A continuing drought and disease have prompted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to cut by more than 11,000 the number of mule deer and pronghorn hunting licenses it will issue.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has decided to cut pronghorn licenses by 8,000 and mule deer tags by 3,300 at the urging of Ian Tator, the department’s terrestrial supervisor.
“That lack of soil moisture is going to limit our future shrub growth, which is a critical component of big game winter diet,” Tator said during the commission’s hunt season setting meeting last week. “If things don’t get better now, next winter we’re not going to have the shrub growth necessary to sustain those populations the way we want to.”
The department estimated the 2021 post-hunt populations at 363,200 for pronghorns and 291,700 for mule deer.
The decision was supported by the Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that while the short-term reduction in hunting opportunity was frustrating, the Game and Fish department is using its best data for tag allocation decisions.
“If the science and data show that fewer tags now will – hopefully – mean healthier pronghorn and mule deer herds in Wyoming in the long run, then it’s our responsibility as hunters to accept that – and to ideally support that decision by addressing the root causes of population declines with other conservation efforts, like habitat enhancement and protect,” the organization said in a statement.
Mule deer and pronghorn were specifically targeted with this cut due to their reliance on shrub growth, commissioners were told. Elk consume a larger range of plants, meaning they are less affected by the drought.
The spread of chronic wasting disease is also a major concern for Game and Fish staffers. CWD is a fatal disease of the central nervous system in mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose.
Pronghorn are susceptible to epizootic hemorrhagic disease, a viral disease spread by midges.
Hunting officials with the Game and Fish Department were not immediately available to comment on this story.