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wildlife

National Park Service Removes 7 Rotting Bison From Pond So Other Animals Can Have Lunch

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Although thousands of pounds of rotting meat coming from drowned bison may not sound like the most appetizing of meals for humans, it’s a gourmet dining experience for bear, wolves, and other carnivores.

Warmer temperatures in Yellowstone unearthed the bodies of seven bison which were unable to make their way out of a frozen pond during the winter.

The National Park Service last Friday dragged the thawing animals from the pond into a special “Bear Management Area,” where animals could enjoy a free meal.

Wildlife videographer Rob Harwood captured the excavation, noting that the practice isn’t uncommon in this particular area because the pond is close to a road.

“Moving the food source further away from the road allows the bears, wolves, and other scavengers to get their meal without the chaos of crowds of onlookers,” Harwood said.

He did wonder, however, why seven bison were moved when only four of them were next to the road.

“Removing the other 3 carcasses seemed a bit absurd,” Harwood said. “I usually have NPS’s back when they make wildlife management decisions because I know they have an impossible job, but I’m having a hard time seeing the sense in this one. Disappointing, for sure.”

The Park Service did not answer a direct question from Cowboy State Daily about the additional three bison choosing to answer instead in generalities.

“Last week, several such carcasses appeared in close proximity to the road and they were moved to different locations for traffic and visitor safety reasons. In this area, there are few turnouts for parking and limited visibility around curves in the road,” Public Information Officer Linda Veress said.

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Game and Fish Unveils New Habitat Mapping Project

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department quietly unveiled a new online mapping project last month, identifying and explaining every priority habitat issue in the state. While the news may have gone unnoticed by most, the monumental effort will make researching Wyoming’s most important conservation issues a breeze.

The project took about 18 months to complete, but sets the department up to quickly update future statewide habitat plans in a way that is much more inviting to the general public. Moving the data to online maps was the brainchild of Geographic Information System Analyst Erica Cirigliano.

The data was always available, Cirigliano said, but never in such a streamlined way. “It’s an effort to get the public engaged with this plan, through the map, and showcases all this hard work that gets done,” she said.

Each habitat identified, both land and water, represents where and why some habitats are considered priorities, showing significant habitat issues the department intends to work with partners and landowners to address by regional terrestrial and aquatic habitat, fisheries and wildlife biologists and game wardens. Other agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service were included in the project. Even non-governmental groups such as Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever have added information to the data set.

The plan is based on what land managers call a “holistic approach” to habitat management, according to a recent press release. That means the plan integrates management and various land uses through collaborative efforts with the general public, conservation partners, private landowners and land management agencies.

“In the past, our ability to transparently convey habitat priority areas was constrained and confined to PDFs hidden on the website. These new online maps suddenly make it easier for the public to see and hopefully understand what we’ve been doing all along,” said Paul Dey, chair of the agency’s Habitat and Technical Advisory Group.

The Statewide Habitat Plan outlines the department’s habitat work for the next five years and prioritizes conserving critical habitat, restoring habitat and enhancing connectivity.

“Quality habitat is essential to ensure a future of healthy and abundant wildlife and fish populations in Wyoming,” said John Kennedy, Game and Fish deputy director of internal operations. He called the plan “a single, unified roadmap for Game and Fish to prioritize projects that improve habitats across Wyoming.”

A harder sell

The new system simply combines volumes of important habitat data and boils it down in a fun-to-use way on the online map, with all the reports available with a click of your mouse. Habitat is the starting point for most wildlife conservation efforts. If there’s no place for the species to be, how can they be conserved? But it’s much harder to pitch the protection of habitat versus individual species — such as grizzly bears, black-footed ferrets or sage grouse.

“Making a case to the public for habitat conservation can be incredibly difficult. Mainly, I think, because there are so many complexities,” said Alan Rogers, communications director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Consider the sagebrush ecosystem — millions of acres, hundreds of plant and animal species, being impacted by everything from invasive grasses to wildfire to industrial development. Animals are easier for people to understand, or assume we understand, and our response to them is very emotional.”

People naturally form connections to animals, either to individuals like a family pet or charismatic wild species like eagles or moose. “Wildlife are loaded with symbolism. We see certain species as ‘good’ or ‘noble’ and worthy of our respect and protection,” Rogers said. 

Wildlife is also easy to quantify. Scientists and conservation advocates can effectively communicate this information to the public, which can plainly see if a population is in decline or on the rise, because those numbers are tracked over time and simple to understand. 

“Experience tells the public that if a population is shrinking, something is wrong and it’s probably our fault,” Rogers said.

Habitat, on the other hand, is not so simple.

“It sprawls across state lines, land management jurisdictions, private agricultural lands, areas developed for oil and gas, timber or mining, and even people’s backyards,” he said.

It’s more than just “wilderness,” Rogers added. Compared to more tangible values like economic development, recreation or private property rights, or the wildlife, “habitat can feel very abstract.” 

It also creates the potential for all kinds of disagreements about how the land should be managed.

“The kind of compromise needed to protect habitat isn’t always easy when all the stakeholder groups have their own interests to consider,” Rogers said. “It can be done, and Wyoming has its own history of successes, but it requires strong leadership and usually a lot of time.”

New science, especially tracking collar data, is helping to outline species’ range more definitively and provide a more visual and easier-to-understand representation of just what habitat is. Recent efforts to map big game migration corridors are a prime example.

“I think the reason we’re seeing so much public interest and involvement in corridor protections is because scientists were able to create such great graphic representations of exactly where these herds are spending their time,” Rogers said.

And that is the dream of Dey and Cirigliano: to map out the five-year plan in a way that will help everyone understand the importance of habitat and the fight to protect Wyoming’s natural resources.

“Putting all these priority areas into the online database was a heavy lift for folks. But I think the extra effort this time around will save us work next time and really has the benefit of centralizing everything so that everybody can review it and communicate about it easily internally,” Cirigliano said.

Interactive data

The public can interact, easily researching the data they’re interested in.

“They can’t tailor a static map to their own interests. But with an interactive map, they can really filter information out and look around the state,” Cirigliano said. “All the maps are right there in front of them in one place, that just gives them a lot more data a lot quicker. And I think that will be much more interesting to them.”

For the first time, the plan includes the latest-available science on recent and predicted climate changes. The plan considers the consequences of potential changes for aquatic and terrestrial habitat management in Wyoming.

This revision also incorporates recent information on species distributions and seasonal habitat delineations, updates and improves priority areas, clarifies how proposed habitat projects will be ranked and provides a suite of habitat actions to be pursued over the next five years.

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Dead Coyotes Found Near Afton Were Shot, Not Poisoned

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An investigation into the death of several coyotes near Afton has revealed they were shot, not poisoned as initially believed, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced this week.

On March 30, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Jackson office received a report of several dead coyotes found along Wyoming Highway 89, about 23 miles south of Afton, according to a report from the department.

The person reporting the bodies also reported seeing a cooler with packages of processed meat and other body parts at the scene, raising suspicions the coyotes might have been poisoned.

However, the department found no evidence of wildlife violations during its investigation.

A Game and Fish Department law enforcement officer investigated the scene the same day the report was received, but did not find evidence to suggest the coyotes died of poisoning, the departement said.

The coyote carcasses were in varying stages of decomposition, with some obviously having died well before the cooler with meat appeared at the site.

Seven coyote carcasses were intact enough to allow a necropsy and all had gunshot wounds, indicating that was the cause of death, the department said. One bullet and fragments of another bullet were recovered from the carcasses.

Additionally, although evidence of scavengers was documented at the site, an inspection of the area found no dead birds or other wildlife as would be typical of a poisoning incident.

This spot where the carcasses were has long been a popular site for the disposal of animal carcasses.

Under Wyoming state law, coyotes are classified as a predatory animal, and as such, there is no established hunting season or license requirement for the animals.

The Game and Fish Department encourages anyone with information regarding a possible wildlife crime to call their local Game and Fish office or game warden.

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Grand Teton National Park Euthanizes Fox After Reports of Human Feeding

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grand Teton National Park officials have euthanized a fox involved in an incident in which a photography crew was accused of feeding wildlife in the park.

The fox had been targeted to be euthanized some months ago, but was captured after the wildlife feeding allegation which is now being investigated by the park.

“The investigation is ongoing, no updates at this time,” park spokeswoman Denise Germann told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

According to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, a photography crew led by British fine art photographer David Yarrow was spotted allegedly feeding foxes in the Colter Bay area of the park. Feeding park wildlife is illegal.

Yarrow denied the allegations, saying that the crew might have thrown snow near the foxes, but they weren’t feeding the animals. He said he was at Jackson Lake for an unrelated photo shoot and the appearance of the foxes was a coincidence.

“The last thing on my mind was to photograph a fox,” Yarrow told the paper. “It’s not what I’m interested in.”

A petition to ban Yarrow from all national parks began circulating through social media this week, gaining a little more than 2,400 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

A fox was euthanized earlier this week following the Yarrow incident.

Germann said that the fox was already “highly food-conditioned and habituated,” but had been involved with the photography crew incident.

“This fox has been involved in several incidents over the last year and was identified to be euthanized,” she said.

According to the newspaper, the red fox was a research animal known as 15M that had worn a tracking collar since 2018 and had a blue tag on its left ear and a green one on its right ear.

Fox 15M ate normal foods like ground squirrels and stayed out of trouble the first couple years it was on biologists’ radar but became dangerously habituated to people last summer, park officials said.

There had been plans to euthanize the fox since last summer, but he proved elusive until this week.

Feeding park wildlife could lead to the death of an animal or injury to park visitors.

Park visitors are reminded to maintain a minimum viewing distance of 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from wolves and bears.   

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National Elk Refuge Begins Feeding 7,000 Elk

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Bull and cow elk in a meadow, ALT=Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment in elk and cattle
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By Tom Ninneman, Cowboy State Daily

The National Elk Refuge has begun this year’s feeding of the estimate 7,000 elk on the refuge. 

Refuge supplemental elk and bison feeding was initiated on Wednesday based on the amount of natural forage available at the refuge.  

When average available forage declines to 300 pounds per acre, supplemental feeding is typically recommended to begin. On Feb. 1, average available forage had declined to 263 pounds per acre. 

The decision to initiate feeding each season is a collaborative process between the National Elk Refuge and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

This year forage production was slightly below average due to low rainfall in May and June, but until now, snow-pack depth on southern refuge has been below average as well.  

The net effect of these factors was that 2021 feeding was initiated one week later than the long-term average start date of Jan. 26.   

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Wyoming Conservation License Plate Sales Generate $300K

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming raised more than $300,000 in 2020 through the sale of state conservation license plates.

The money will be invested in projects that improve Wyoming’s roadways and reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife, Gov. Mark Gordon announced.

“Thank you to the thousands of people, businesses and organizations who purchased the Wyoming Conservation License Plate and helped fulfill this challenge,” Gordon said. “We share the roads in Wyoming with our abundant wildlife, and the funds generated from the sales of the plate serves as a basis for projects that can prevent crashes with over 6,000 big game annually.”

The Wyoming conservation license plate is a permanent specialty plate option for drivers and is available for $180 with an annual $50 retention fee, in addition to regular registration fees.

The funds, along with other donations, will be used to support wildlife crossing initiative projects throughout the state. Planning and research for these projects is led by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming Department of Transportation.

Currently, there is a list of 240 projects throughout the state aimed at improving roadway safety.

Gordon extended his appreciation to the 44 Wyoming businesses that helped with the sale of the plates by joining a challenge in which they would offer discounts to drivers of vehicles displaying the conservation plates. Other companies were honored for equipping their entire vehicle fleets with the conservation license plates.

“Many businesses and organizations took the extra step to outfit their vehicle fleets with this plate and show their dedication to this cause, and I am very appreciative of those efforts as well,” Gordon said.

In August, there had been 15 vehicle/wildlife collisions, resulting in 19 injuries but no fatalities.

When it comes to a vehicle crashing into an animal in Wyoming, injuries are more likely than a fatality, according to the data provided. The highest number of fatalities resulting from such crashes was three in 2015.

A 10-year chart tracked what type of animals are involved in crashes on Wyoming highways, with deer being named the winner by a landslide. From 2009 to 2019, there were 23,058 collisions involving deer.

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Chronic Wasting Disease Found In Grand Teton Elk

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Bull and cow elk in a meadow, ALT=Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment in elk and cattle
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An elk in Grand Teton National Park has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently announced.

The cow elk was harvested by a participant in the park’s elk reduction program and tissue samples were collected as part of the park’s mandatory testing program.

This is the first elk to test positive for CWD both in northwest Wyoming and in close proximity to elk feeding grounds.

There have been no cases of CWD in humans and no strong evidence that people can contract the disease. However, experimental studies raise the concern that CWD may pose a risk to humans and suggest as a result it is important to prevent human exposure.

Therefore, the Game and Fish Department and the National Park Service are adhering to the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization that hunters not consume any animal that is obviously ill or tests positive for CWD.   
 
Wildlife managers said that while the positive test in an elk raises concern, the positive test result doesn’t come as a surprise based on the steady progression of the disease westward across the state and the positive result of CWD in a mule deer in the park in the fall of 2018.

Mule deer have also tested positive for CWD in Star Valley in 2016, in the Pinedale area in 2017 and in the Wyoming Range in 2020.
 
Intensive CWD surveillance of the Jackson elk herd has been ongoing since 2009.

Over 4,500 CWD samples have been collected and tested for the entire Jackson elk herd with more than 1,400 samples collected through the park’s elk reduction program alone. This is the first elk to test positive.

The positive test result for an elk in northwest Wyoming came as Game and Fish and partnering federal agencies recently began a public collaborative effort to discuss the future management of elk feedgrounds in Wyoming.

While Game and Fish is actively accepting public comment on state-managed elk feedgrounds through this public process, there is no plan to close any feedgrounds.

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Sheridan Game Warden Commended For Saving Two Moose in Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game Wardens Association on Wednesday commended Sheridan Game Warden Ryan Kenneda for saving two moose during separate events this fall.

The organization praised its Sheridan colleague for rescuing a cow moose stuck in a fence on state land between Murphy Gulch and Interstate 90 while she was on patrol back in October.

The moose attempted to cross the fence, but had gotten three of its legs tangled in the fencing. Kenneda removed the wires from the moose’s legs and after a short recovery time, the moose was able to stand and move on its own.

The moose has been seen in the area with its calf and appears to have suffered no lasting injuries.

Just a few days later, Kenneda got to assist with another moose call when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was alerted by a hunter about a young bull moose in Bighorn National Forest that appeared to have been shot or injured.

When personnel found the moose, it was alert, but wedged between two tree saplings and unable to stand.

“From what we could tell, as the moose walked between two large saplings, it lost its footing and fell onto its right side,” said Kenneda. “As it fell, its two right legs slid under a fallen tree where there was about eight inches of clearance. All the legs were mobile, but could not get traction to allow the animal to get to its feet.”

Kenneda, Sheridan Wildlife Biologist Tim Thomas, Sheridan Fisheries Supervisor Paul Mavrakis and Fisheries Technician Nathan Jaksha removed the obstructions, checked for injuries and were able to get the animal into a kneeling position.

When Jaksha checked on the animal two hours later, it had recovered and left the area.

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‘Threatened’ Status For Tree Concerning, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is expressing concern about a federal proposal to list a tree in Wyoming as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

While the listing of the whitebark pine would not impose any restrictions on activities on private property in Wyoming, the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek the “threatened” status for the tree is worrisome, Gordon said in a news release Wednesday.

“Any listing under the ESA is concerning,” he said. “Wyoming always seeks to avoid the need for listing and will remain committed to working with our federal partners to approach species conversation in a pragmatic manner.”

The whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree, is threatened by a fungal disease called white pine blister rust. The Fish and Wildlife Service did not find that any human activities are a threat to the tree.

The proposed “threatened” listing would not restrict activities such as grazing and logging and does not propose any critical habitat designations, Gordon said.

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Wyoming Game Wardens Report An Increased Number Of Deer Hit On The Highway

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Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens from Lander, Riverton, and Dubois report receiving an increased number of calls recently to assist with animals being hit by vehicles.

These areas have consistently seen large losses of big game animals and increased wildlife collisions in the fall.

Every fall, big game animals leave their higher elevation summer and fall ranges for traditional lower elevation wintering areas and their migration routes and winter ranges often put them into conflict with motorists.

Many migration routes for big game animals often lead them alongside and across highways.

In addition, big game animals are often drawn to areas along roadways to seek better forage that results from road runoff moisture, and areas recently seeded after construction.

Motorists are urged to be on the lookout at all times as animals may be on the move, but it is the dusk to dawn period when animals are most active.

“It is that time of year again when deer are moving around and bucks are in the rut. Big game animals are paying less attention to vehicle traffic and more attention to their biology,” Lander Game Warden Brady Frude said.

“They are most active at dawn and dusk and of course, with shorter daylight hours, this now coincides with high levels of commuting traffic. All these factors lead to significant increases in deer/vehicle collisions along our roads,” he said.

South Riverton Game Warden Mitch Renteria said with the deer rut in full swing, deer are less aware of their surrounds and more visible around roadways as they prepare for the long winter.

Please drive safely to and from your destinations, slow down, and as always, give wildlife a break,” Renteria said.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department advises people to be aware of roadside surroundings.

When motorists spot animals near highways, they should assume the animals will move onto the roadway. Following a few simple steps can prevent wildlife collisions:

Slow down.
Expect wildlife and scan the sides of the roads.
Use headlights and stay alert while driving at dusk, dawn and at night.
If you see one elk, deer, or antelope by the road, expect there to be more nearby.
If an animal is on the road, expect the unexpected. They do not instinctively know how to react to your car.
If you encounter an animal crossing the road, switch your headlights to low beam so that they are not blinded and can move out of your way.
Give the animal time and room to move off the road. Do not try to outrun it.
If you see a wildlife-crossing sign, pay attention. It is there for a reason.
Do not swerve to miss an animal. Steer toward the animal’s hindquarters, as they most often will move forward.

Nationwide, more than 150 people are killed and 29,000 injured each year in animal/vehicle collisions, and areas in Fremont County have some of the highest numbers of wildlife/vehicle collisions in the State.

If you see an injured deer, call the nearest Game and Fish Regional Office or the Stop Poaching Hotline 1-877-WGFD-TIP, after normal business hours, with specific information about the location (road, mile-marker, etc.).

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