The NIMBY folks at Sagewillow have been well advised. The Fish and Game official was telling the truth. Eventually, a fed elk is a dead elk, and an unfed elk is a dead elk. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. We're quick to cite the truth when it serves us, quick to deny it when it does not.
Ever uncertain, I put in a call to Eric Cole at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyo.. With remarkable candor, the ranger explained they indeed feed the elk, mostly to please the tourist and hunting communities. There are too many elk in too little space, and the threat of an epidemic is ever present.
It is an unsustainable, artificial enterprise that allows for a far greater elk population (7,500) than otherwise would be the case (3,000). The only band-aid is the expansion of land trusts, easements and the unearthing of good-hearted people with deep pockets. The refuge is also an energy hog. Some 4,000 tons of alfalfa pellets have to be trucked in from southern Idaho, and then diesel-engine vehicles distribute the feed twice a week.
In the larger sense, the dilemma of the elk mirrors the predicament of humanity. Because of fossil fuels and its derivatives—irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizer—we can feed, on paper, 6.5 billion-plus people. Nature by itself can support 1.5 billion sustainably, the world's size back in the days of Lewis and Clark. When this free-lunch oil bubble bursts, as it will, technology won't be able to bail us out because it, along with all alternative energy sources, are profoundly oil dependent. There'll be hell to pay.