Other Refuge Issues

National Elk Refuge

About the Refuge

Elk at National Elk Refuge | FWS

Elk and other native wildlife were pushed off the grassy plains as settlers and their cattle moved west. The 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge was established in 1912 near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to protect dwindling elk populations. A shortage of winter grazing lands and harsh weather led refuge managers to begin feeding elk, a program that has sparked controversy.

About the Issues

Elk have been fed during winter months at National Elk Refuge since shortly after the refuge was founded. When the weather gets cold, the animals move down from higher lands and congregate in the refuge for approximately six months. Here they are fed in much the same way as cattle are on large feedlots. In the early 1900s this feeding program probably ensured the elks’ survival during harsh winters, but now it could actually lead to their demise.

Chronic wasting disease, a devastating sickness similar to mad cow disease, occurs near the refuge. If this fatal disease enters the refuge, the elk herd could be decimated. Other ailments, including brucellosis, scabies and hoof rot, have already been reported on the refuge. Ending the feedlot conditions would restore natural elk migrations and populations, ensuring the future health not only of elk, but of area livestock and the local economy.

To restore healthy populations of elk, NWRA in 2008 joined four other conservation organizations in a lawsuit seeking to stop the feeding program at the National Elk Refuge. Although we did not prevail in court, the judge’s opinion made it clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have to keep its promise to end the feeding program eventually.

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National Bison Range

About the Refuge

Bison calf at National Bison Range | FWS

When Europeans began to colonize North America, bison ruled the Great Plains, roaming in herds that numbered in the millions. By 1902, only 700 animals remained. In 1908, Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range in Montana to save this species from extinction.

Today, the bison has been rescued from near-oblivion, and the herd at the National Bison Range numbers nearly 350. Regrettably, the success of the bison range has been eclipsed recently by a dispute between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), within whose reservation the range is located. NWRA hopes that an agreement between the government and the tribes will lead to a productive relationship that will help advance the mission and purposes of the refuge.

About The Issue

Under federal law, native tribes can enter into agreements with FWS to administer programs on some refuges. The law allows for a direct, noncompetitive bidding process. CSKT previously held such a nonc0mpetitive management agreement with FWS at the National Bison Range; this agreement was cancelled in a dispute in 2006, but a new agreement was signed in 2008.

NWRA supports competitive bidding as an important way to use refuge funding wisely, and is concerned that an increasing number of noncompetitive management agreements could have a significant financial impact on the Refuge System. NWRA has developed a set of principles that we believe should guide the creation of any such agreement. As we analyze the agreement, we will develop a detailed assessment of the agreement and our principles.

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