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HYRUM — The drought has brought at least one Utah winter tradition to a halt.
Managers at Hardware Ranch in Cache Valley have canceled sleigh rides. Last year it was due to the pandemic. This year it's because of the drought and a dismal hay harvest.
The ranch grew only a fifth of the typical hay harvest this year. Farmers took priority this past season which ultimately left the folks out at Hardware Ranch with no water rights for the year, and not a lot of rain.
The sleigh rides are a tradition that started in the 1950s.
"Myself, I grew up in the Cache Valley," said Brand Hunt from the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. He knows what a big deal these elk rides can be. "Hardware Ranch was, it's a fun thing to do every year."
The ranch usually has plenty of hay out at this Wildlife Management Area, roughly 250 tons each year to draw elk into the meadow for feeding.
"We just didn't get the water we needed and every, everybody across the state is impacted by the less amount of water that was available this year," Hunt said.
That means the Division of Wildlife Resources will have to focus on the essentials for now using what hay they have to check herds for brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause elk to abort their young.
"We do that by trapping elk in our holding facility and when we have our sample size which is between 40 and 50 female," Hunt added.
While the disease has not been detected in Utah, it is in neighboring states and wildlife biologists want to keep a close watch in case it spreads to local herds.
"We can put GPS collars on elk and we can see how far do they go? How far do they migrate? Do they mingle with known herds in neighboring states that have Brucellosis?"
That means no room for sleigh rides this year. Hunt said they'll save what hay they can for next year and hope for much more snow this winter.
There will still be some elk down in the meadow. You just won't be able to get up close.
Hunt said they're also putting up some additional displays and educational programs to give people something more to look at up the canyon.