Traditional veterinary practices (vaccination, test-and-slaughter) have thus far been unable to control this disease in elk, which can spill over to cattle. Current disease-reduction efforts are being guided by ecological research on elk movement and density, reproduction, stress, co-infections and scavengers. Given the right tools, feedgrounds could provide opportunities for adaptive management of brucellosis through regular animal testing and population-level manipulations. Our analyses of several such manipulations highlight the value of a research-management partnership guided by hypothesis testing, despite the constraints of the sociopolitical environment. However, brucellosis is now spreading in unfed elk herds, while other diseases (e.g. chronic wasting disease) are of increasing concern at feedgrounds. Therefore experimental closures of feedgrounds, reduced feeding and lower elk populations merit consideration.This article is part of the theme issue 'Anthropogenic resource subsidies and host-parasite dynamics in wildlife'.