Annual Elk Festival to be held Dec. 7
Brucellosis concerns mean a shorter elk-viewing season, though
Hyrum — Another chance to ride a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon through the middle of hundreds of wild elk is almost here.
To celebrate the start of another elk-viewing season, staff at the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area will hold the annual Elk Festival on Dec. 7. Activities will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Except for a fee to ride through the elk herd ($5 for those 9 years of age or older, or $3 for those 4 to 8 years old), all of the festival activities are free. Visitors can reach Hardware Ranch by traveling 16 miles east of Hyrum on state Route 101.
While the festival will only be one day, visitors will have the opportunity to view elk at the ranch for several months. However, just like last season, the length of time that staff feed the elk will be shorter than years past. Brucellosis, a bacterial disease that affects cattle, bison and elk, has not been detected in Utah, but Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists are concerned that elk migrating back and forth — from Utah to areas where brucellosis is found — could bring the disease into the state.
Late winter and spring is the time when elk usually transmit the disease to each other. As a precaution, feeding and elk viewing will end on Feb. 9. Ending feeding early should disperse the elk and cause them to leave the ranch early, which should reduce the chance that an elk with brucellosis passes the disease to other elk.
Elk Festival activities
In addition to riding a sleigh or wagon through the middle of the elk herd, several free activities will be offered during the Elk Festival on Dec. 7. For example, children can learn how to make Christmas ornaments using sagebrush, bitterbrush and other plants found at the WMA.
"Did you know pinecones make great bird feeders? They do, and we'll show you how to make one," Brad Hunt, the DWR employee who manages Hardware Ranch, said.
You can also learn how to call elk and then demonstrate your newly learned skills at an amateur elk-calling contest held during the last hour of the festival.
Visitors should bring some binoculars to view the elk and should dress for all types of weather.
"We'll host the event even if it snows," Hunt said.
On your way to the ranch, you can enjoy the scenic drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. Food is not available at the ranch, but you’re welcome to bring a picnic lunch and eat in the lunch area in the auxiliary building at the WMA.
Sleigh rides start Dec. 6
If you're itching to take a ride sooner than Dec. 7, visit the ranch on Dec. 6 — that's the first day that the visitor center will be open and rides through the elk herd will be offered.
The visitor center will be open and sleigh or wagon rides will run — on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only — until Feb. 9. On Fridays, rides through the herd will be offered from noon to 4:30 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, rides will be offered from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
If you'd like to spend less time in line for a sleigh ride, visit the ranch on a Sunday.
"Fewer people visit the ranch on Sundays, so you can get on a sleigh faster,” Hunt said.
If you want to go on a sleigh ride or a wagon ride, you must buy your ticket at the visitor center by 4:30 p.m.
Brucellosis in cattle, elk and bison is caused by the bacterium Brucella abortus. The disease causes abortions and low fertility rates in animals that contract it. Animals contract the disease when they come in contact with an aborted, infected fetus or contaminated birth fluids.
The farther north that elk travel, the greater the chance they'll contract brucellosis and bring it back to Utah. Brucellosis is affecting elk and bison in the Greater Yellowstone Area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And elk tagged by biologists at Hardware Ranch have been harvested by hunters as far away as Montpelier, Idaho, and Cokeville, Wyoming.
Congregating a large number of animals in one area during the high-risk period increases the risk that elk will contract the disease.
"The prevalence of brucellosis in elk wintering on feeding grounds in Wyoming is much higher than it is among elk wintering outside the feeding grounds," Jim Christensen, DWR regional assistant wildlife manager, said.
In elk, the risk for abortions is highest from February through June.
"Ending the viewing and feeding season in early February should cause the elk to disperse at exactly the time when cow elk that might have the disease start aborting their fetuses," Christensen said. "Getting the elk away from each other should greatly reduce the chance for elk to contract the disease."
In addition to affecting Utah's elk herds, brucellosis in elk would increase the risk that livestock in Utah contract the disease. Brucellosis in Utah's livestock would have significant economic consequences for livestock producers due to calf losses and restrictions on where the producers could move and sell their cattle.