feed grounds early next year.

The agency says they started feeding the elk to prevent die-offs during harsh winters. The department says it's also kept the elk out of ranchers' hay, preventing disease spread to cattle.

Back in 2017, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission asked Wyoming to stop feeding elk.

Nagel said the natural process should be restored, and not just for elk.

"Restore their natural feeding capability without reliance on man," said Nagel. "The natural food chain in wild lands, and that includes wolves as being part of that process as an apex predator."

Nagel said an intricate web of wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is affected by these feed grounds.

"We're just trying to bring harmony back to the local ecology," said Nagel.

The conservation groups are calling on Wyoming to begin phasing out the artificial feeding next winter.