The National Elk Refuge in Jackson has completed their annual classification count. For the second year in a row more than 8,000 wintering elk were counted, well over the refuge’s 5,000 elk goal.
That goal comes from the refuge’s 15 year management plan which began in 2007. The plan outlines sustainable elk and bison populations for habitat conservation and disease management in the Jackson area. The refuge has been trying to reduce the animal’s reliance on winter feeding at the refuge.
Lori Iverson is with the Refuge’s Education and visitor services and says while cutting feed to thin the herd seems simple, any action would have far reaching effects.
“If we were to reduce supplemental feeding tomorrow, it would have impacts throughout the valley. Not only would we see more natural die-off, but we would also see more encroachment onto area ranches, private property," says Iverson. "There’s a trickle effect of what would happen. I don’t know if there would necessarily be a very quick die off but there would be a lot of ramifications.”
Iverson also says hunting has been the main tool so far to thin both bison and elk.