Editor:
 
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's concern over Wyoming's elk feedgrounds is well-placed.  I and many other Wyoming citizens support his efforts to persuade Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal to phase out the feedgrounds because they enhance and exacerbate the risk of disease for wildlife as well as for livestock throughout the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, not just Wyoming. 
 
Brucellosis is the current disease of concern, but chronic wasting disease (CWD), a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy related to "mad cow disease," is marching inexorably toward the feedgrounds as well.
 
Once CWD strikes the State of Wyoming's 22 feedgrounds, on which as many as 20,000 elk are fed each winter, its most likely path into Montana will be through the Jackson Elk Herd to Yellowstone's Northern Herd.
 
There is no rational, practical, or moral argument that supports Wyoming's elk feedgrounds, which only exist west of the Continental Divide in the Upper Green River Basin, Jackson Hole, the Gros Ventre River drainage, and the Greys River drainage.  
 
Were Wyoming's elk feedgrounds private rather than government operations, they would have been shut down as disease hazards decades ago.  So why does Wyoming hang onto its elk feedgrounds, even though the feedgrounds are the reason Wyoming's livestock industry recently lost its brucellosis-free status?  Paradoxically, the reason is range politics.
 
Today, the feedgrounds serve one main purpose: to block access of otherwise migratory elk to their traditional winter ranges, mostly on public lands, where forage is "reserved" for livestock. 
 
As a consequence of this policy, Wyoming's livestock industry as a whole must bear the expensive burden of its downgraded brucellosis status, even though ranchers in three-quarters of the State have no brucellosis problem because there are no elk feedgrounds.   
 
Conservationists in Wyoming have been advocating for years a comprehensive habitat restoration program--called Restoring Wild Patterns--that would reduce the disease hazard by phasing out elk feedgrounds over time and redistributing elk across the landscape, thereby lowering the disease-enhancing high densities that now exist on the feedgrounds.  Even the Wyoming Game & Fish Department acknowledges that brucellosis will eventually "burn" itself out in elk herds when they are naturally dispersed across extensive winter range.
 
The most rational solution to wildlife disease, as it is for most conservation problems, is habitat--lots of it.  The more we treat wildlife such as elk as domestic livestock, crowding them onto feedgrounds at high densities, denying them access to habitat, we actually make the problems we want to solve much, much worse. 
 
And so good luck to Governor Schweitzer in his talks with Governor Freudenthal about the myriad dangers of elk feedgrounds. 
 
Sincerely,
Robert Hoskins
Crowheart, WY