Drone causes 1,500 elk to charge in Wyoming snow
Wildlife refuge officials say a man with a drone caused 1,500 elk to stampede half a mile.
The stampede happened Monday at the National Elk Refuge in western Wyoming. Elk and bison often congregate at the refuge to eat feed put out to help them survive the winter.
According to a report from the AP, this winter has been especially harsh. More than 3 feet of snow has piled up, conditions that can be very stressful for all kinds of animals.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer ticketed the pilot for disturbance of wildlife.
“It’s a crucial time of year for those animals and they don’t need to be burning up additional energy stores unnecessarily,” said Doug Brimeyer, deputy wildlife division chief at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Refuge spokeswoman Lori Iverson said Thursday refuge officials gave the man from Washington, D.C., a $280 ticket after he launched the drone from a highway pullout and flew it over the resting elk herd. Refuge officials declined to identify him.
“He felt really bad,” Iverson told the paper. “He was just unaware of the regulations.”
“There are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities for people on the National Elk Refuge during the winter,” Dippel said. “We ask people to do use caution and good wildlife ethics while viewing and photographing animals.”
Human disturbance can stress wildlife and make it more difficult for animals to survive the long winter, Deputy Refuge Manager Cris Dippel said in the release.
At the refuge, wildlife managers put out alfalfa pellets and other feed to help elk and bison survive the winter, a practice environmentalists worry could encourage disease.
Chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease that causes elk and deer to lose weight and eventually die, has been slowly spreading into western Wyoming over the years.
“The concern is if it is found on those feedgrounds, it could be exacerbated by the elk concentrated in those areas,” said Chris Colligan with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “It’s slowly creeping toward our fed elk populations.”
The state operates 22 other elk feedgrounds in western Wyoming. They serve to keep elk numbers up not just for the animals’ sake but for the benefit of hunters and the millions of tourists who flock to the region every summer.
“Anything we can do to afford those animals an edge to help them survive is pretty critical,” said Brimeyer.