Wyoming Game and Fish Department game wardens Dave Hays and Andy Roosa responded to a call on March 8th about seven dead elk, east of Steamboat Mountain, in the Great Divide Basin of the Red Desert. After arriving at the scene, the game wardens inspected the elk carcasses, which appear to have died sometime between November and January.

During the winters of 2004 and 2008 combined, more than 500 elk died from lichen toxicosis in the Red Rim area. While the number of affected elk has not been anywhere near that high this year, Green River Region and Lander Region personnel have responded to a number of reports of paralyzed elk in the Red Desert this winter.

Tumbleweed shield lichen is common in sagebrush habitats across the western U.S. The lichen causes long term and lasting muscle paralysis in affected elk, which appear alert, but are unable to stand. Lichen toxicosis itself is not deadly to elk, rather they likely succumb to predation, dehydration or starvation, as a result of being unable to move. Game and Fish personnel do not believe that these deaths are occurring at a level which will have any significant impact on the population of this elk herd.

The Wyoming Game and Fish are asking the public to report any elk carcasses or elk that appear to be sick or unable to stand. Please use caution and do not approach live elk or handle carcasses. If you do observe any elk carcasses or elk exhibiting abnormal behavior or have any questions, please call the Wyoming Game and Fish Stop Poaching Hotline at 1-877-943-3847.