- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Wildlife managers at the National Elk Refuge expect to start supplemental feeding of thousands of wintering elk as soon as this weekend to keep the animals from raiding hay on nearby ranches.

The move would be early for the feeding season, which typically has started on Jan. 25 over the last decade.

Fifty to 100 elk were seen leaving the refuge north of Jackson in recent days because of deep snow, refuge biologist Eric Cole told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/2hWDoAR ).

Tracking of the radio-collared animals indicates that a majority of the herd has arrived on the 24,700-acre refuge run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Cole estimated there was about 6,000 elk, above average for this point in the winter.

Managers consider the availability of forage, snow conditions, elk movements and other factors before beginning to feed alfalfa to the herd.

Given the snowpack on the refuge - a foot deep Wednesday, some 5 inches more than average - Cole said he was not surprised by the early start date.

Supplemental feeding has started as early as Jan. 5 in the 2010-11 winter and Dec. 31 in 2003-04. The feeding period typically runs for around 70 days.

The early start this year means bison hunting on the refuge will have to end four days early. The hunt was scheduled to end Tuesday but is now set to close Friday.

About 260 bison have been killed so far, which is expected to slightly reduce the population, estimated at 800 going into the hunt.

“We recognize that this will impact some hunters who have not yet harvested an animal, and we apologize for the inconvenience,” Brad Hovinga, Wyoming Game and Fish’s Jackson Region wildlife supervisor, said in a statement.

Some hunters may get refunded fees.

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Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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