The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) can intervene as a matter of right in a lawsuit over the future of western Wyoming's elk feedgrounds, says U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson. He ruled last Friday that Wyoming ranchers have a "substantial economic and private property interest" in preserving the state's system of elk feedgrounds. The decision allows the group to participate in a lawsuit filed last February by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, on behalf of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

A Casper Star-Tribune article says conservationists want Wyoming's elk feedgrounds phased out because they unnaturally concentrate animals and increase the spread of disease. Supporters of the nearly century-old feedgrounds program say they're needed to support northwest Wyoming's historical elk populations due to loss of habitat from human development, and to keep elk from mingling with cattle on ranchers' feedgrounds. The lawsuit also targets facilities built to capture elk at the Muddy Creek feedground in Sublette County as part of a program to test the animals for brucellosis and kill those testing positive.

WSGA executive vice president Jim Magagna says his organization was excited about the decision and noted Johnson's statement recognizing the interest of the cattle industry in elk management in Wyoming. "That's the reason we sought intervention," Magagna says, adding his goal is to ensure the economic and property interests of cattle producers are protected.

Johnson's decision points to disease transmission issues and the significance to the cattle industry. He wrote: "The possibility of increased disease transmission rises with increased feedline intermingling between elk and cattle. Such a result poses a grave threat to the sustainability, productivity and marketability of cattle in western Wyoming."
--Clint Peck