As a result of drought impacts, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has announced sleigh rides among elk at the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area would be cancelled this winter season.
According to a statement released last Thursday, drought conditions over the spring and summer contributed to very low hay production for Hardware Ranch and there simply isn’t enough hay to facilitate sleigh rides.
After only 50 tons of hay was produced for winter use, according to the statement, Hardware Ranch was 230 tons shy of the amount required to feed elk and horses over a 10-week sleigh ride season. And though additional hay was purchased, it still wasn’t enough.
“Rather than offer sleigh rides for a few weeks — and then have to end them abruptly — we’ve decided to not offer sleigh rides this year,” wrote Hardware WMA Manager Brad Hunt in the statement. “Part of the hay that would have been used to bring elk onto the meadow where the sleigh rides are typically held will instead be used to get elk into the WMA’s trapping facility to do essential disease testing.”
A disease called brucellosis that causes cow elk to abort their young has been detected in Wyoming and Idaho, according to the statement, and the available hay supplies will be used to lure elk into a “massive trapping and disease testing program” this winter. Hay stores will also be used to keep elk away from the hay supplies of nearby ranchers.
This winter, 50 tracking collars are intended to be placed on calf elk to help biologists monitor contact with elk from brucellosis positive areas, and at least 40 additional cow elk will be trapped for health checks and brucellosis test. The testing program is not likely to continue at the same scale next winter, according to the statement.
“Not needing to trap as many elk next winter should free up a bunch of hay that we can use next year to bring elk onto the meadow where the sleigh rides are held,” Hunt said in the statement.
“We hope to be able to offer sleigh rides again in the winter of 2022-23. If we get enough snow and rain over the next few months, hay production should be good, and we should be able to offer sleigh rides again in the future.”
In addition to the sleigh ride cancellation, the name of the wildlife management area would be shortened to “Hardware WMA.”
“Hardware is one of Cache County’s greatest treasures,” Hunt said in the statement. “Changing its name to the Hardware WMA is a subtle change but one we hope will help people better understand and appreciate all the WMA has to offer.”
Hardware WMA is open all year, save specific areas closed to protect wildlife and habitat, and encompasses more than 14,000 acres, according to the statement. From Dec. 10 through Feb. 13, the remodeled education center, formerly known as the visitor center, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.