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Jackson - National Elk Refuge

675 East Broadway

As development grew at the turn of the 20th century, migratory routes changed. Livestock competed with elk for natural grasses, and elk often raided ranchers' haystacks. These changes and a series of harsh winters led to the starvation of thousands of elk. The community of Jackson grew concerned the elk herd would not survive without human intervention.

In 1910, Stephen Leek attracted national attention by his writings, photographs and lectures about starving elk in the Jackson area. That same year, the Wyoming Legislature appropriated $5,000 for Leek to feed hay on his property south of the town of Jackson to purchase all available hay from local ranchers.

The following year, the Wyoming Legislature asked the U.S. Congress to cooperate with the State of Wyoming in feeding, protecting and preserving big game. Congress responded by appropriating $20,000 to feed, restock, and investigate the elk situation.

In 1911, Edward A. Preble of the U.S. Biological Survey was sent to the area to conduct a thorough study of Jackson Elk Herd. Preble's reported, entitled Report on Condition of Elk in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1911 contained suggestions for a winter refuge for elk. In that document, he stated, "The establishment of a winter refuge, where the food can be preserved by excluding stock during the summer, is essential for the proper protection of elk." He stated later in the report, "The Biological Survey looks on the establishment of one or more winter refuges as the best solution of the problem of properly caring for the elk in the winter. . .  It is earnestly recommended that at least one winter refuge for elk be established."
Establishing Authority

The National Elk Refuge was established by various Acts of Congress, executive orders, and other documents to provide, preserve, restore, and manage lands for wintering elk, birds, and other big game animals. The main Act of Congress on August 10, 1912 set aside lands "for the establishment of a winter game (elk) reserve in the State of Wyoming, lying south of the Yellowstone Park . . ."

A few of the significant documents and dates in the Refuge's history include:

August 10, 1912 - Act of Congress, Ch. 284, 37, Stat.293: Establishment of a winter elk reserve

March 4, 1913 - Act of Congress, Ch. 145, 37 Stat.847: Establishment and maintenance of winter elk refuge.

July 25, 1940 - Presidential Proclamation 2416: Changed the name from Elk Refuge to National Elk Refuge


Octavia Felis

Saturday, March 24, 2018
Great opportunity for wildlife viewing. If you don't have a spotting scope, you can usually find a nice group who will let you take a peek through theirs. It's very much WILD... We got to observe a cougar feasting on an elk she had taken down. There's warnings about the sheep coming down to lick the salt off the cars in winter, but they all stayed on the ridge while we were there.

Chris Saccardi

Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018
A beautiful undisturbed area closed off to almost all human activity to protect the elk. One of the only ways to access the area is by sleigh rides, which is a lot of fun. When we went, there wasn't much snow so we took a horse-drawn wagon with an excellent driver who had a lot of interesting information about the area and the Elk. We went very close to the elk and took some great photos. Bring warm clothes, the wind is intense!

Mathew Burnham

Sunday, March 18, 2018
Lots of great History to learn here. The Sliegh ride was a lot of fun, and our tour guide was very informative and entertaining. Would recommend for anyone who has a free afternoon, and not to mention a great photography opportunity.

Nate Chertack

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018
So cool to see hundreds of elk chilling right by the road (went in February). Did not take a sleigh ride, just took pictures from the pull-off near the fence. It's awesome to see these animals pretty close-up.

stephanie secor

Monday, Feb. 19, 2018
A must-see when visiting Jackson. You can enter the Preserve and drive along the edge for free. There you will see bighorn sheep along the side of the road, as well as the elk from a distance. For an up-close-and-personal view of the elk, take the sleigh ride (on wheels when the snow cover is low) through the Preserve. Pick-up is at the Jackson Hole and Yellowstone Visitor’s Center. A shuttle bus takes you on a short ride to the Preserve entrance, where you are met by staff who hand you blankets and load you onto a sleigh/wagon drawn by beautiful draft horses (ours were Percherons, and they were gorgeous and huge!). The ride takes you out into the Preserve with a knowledgeable guide who explains all about the elks’ life stages, migration patterns, behavior, etc. It lasts about an hour, and you get very close to the herds. Cost is $15 for adults. Call for reservations. Insider tips: Go in the mid to late afternoon when the elk are active, and you will see lots of males “sparring” for fun. Earlier in the day, they tend to hunker down. Also, be sure to dress warm (hat, gloves, scarves and layers) because it gets really cold out in the wind on the Preserve.

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