Elk die-off in Wyoming – 03/17/2004

  • September 30, 2013 at 3:07 am #370


    By Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News
    March 17, 2004

    Wyoming officials are testing lichens as the possible toxic plant
    that caused a mysterious die-off of 295 elk near Rawlins.

    Lichens are composite organisms combining fungi and algae.

    The particular lichens that may have been responsible for killing the
    elk during the past six weeks are called Parmelia molliuscula, which
    contain usnic acid that could be toxic, said Wyoming Game and Fish
    Department spokesman Tom Reed.

    “We don’t know if this is the cause of the die-off, but lichen was
    found in the stomachs of some elk, so we brought three elk into the
    laboratory and are feeding them the lichen now to see if it affects

    Reed said it’s believed elk have to consume 4 pounds of lichens a day
    for at least five days to be affected.

    The elk were found in a rolling sagebrush-desert area of about 50
    square miles just south of Interstate 80.

    They were down and couldn’t get back up when humans approached. The
    elk finally died after being unable to get to food or water.

    Reed said lichens are a ground plant that usually isn’t a problem
    because they are covered by other forage the elk eat. But the 3-year
    drought has killed off the forage, making it easier for the elk to
    get to the lichens.

    “We have literature that’s 50 years old saying cattle and sheep that
    eat it display similar symptoms, but caribou eat it on the tundra
    without any problems,” he said.

    There are about 4,500 elk in the affected herd, which extends from
    Hahn’s Peak northwest of Steamboat Springs in Colorado north through
    the Sierra Madres in Wyoming south of Rawlins.

    “The elk in this herd are moving south out of the area, and we have
    radio collars on three of them to see just how far they migrate,”
    Reed said.

    gerhardtg@… or 303-892-5202

    bill in boston

    • This topic was modified 9 years, 6 months ago by admin.
    • This topic was modified 9 years, 5 months ago by Mike.

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