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The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA, is recognized globally as a model for land and wildlife conservation, management, and policy. A major policy problem in the region is the highly contentious winter feeding of elk (Cervus elaphus) on 23 government feed grounds in western Wyoming through cooperative management under several state and federal agencies. Numerous non-governmental groups and concerned citizens are also affected by elk management or seek to contribute to management policies. The long-term controversy shows that this issue centers on how management and policy should be made and who should be involved in decision-making-the constitutive policy process. This paper examines and appraises the constitutive process in this case, including how competency, authority, and control are allocated. It also looks at how institutions, analytic techniques, procedures, and people are structured, selected, and included or excluded in decision-making processes. Our data come from a multi-method approach over the past decade, including participant-observation, historical literature, interviews, media analysis, and technical reports. Our analysis shows that institutional dynamics severely constrain the scope of deliberations, the production of practical problem definitions, and the search for improvements in elk management. We recommend that participants focus on the constitutive level of policy making, i.e., the underlying structure and functioning of policy processes, learn how these elements function and affect processes and outcomes, and learn to configure them in ways that embody democratic principles, serve common interests, and resolve policy problems.