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Wyoming Public Hunters May Be Squeezed Out By ‘Landowner Tags’

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter 
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Landowner hunting tags could be pushing rank-and-file hunters out of one of Wyoming’s premier trophy elk hunt areas, a state legislator said. 

“(Elk hunt Area 124) is probably the most desirable, hardest-to-draw bull elk tag in the state of Wyoming, and it’s over 70% public land,” Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, told Cowboy State Daily. 

But many tags there are issued to landowners. Moreover, wealthy out-of-staters might be shopping for Wyoming properties with landowner hunting tags attached to them. 

“There are property firms that specialize in ‘recreational ranches,’” Hicks said. “Real estate firms advertise that when you buy these properties, you can get landowner tags for these big game species.” 

In Area 124 and some other hunt areas around Wyoming, landowner tag holders aren’t limited to hunting only on their own property, Hicks said. They also may hunt on public land. 

“Those (landowner tags) are the first ones awarded,” Hicks said. “So, say, if there’s a limit of 100 bull elk draw tags in a unit, and 50 are for landowners, that leaves only 50 for the general public to draw for.”

Area 124 is west of Baggs. It’s next to elk Area 100, home of the famed “Red Desert” elk herd. It’s also adjacent to prime trophy bull elk areas in Colorado and Utah, making the entire region a hotbed for some of the West’s largest bulls, Hicks said. 

Limit Landowner Tags To 20?

Hicks also is a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force, which has recommended capping landowner tags at 20% of the total draw. 

The task force doesn’t have authority to change or set policy. Instead, its recommendations go to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets policy for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

The number of landowner tags should be closer to 60%, at least in some hunt areas, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. 

“At a 20% cap, a landowner could go for years and years of applying and never get the opportunity to use that tag,” he told Cowboy State Daily. 

A Reward To The Landowners

Landowner hunting tags are associated with private properties that provide habitat for big game animals with a limit of two tags per property.

Prospective hunters, landowners and general public must apply early and pay in advance to draw limited-quota hunting tags. The application deadlines are typically the end of May for the upcoming fall hunting seasons. Applicants who fail to draw tags are refunded their money.

To qualify for a landowner tag, a property must be at least 160 acres and provide at least 2,000 “animal use days” each year, Hicks said. 

“An animal use day means there was one animal on the property for one day,” he said. “So, if you had 20 elk that lived on your property for 100 days out of the year, you’d be eligible. Or, if you had 200 elk live there for 10 days, again, you’d be eligible.” 

Hicks said he supports landowner tags.

“They’re a reward to the landowners,” he said. “Those tags are designed to recognize the contribution that landowners supply to support Wyoming’s wildlife.” 

Magagna agrees. 

“That was the intent of landowner tags – to recognize the critical role played by landowners in wildlife conservation,” he said. “It was never intended to be a financial trade-off or compensation for forage loss or any property damage caused by wildlife.” 

Keep It On Your Property?

It boils down to a balancing act between ensuring landowners get their due without pushing other hunters out, Hicks said. 

“It comes down to a question of parity,” he said. “What’s fair? Which is always in the eye of the beholder.”

One idea that’s been floated is to allow landowner tag holders to hunt only on their properties, he said. But that wouldn’t work in many areas, because animals might not be on those properties during hunting season.

Magagna agreed that limiting hunting only to the landowners’ properties is a bad idea. 

“The complete flaw with that idea is that in many scenarios, the landowner supports wildlife on their property that isn’t there during hunting season,” he said. “There’s just too many instances in which that idea would make the landowner tags meaningless.”

There’s also some disparity in the number of animals different landowners support, which could make the “two tags per property” rule unfair, Hicks said. 

“We’ve got ranches in Wyoming that have in excess of 20,000 animal use days and still get only two tags,” he said.

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Gate-Crashing Poacher Gets Hefty Fine From Wyoming Authorities

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Cowboy State Daily Illustration/Getty Images
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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Putting the pedal to metal and crashing through gates in Johnson County with a mule deer buck strapped to his flatbed may have seemed a good escape plan for a Wyoming poacher.

He thought wrong.

Instead of getting treats for his tricks last Halloween, he found himself surrounded by sheriff’s deputies and a game warden. That’s according to a report in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s annual law enforcement summary for 2021, which was released last week.

It doesn’t identify the suspect.

Thundering Flatbed

Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman got a report Oct. 31 that a mule deer buck had been illegally shot and killed northeast of town. A witness had spotted the deer on the back of a flatbed pickup in an area that was closed to deer hunting, according to the summary.

“The witness was following the suspect vehicle, but the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed and driving through fence gates, destroying them in the process,” the summary said.

Trick, No Treat

The spooky show ended quickly. By the time Seeman arrived on the scene, he found the suspect in the company of “several sheriff’s deputies” who had stopped to truck and apprehended him, the summary says.

After being interviewed by the deputies, the man admitted to trespassing on private property and killing the buck.

He was treated to a $9,000 fine, plus undisclosed restitution for property damage.

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Hunter Drops Meth Pipe In Wyoming Game Warden’s Truck While Being Cited For Trespassing

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

A man who didn’t say “no” to either drugs or illegal hunting found himself crossways with both a game warden and sheriff’s deputy, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department reports.

Wheatland Game Warden Nate Holst responded to a report of hunters trespassing on private land near Glendo Reservoir in September 2021, according to the Game and Fish annual law enforcement summary.

Trespassing Was First Mistake

Holst found two people field dressing a freshly killed 5-by-6 bull elk on private property where they didn’t have permission to hunt.

The man who had shot the elk wasn’t wearing any florescent orange or pink clothing – which also is required of big game rifle hunters in Wyoming. The Game and Fish report doesn’t identify the suspects.

The landowners didn’t want the suspects on their property, so Holst offered to give the man who shot the elk a ride back to his vehicle. During the ride, the man told Holst he had forgotten his “favorite hunting knife” at the kill site, the summary said.

Holst told the man that he wouldn’t be allowed back at the kill site, but that Holst would go back to retrieve the bull elk’s head as evidence. He told the man he would look for his knife.

Umm … That’s Not Empty Rifle Brass

After dropping the man off at his vehicle, Holst heard a “clinking sound” coming from the passenger seat where the man had just been.

“Warden Holst, figuring it was empty brass, reached down and picked up what he quickly discovered to be a meth pipe and lighter,” the report said.

At Least He Got His Knife Back

Holst called the Platte County Sheriff’s office. A deputy responded and cited the man with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

He also was cited by Holst for hunting on private land without permission and issued a warning for failing to wear florescent clothing while hunting.

The Game and Fish citation resulted in a $700 fine and a forfeiter of the elk carcass.

“Warden Holst found the suspect’s knife and returned it to him later,” the report said.

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Wyoming Wildlife Crossings: How Wildlife Officials Got Animals To Use Them

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

More than 40 years ago, Apple pulp and shouting helped save countless mule deer from being hit by speeding traffic on Interstate 80 near Elk Mountain.

During the winter of 1977-78, John Hyde was a game warden trainee with the Wyoming Game and Fish department and charged with figuring out how to get deer to use highway underpasses that are still in use today.

“I baited the underpasses with all kinds of stuff, including lettuce scraps from grocery stores,” Hyde told Cowboy State Daily. “We found that apple pulp worked the best.

“Apple pulp is used everywhere to bait all kinds of animals; I guess because of the sweetness of it.”

Hyde went on to have a 35-year career as a game warden. He’s now retired and lives in Lovell.

Underpasses Offered Hope

When that section of I-80 was built during the early 1970s, it cut right through one of Wyoming’s largest mule deer migration routes, Hyde said. Sturdy 8-foot woven-wire fences were built along either side of the highway to keep deer off the road.

There also are a few underpasses along that stretch, but they weren’t initially intended as wildlife crossings, Hyde said. Instead, they were put there to allow farmers and ranchers to move equipment between pastures and fields on either side of I-80.

It soon became apparent that the underpasses also could come in handy as a way to get deer safely across, Hyde said.

At first, the deer would just crowd up against the fences, he said. Sometimes they would injure or kill themselves trying to get through. Or, they’d get struck by traffic when they did manage to breach the fences.

“I used to patrol that stretch of highway checking for deer mortality, and I saw a lot of it,” Hyde said. “And you would see deer by the hundreds just piling up against those fences, not sure what to do.”

The trick was getting deer to use the underpasses.

Surprise, Shouting Moved Stubborn Deer

Once Hyde and his compatriots discovered how well apple pulp attracted deer, the next problem was getting them to actually move through the underpasses.

That’s because they’d just bunch up inside the underpasses to gorge themselves on the pulp, but they wouldn’t through to the other side, he said.

So, Wyoming game wardens figured they’d give the deer a nudge by startling them.

“We’d come up the highway in our truck, and they’d be down there (in the underpasses) eating,” he said. “We’d hop out of the truck, go down over the side of the highway and start waving our arms and yelling at them to move.”

But the deer were stubborn.

“It took about a month to six weeks of doing that. But eventually, the deer caught on, and they started using the underpasses on their own,” Hyde said.

Full Circle

While those efforts during the 1970s certainly helped, that stretch of I-80 remains troublesome. The section between mile posts 247-256 near Arlington still sees roughly 150 wildlife collisions a year, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

To mitigate that, a wildlife overpass is planned at Halleck Ridge near Elk Mountain. No start date for the project has been set. It will be partly funded through a $10 million appropriation for wildlife crossings that was requested by Gov. Mark Gordon and granted by the Legislature.

Wildlife overpasses now have replaced underpasses in many places across the West, Hyde said.

“Now overpasses have come home, so to speak, to the place where it all began – I-80 near Elk Mountain,” he said.

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Elementary Kids Find Wounded Deer on Green River School Grounds, G&F Investigates

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Wyoming Game and Fish
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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

A mule deer buck likely shot illegally within the city limits of Green River was discovered lying wounded in brush beneath trees on elementary school grounds by schoolchildren, a school official said.

“Usually, the deer run and try to hide when the kids are around, but this one didn’t move. It just stayed lying there,” Steven Lake, principal of Harrison Elementary School, told Cowboy State Daily.

Mule deer frequent the lower area of the school grounds where there is some cover, and the schoolchildren are used to seeing the animals, he said. But some youngsters knew something was wrong with they spotted that particular buck Sept. 15. They told school staff, who called the Game and Fish Department and local police.

“You couldn’t tell just by looking at the deer that there was anything wrong with it,” Lake said. “It just wouldn’t move. So, the students – and one student in particular – knew there must be something wrong with it.”

“(Game wardens) handled it once they got here,” he said. “It was done quickly, and the kids didn’t have to see any of that part.”

An Investigation

The buck was estimated to be about 2 years old, Regina Dickson told Cowboy State Daily in an email Tuesday. She’s the agency’s spokesperson for the Green River region.

After the buck was euthanized, a necropsy revealed it had been suffering from a previous gunshot wound, Game and Fish reports. The agency declined to release information about what type of firearm the animal might have been shot with, Dickson said.

“There are no rifle seasons open for deer anywhere near the city of Green River,” she said.

Game and Fish is asking for the public’s help to solve the case. Tips may be reported directly to game warden Justin Dodd, 307-870-8816, or to the Green River office at 307-875-3223. They also can be made to the stop poaching hotline at 1-877-943-3847, online at wgfd.wyo.gov or text WGFD to 847-411. Tips may be reported anonymously.

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Remote-Controlled Weapons, Live Video Tracking Likely Not Future Of Hunting In Wyoming

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter 
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Killing big-game animals from behind a computer screen is something Wyoming won’t ever accept, said the state’s top wildlife manager. 

“There were operations where you could sign up to shoot a deer in Texas while you were sitting at your computer in New York. The Wyoming Legislature banned that years ago,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik during a recent meeting of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force.

Those “hunts” involved using cameras and computer-controlled weapons to kill big-game animals from anywhere an internet connection could be established, he said. 

The Texas scenario was an example cited during a larger discussion the task force had about how recent advances in technology have affected hunting.

The task force can’t change regulations or set policy. It’s charged with making recommendations to the Legislature and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets agency policy. 

Live Video Feed, GPS Coordinates 

Input from hunters played a large part in determining what’s acceptable in Wyoming, said Rick King, Game and Fish’s chief game warden. 

A survey gauging hunters’ views on technology was conducted through the University of Wyoming in 2018. That helped shape rules set in 2020. As the pace of technology continues to accelerate, another hunter survey on the topic might be in order, task force members said. 

“The 2018 survey determined that trail camera use is seen as acceptable in Wyoming, but cameras that allow live feed of images to smartphones was not,” King said. 

Trail cameras can be set up at prime locations along game trails. When an animal passes by, a proximity sensor triggers the camera to snap a photo. It helps hunters determine which animals frequent their favorite hunting spots.

However, direct live feed between a camera and a smartphone could show exactly when and where an animal was present, King said.  

That would give the hunter a much better chance of moving in and killing the animal, which many consider unethical and why the practice was banned in Wyoming, he said. 

Even without a live feed, the growing popularity of trail cameras has caused problems in some southwestern states, said task force member and state Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs.

“We’ve already seen instances of confrontations over such things as, ‘You can’t hunt this elk because he was on my trial camera,’ or ‘You can’t set your camera up here because mine is already here,’” he said. “It’s almost escalated to the point of fistfights in some instances.”

Such dustups could be a “harbinger of what’s to come in Wyoming,” he said. 

It’s also illegal in Wyoming to sell the GPS location of a game animal. There have been instances of people trying to sell the locations of trophy-sized buck deer or bull elk over social media, said task force member Pat Crank, a Laramie County sportsman. 

Some have tried getting around the law by using coded language in social media posts, such as calling the locations of trophy animals “good camping sites,” he said. 

Drones 

Whether it’s ethical to use drones to spot big game for hunting has sparked debate across the country. Wyoming has determined it isn’t. 

Aircraft cannot be used to scout or aid in the taking of big-game animals between Aug. 1 and Jan. 31, according to Game and Fish hunting regulations, Nesvik said. Any use of aerial surveillance after Aug. 1 could be considered actively scouting for game because some of Wyoming’s archery hunting seasons open later that month.

The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee last week forwarded a draft House bill clarifying the definition of “aircraft” to include drones. It will be presented to the House during the 2023 session. 

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Crowds, Flying Bullets Driving Wyoming Hunters Away From Opening Day 

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter 
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Pat Crank recalled three bullets zipping over him and his hunting partner as they were trying to close in on a cow elk during a recent hunting season’s opening day. 

The shots came from another hunter on a ridge behind and above them. The bullets killed a bull elk that hunter wanted. 

“There was a truck on every hill that day,” Crank said during a meeting of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force on Friday in Casper. 

He’s a hunter from Laramie County and a member of the task force. The task force is charged with making recommendations to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. The commission sets Game and Fish policy. 

Mob scenes like the one Crank described are the reason why many Wyoming hunters don’t bother going out on opening day, said Brian Nesvik. He’s the Game and Fish director and task force member. 

“Opening day used to be a really big deal. Now it’s just not,” he said. 

Split Opening Days, Or long Seasons? 

The task force discussed whether long hunting seasons or split opening days are the best way to ease overcrowding. 

Either can work, said Nesvik and Game and Fish chief game warden Rick King. King joined the meeting via Zoom. 

Split opening days have worked well for antelope hunt area 42, a popular spot in the Shirly Basin area. The first opening day there is on Sept. 25, and the other is Oct. 5, he said.

“We split the hunters up, so we don’t put them all out there on the landscape on the same opening day,” he said. 

In antelope, deer or elk hunt areas, some hunters – particularly locals – prefer long seasons, Nesvik said. That gives them the option of simply waiting out the first few days or weeks and letting the crowds dwindle. 

A Need To Be Heard 

The task force discussed whether policy would be best decided within the various regions of Wyoming or at the statewide level. 

Input from Game and Fish biologists and hunters at the regional level usually works best, Nesvik said. In some places, herd management needs and hunters’ sentiments lean more toward splitting opening days. In others, longer hunting seasons are the answer. 

Task for member Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said there was some frustration about mule deer hunting policy a few years ago in his area of Wyoming. 

“Hunter crowding was the one issue we were hearing about over and over again,” he said. 

The local consensus seemed to lean toward a split season as the answer, but it seemed as if that recommendation never gained traction with state-level policymakers. 

Nesvik said “we (Game and Fish) got the memo” about such complaints and is trying to improve communication. 

Hunters need to do their part by showing up to local or regional season-setting meetings, said task force member Pete Dube of Johnson County. He’s also on the Game and Fish Commission. 

“The (Game and Fish) department works their butts off to have season-setting meetings all over the state. I think hunters are shooting themselves in the foot by not showing up to those meetings,” he said. “Hunters need to show up and tell the department what they want. If they don’t, things are going to stay the same.” 

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2,000-Yard Wyoming Antelope Kill Rekindles Debate Over Ethical Hunting Shot Distance

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter  
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

In 2018, a hunter armed with a .50 caliber rifle shot an antelope from 1,954 yards in Fremont County, and then sent a video of it to Muley Fanatics, trying to prove a point. 

The video had the opposite of the intended effect. 

“We told him (the hunter) that is not something we endorse,” Josh Coursey told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. He’s the co-founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, a mule deer conservation group. 

He declined to identify the hunter who had sent the video. It had been sent with the intent of making the point that an animal could be humanely and ethically killed with a rifle from great distances, Coursey said. He’s also a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force, which met in Casper on Friday. 

“Shooting from 1,954 yards isn’t fair chase,” he said. 

What Is The Right Distance? 

The topic of ethical shooting distances prompted a lively discussion during the task force’s meeting. There was no clear consensus over whether the Legislature or the Wyoming Game and Fish Department should, or even could, establish ethical shooting distance rules. 

Modern bows, particularly crossbows, have stretched possible archery kill shots out to 100 yards or more, said some task force members and hunters who commented via Zoom. And rifle technology has evolved to make possible shots hardly dreamed of before. 

Shooting at extreme ranges isn’t ethical or necessary, said task force member Sy Gilliland. He’s the president of the Wyoming Outfitter and Guides Association. The use of noise suppressors on rifles, currently legal in Wyoming, makes things even sketchier, he said. 

“You can shoot 700 yards at an animal that can’t even hear the shot,” he said.  “Yeah, that’s really sporting.” 

The capability of hunting weapons has always evolved, making the topic of ethical shooting distances murky, said task force member Pet Dube. He is also a member of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets Game and Fish policy. 

“They started this discussion when they invented rifle scopes,” he said. “What might not seem wrong now might not be wrong 20 years from now.” 

Practice Makes For More Humane Hunting 

Hunter Fonzy Haskell commented over Zoom that he’s a long-distance shooter and also sometimes uses a suppressor. 

“I’m an avid long-range shooter. I’m a competitive long-range shooter and I sometimes utilize that in my hunting,” he said. “I would say ‘ethical’ is dispatching that animal in the quickest and most humane way possible.” 

Long-range shooters practice vigorously, he said. That makes them more likely to land precise, quick-killing shots in the field. 

He added that suppressors are good for controlling predators, such as coyotes. They allow a hunter to take out multiple coyotes while avoiding detection. 

However, even if somebody is skilled enough to shoot extreme distances, it still isn’t ethical because the animals don’t have a reasonable chance of escape, hunter Rob Shaul said over Zoom.  

Ethical limits should be roughly 400 yards for rifles and 50 yards for bows, he said. 

“Most big game animals can’t detect a hunter more than 400 yards away. That’s out beyond the biological limits of the animal, and that’s not fair chase,” he said. “Hunting is not shooting,” he said. “If you want to shoot 1,000 yards, shoot at iron (targets).” 

Improved technology and better equipment can make hunting more humane and ethical, said task force member Lee Livingston. He’s a guide and Park County commissioner. 

“People used to hate archery hunters,” because the use of older model bows frequently left animals getting away wounded. 

With more modern bows, the hunters that he guides make quick, clean kills, even on large bull elk, Livingston said. 

A Matter Of Public Perception 

Hunters and guides must be mindful of their reputation with the general public, Gilliland said. Having nation-wide public opinion turn against hunting could spell the end of it. 

“The average suburban housewife might not understand much about hunting,” he said. “But she understands that shooting an animal behind a fence isn’t ethical. She understands that shooting an animal from 800 yards away isn’t ethical.” 

Hunters should refrain from posting “kill shot” videos on social media, Shaul said. The public will find footage of animals being killed distasteful and turn against hunters. 

“Filming and posting big game kill shot videos is political suicide,” he said. 

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Proposed Elk Tag Allocation Could Put More Nonresident Hunters In Eastern Wyoming 

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Sending more non-resident elk hunters toward private land in eastern Wyoming could curb landowners’ trouble with elk there, while also easing overcrowding in popular hunt areas in western Wyoming, a Game and Fish official said. 

“In these (elk) herds, you can’t have an unlimited number of animals,” Doug Brimeyer told the Game and Fish Commission during the commission’s meeting Wednesday in Buffalo. He’s the deputy chief of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division. The commission sets Game and Fish policy. 

“You’re either going to reach ‘social capacity’, where the landowners are getting frustrated with the damage the elk cause. Or, you reach biological capacity (of the land’s ability to support elk),” he said. 

Under proposed changes, nonresident elk tags could be issued by various regions of Wyoming. More nonresident hunters would be directed toward eastern Wyoming. That could ease competition with resident hunters. It could also ease overcrowding in popular areas toward the west, such as near Big Piney, Brimeyer said. 

The proposed changes would also give game managers in each region more direct control over how many bull elk could be killed in that region, he said. 

If the commission adopts the changes, they would take effect during the 2024 hunting season. 

Surging Elk Population 

Elk are doing well in Wyoming, he said. In 1980, the state had roughly 65,000 elk. In 2021 the elk population was around 120,000 animals, divided among numerous herds throughout the state. 

Wyoming’s current elk tag allocation is still largely based upon numbers and policies from the 1980s and 1990s, Brimeyer said. 

In the 1970s, nonresident elk tags were issued on a simple “first come, first serve” basis, Brimeyer said. Later, caps for nonresident tags were set at 12 percent, and then 16 percent of total allocations. 

For many years, a cap of 7,250 has been placed on nonresident draw tags for elk, he said. Hunters must apply and pay in advance for draw tags. Those are for areas with preset quotas for elk tags. Hunters who succeed in the draw have hunting tags mailed to them. Those who fail in the draw have their money refunded. 

During the 2021 elk hunting season, 14,200 tags were sold to nonresidents, he said. That included the 7,250 draw tag quota, plus “leftover” tags that were still available after the draw. 

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Man Suffers Life-Threatening Injuries After Moose Attack In Northern Colorado 

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24037

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

An archery hunter suffered life-threatening injuries inflicted by a moose on Tuesday after the animal gored and trampled him in a remote area about 70 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Colorado wildlife authorities said the attack happened after the hunter unsuccessfully attempted to shoot the animal. 

“The hunter told our deputy he had been bow hunting and shot at a bull moose but missed, and it subsequently charged and gored him,” said Jenevieve Kramer, a spokesperson for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. 

Kramer said the severity of the injuries required an emergency evacuation by an air ambulance which took him to a local hospital. 

The hunter was able to activate an SOS signal on his GPS device which let authorities know of the emergency. 

Kramer said the victim told the sheriff’s office that hunters found him as he attempted to hike out of the area. 

That’s where one of the hunters applied a tourniquet, which the sheriff’s office called a “life-saving maneuver.” 

“He was in very bad shape,” Kramer told the media. 

Information about the hunter’s current condition is unavailable. 

Wyoming wildlife authorities say moose are one of the most dangerous animals in North America.  

Earlier this year, a snowmobiler in Canada attempted to pet a moose and was subsequently stomped repeatedly. 

The snowmobiler suffered multiple broken bones and was hospitalized for more than a week after the incident. 

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First Wildlife Overpass Across Interstate 80 In Wyoming To Be Built Near Elk Mountain

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming wildlife highway crossings are getting a $10 million boost from an appropriation requested by Gov. Mark Gordon, a spokesman said. 

“It is an appropriation that the Governor requested, and received from the Legislature ‘for wildlife crossings and game fence supported by the highway system,’” Gordon’s communications director, Michael Pearlman, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. 

The three top priority projects the funds are intended for include a proposed overpass for wildlife at Halleck Ridge on Interstate 80 near Elk Mountain. That’s according to information presented by the governor’s office to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations committee on Tuesday. No start date has been set for the project, Pearlman said. 

Another top project is improvements to wildlife fencing and a wildlife underpass along U.S. Highway 189 near Kemmerer. Also planned is improved wildlife fences, three underpasses and an overpass along U.S. Highway 287 near Dubois. Some work has begun near Dubois, but completion dates haven’t been set for either of those projects.

The $10 million will be used to match funding through the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Pearlman said, “but it is not a 1-to-1 match.” He didn’t specify what the match will be. 

More Than 6,000 Wildlife Collisions Yearly 

Those three projects are in areas that are particularly bad for wildlife collisions, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Across the state, there are roughly 6,000 wildlife collisions every year. 

Mule deer are the most commonly hit wildlife, making up as much as 85 percent of the animals involved in collisions, according to the Game and Fish. The deer are vulnerable because many of their migration routes between summer and winter range cross highways. 

That’s one reason among many why mule deer are struggling in Wyoming. They also face threats from disease, habitat loss and competition from other species. That makes the $10 million going toward wildlife crossing all the more important, Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer, said in a text message to Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. He is the co-founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, a mule deer advocacy group. 

“We appreciate that the governor is very supportive of wildlife crossings,” he said.

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Experimental Vaccine Tests In Wyoming Elk Offer Hope In Wasting Disease Fight 

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

There’s a glimmer of hope in the results of a wasting disease vaccine test in some Wyoming elk, a wildlife veterinarian said. 

Seven of eight captive elk injected with an experimental vaccine showed “some immune response” to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), Peach Van Wick told the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. She’s the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s assistant state wildlife veterinarian. 

That’s good news, but it’s still too early to tell how it might play out, Van Wick said. 

“We don’t have any idea whether the immune response means we have any protection (against CWD infection and death in animals),” she said. 

Van Wick and Game and Fish state wildlife veterinarian Samantha Allen presented their findings during a commission meeting in Buffalo late Wednesday morning. The commission is charged with setting policy for Game and Fish.

The vaccine trial was done in conjunction with the University of Alberta, Van Wick said. It involved 12 captive elk at the Game and Fish Tom Thorne and Beth Williams Wildlife Research Center. That’s in Sybille Canyon west of Wheatland and northeast of Laramie. 

Four elk were injected with low doses of the vaccine, four were given high doses, and the remaining four were used as an unvaccinated control group, Van Wick said. Blood samples were tested at the University of Alberta. 

“Notoriously Difficult” Disease 

In the elk that had an immune response, “their blood recognized when they were exposed to CWD prions in a laboratory setting,” Van Wick said. “We don’t know how they might respond in a wild setting.” 

Prions are malformed proteins that can cause diseases like CWD. In elk, deer and other species, CWD causes fatal nervous system and brain deterioration. Animals in the early stages of infection frequently show no symptoms. In the later stages, infected animals might be emaciated, disoriented and lethargic. 

There are so far no documented cases of CWD being transmitted to humans. However, the Game and Fish and the Centers for Disease Control recommend against eating meat from infected animals. 

The Game and Fish ordered mandatory testing of hunters’ kills for CWD in several deer hunt around Wyoming this year. https://cowboystatedaily.com/2022/08/22/chronic-wasting-disease-testing-mandatory-in-four-more-wyoming-deer-hunt-areas/ 

“Prion diseases are notoriously difficult to vaccinate for,” Van Wick said. She noted that the vaccine used in the elk test works by piggybacking on the structure of CWD prions. It’s hoped that will generate a strong enough immune response in elk, deer and other animals to eventually defeat the disease. 

If more research proves that the vaccine works, the next challenge will be figuring out how to distribute it among wild herds, she said. Injection would be impractical; some sort of delivery system through food pellets might work. 

Bobcat Scat Helps With Research 

The vaccine trial was part of ongoing CWD studies at the wildlife research center, Allen said. 

Researchers are trying to find ways to track the spread of the disease through predator scat and other means. They’re also trying to find ways to test live animals for infection. Currently, the best method of tracking CWD is to test animals’ lymph nodes after they’ve died or been killed by hunters. 

Taking small tissue samples from the ears of live deer might work, and would not cause the deer much pain, Allen said. 

“We want to focus on those earlier stages of infection,” she said. “What if we are missing a bunch?” 

It also remains a mystery exactly when animals start spreading CWD prions, through urine, feces or saliva. That puts other animals at risk of infection, Allen said. 

“It’s incredibly important to know when animals start shedding CWD,” she said. “Does it vary by species?” 

To that end, captive bobcats at the research center are being fed ground game meat infected with CWD, Allen said. 

“We put dye in the meat, so we can see when they are pooping out the CWD-infected material,” she said. 

A similar study using mountain lions at another facility showed that the prevalence of CWD dropped as much as 96 percent in the big cats’ scat, Allen said. It’s not yet clear what the drop is in bobcats. 

It’s also unclear whether the remaining percentage would still be enough to spread the disease. CWD prions shed by animals can linger in the soil for years and still possibly spread infection, Allen said. 

In addition to Wyoming, 28 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces have widespread CWD infections in wildlife, she said. It’s also spreading in wild animals in South Korea and some Scandinavian countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden).

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Legal Expert: Listing Of Bat As Endangered Species Will Wreak Havoc On Private Property Rights 

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily 

Adding a bat to the Endangered Species Act list could wreak havoc on private property rights here in Wyoming and a large portion of the country, according to a nationally recognized endangered species expert. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced it is proposing to list the Tricolor Bat, which is found in eastern Wyoming and 38 other states, as an endangered species. 

The agency says the bat’s numbers are decreasing and at risk for extinction due to a disease called “white nose syndrome.” 

White-nose syndrome has caused estimated declines of more than 90 percent in affected tricolored bat colonies and is currently present across 59 percent of the species’ range, officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service said. 

But Karen Budd-Falen, an expert on endangered species who served in two presidential administrations at the Department of Interior, told Cowboy State Daily that inclusion of the bat to the endangered species list won’t help the mammal. 

“People don’t give the bat the disease and we don’t know what causes the disease,” Budd-Falen, now a Cheyenne attorney, said. “But to prohibit the use of private property isn’t going to fix the problem.” 

Loss Of Property Rights

Budd-Falen said by listing the bat as an endangered species, people will lose their property rights if the bat encroaches on their property. 

“It’s a huge impact, an absolutely huge impact,” Budd-Falen said. “The courts have said that that [the impact of the Endangered Species Act] is not compensable so you don’t get paid for not using your private property. You just can’t use it.” 

She said if the bat were to enter your house, barn, or other areas of your property, there is nothing you can do about it. 

She said if you were to try to coerce the bat to live somewhere else, that is considered a “taking” which is not allowable under federal law. 

“It’s $25,000-a-day fine and federal prison time if you ‘take’ a species,” she said. 

Ways To Mitigate

But a public affairs official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there are ways citizens can remove offending bats from dwellings or other structures. 

Joe Szuszwalak told Cowboy State Daily that property owners should work with wildlife control officers and follow the guidance of the “Acceptable Management Practices for Bat Control Activities in Structures” to address bat issues. 

“If there is an imminent threat to human safety (particularly if a bat shows signs of being rabid), all forms of take, including lethal take, are always allowed for human safety,” Szuszwalak said. 

Not So Fast

That may sound good, Budd-Falen said, but the issue is burden of proof. She said the property owner bears that burden in any court proceeding and it is “very expensive” and difficult.

“For example, if a rabid bat moves into your attic, you can move into a hotel and that would protect your safety without taking the bat,” she said.  

“When wolves were listed as threatened and endangered, you had to prove the wolf was in the act of biting in order to prove imminent danger.  Being aggressive towards you or watching you wasn’t enough to trigger the imminent harm exception to take the species,” Budd-Falen said. 

She also said following the best management practices won’t necessarily protect the property owner because the prosecutor can have their own opinions on whether they were followed. 

“Best management practices do not automatically protect you from legal liability,” she said. “A prosecutor could consider whether a landowner used acceptable management practices or not, but it is not a legal ‘get out of jail free’ card.” 

Szuszwalak said public commenting on the proposed listing begins on September 14 and may be submitted through November 14. 

A public meeting via videoconference will be held on October 12.

The Service will evaluate all information received during the comment period and will announce a final decision within 12 months.  

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Draft Bill Would Give Wyoming Game Wardens More Authority To Ticket Trespassers

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Game wardens would have more authority to ticket trespassers under a draft bill currently before the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.  

At issue is whether Wyoming game wardens should have more leeway in cases that fall under sheriffs’ jurisdiction under current law. The draft bill would give wardens the authority to ticket people who pass through private property to hunt, fish, trap or collect shed horns and antlers. 

That could give game wardens the authority to write trespassing tickets in cases for which they currently have to wait for a sheriff’s deputy, Game and Fish chief game warden Rick King told the committee Tuesday. 

Trespassing is one of the most common violations wardens deal with, he said during the committee’s meeting in Casper. 

“We deal with it (trespassing) hundreds of times a year. It’s typically number two on our top 10 list of violations,” he said.  

Fishing without a license was the number one documented violation last year, at 302 instances, according to the Game and Fish annual law enforcement report for 2021. Trespassing came in second, at 337.

Different Charges, Different Agencies 

Under Wyoming law, hunters are responsible for knowing whether they’ve crossed on to private property without a landowner’s permission. That holds regardless of whether the owner has posted “keep out” signs on the land or told the hunters that they’re trespassing. 

That gives game wardens the authority cite hunters who – wittingly or not – wander on to private property while actively hunting. That rule extends to anglers, trappers and shed horn and antler collectors.  

However, criminal trespass is a different matter, King said. As the law stands, there must be reasonable evidence that a trespasser wantonly ignored “no trespassing” postings or a landowner’s or land manager’s verbal warning to leave the property. 

Game wardens currently aren’t allowed to cite those sorts of cases if the suspects aren’t actively engaged in hunting or the other activities, King said. So, when that happens, the warden must call a sheriff’s deputy to come investigate the matter and possibly issue a ticket. And in some of Wyoming’s remote areas, that can take a long time. 

The draft bill would streamline to process, he said. If a warden was informed about, or witnessed, people crossing private property without permission with the intent to hunt, fish, trap or recover shed horns and antlers on adjacent public land, then that warden could issue a trespassing ticket without having to wait for a deputy. 

Clarification Needed 

Some committee members questioned whether the bill as drafted is too broad. It was also noted that more input is needed from other sources, such as hunters and sheriffs. The committee decided to hold the matter until its next meeting; scheduled for Nov. 10-11 in Cheyenne. 

One point of contention was whether having items such as fishing tackle or a firearm in a vehicle or on one’s person would be proof enough that somebody was, indeed, crossing the private property with the intent to hunt, fish, trap or collect shed horns and antlers. 

“We have a large portion of people in Wyoming, including myself, who frequently have fishing gear or a gun in our vehicles,” said committee member Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie. 

Other members pointed out the presence of gear could be used as element of a case that involved other indications that a person was trespassing to hunt or fish, such as their own statements, or the statements wardens could get from landowners. 

Tie-In With A ‘Corner Crossing’ Case? 

The draft bill’s language should also be clarified regarding air space above property, Jim Magagna told the committee during public comment. He’s the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. 

As it’s worded, the draft states people would have to be physically touching the property, or driving directly across it, in order to be liable for trespass, he said. Including wording about “reasonable space above the land” would strengthen property owners’ rights, he said. 

At least “in the court of public opinion” the draft bill as worded would be perceived as not supporting property rights strongly enough, he said. 

However, the matter of air space might hinge on a “corner crossing” case pending in U.S. District Court, said committee member Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs. 

“We can’t deal with air space right now, it’s in federal court,” he said. 

He was referring to a case stemming from criminal trespassing charges filed against Missouri hunters Bradly Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky. 

They were accused of trespassing on Iron Bar Ranch land near Elk Mountain while attempting to cross from one corner of public land onto another section of public land in September 2021. 

A Carbon County jury later found them innocent of those charges.   

Iron Bar Holdings, LLC and its owner, Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the hunters, claiming they had violated the ranch’s air space when they used a ladder-like device to cross a fence from one piece of public land to another at a checker-boarded property lines

The trial for that lawsuit is scheduled to start June 26, 2023 in Casper. 

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Bird Flu Now Killing Wyoming Raptors; Roughly 100 Eagles, Hawk, Falcons Dead

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Photo by Galen Rowell/Corbis via Getty Images
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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Though it’s long been a killer of wild waterfowl and domestic poultry, bird flu has started taking a toll on Wyoming’s raptors. It’s still uncertain how badly it will spread among birds of prey, a wildlife disease expert said. 

“These viruses are always re-sorting and reorganizing,” Michael Pipas, a wildlife disease biologist with USDA Wildlife Services, told Cowboy State Daily. “In this case, instead of just killing waterfowl and poultry it (avian influenza) has started killing birds of prey.” 

So far, up to 100 eagles, hawk and falcons are known to have died of the disease in Wyoming, he said. The infections are thought to have begun this spring. 

“It’s not like birds of prey are falling off branches left and right,” but USDA and other agencies are trying to keep watch and hoping that the virus doesn’t take off in raptors the way it has in other bird species. 

Low Risk To Humans 

An outbreak of bird flu among humans in China in March 2013 set the world on edge. It resulted in roughly 700 infections 384 deaths. There have been only sporadic reports of human infections since, according to the Centers For Disease Control website. 

The bird flu strain causing the current epidemic among birds is far less transmissible to humans than the 2013 China strain, Pipas said. It’s currently listed as “low risk” to the general human population. 

However, it still can infect people who have close contact with infected birds or the carcasses of those killed by the virus, said Pipas and Wyoming Game and Fish public information officer Sara DiRienzo. 

“Game and Fish reminds the public to not touch or handle sick or dead birds, and do not allow domestic animals like dogs and cats to feed on sick or dead birds,” DiRienzo said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. 

Watchful Surveillance 

The current epidemic among birds in Wyoming and the rest of the U.S. started spreading during the spring waterfowl migrations, Pipas said. 

Earlier, in December 2021, it killed more than 5,000 wild cranes in northern Israel, Cowboy State Daily columnist Cat Urbigkit wrote in April. 

During the early stages of the outbreak in Wyoming, many of the infected birds weren’t displaying many symptoms, Pipas said. That might be changing, with more of the sick birds, including raptors, displaying symptoms such as lethargy or partial paralysis. 

USDA Wildlife Services relies on reports from Game and Fish and other agencies to keep track of the virus’ spread in Wyoming, Pipas said. Game and Fish, in turn, is seeking help from the public, DiRienzo said. 

People should report finding large birds, including raptors, that are displaying symptoms or that are found dead, she said. Also be on the lookout for groups of five or more smaller birds, such as sparrows or pigeons, found dead.

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Wyoming Legislators Working To Make Sure Hunting With Drones Is Illegal & Strengthening Trespass Laws

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Legislators looking to clarify prohibitions on the use of drones for hunting, as well as trespass laws related to hunting this week. 

Wyoming legislators plan this week to consider making sure drones are included in the legal definition of “aircraft”  forbidden for scouting or hunting game animal.

There’s also a possible revision of trespass laws, and numerous other items related to hunting and wildlife management.  

Judiciary Committee: Drones, Trespass 

Whether to add “unmanned aerial vehicles” to the definition of “aircraft” prohibited for hunting or scouting game is among matters coming before the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee early Tuesday. 

The committee meets Monday and Tuesday in Casper. The full agenda is available here.

Aerial scouting and the use of aircraft to hunt or harass game animals is already illegal in Wyoming; a draft Wyoming House bill would add a paragraph of clarifying language. The paragraph includes the wording “unmanned aerial vehicles”. 

The use of drones, particularly to find big game animals, has been a grey area in hunting ethics nationwide as the machines gained popularity. 

The Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) – a premier fair chase and big game trophy hunting organization – came down solidly against drones. B&C in 2014 ruled to refuse accepting into its record books any animals taken with assistance of drones, according to the club’s website. 

In related matters, the Judiciary Committee will consider draft bills dealing with whether drones intrude on people’s privacy, and whether civilians may fly drones over prisons. 

The committee will also consider a draft bill clarifying the definition of trespassing as it relates to “traveling through” private land while hunting. The draft said, “’travel through’ requires physically touching or driving on the surface of the private property.”

Game and Fish Commission: Wasting Disease, Elk Hunting Licenses 

Updates on the status of chronic wasting disease (CWD) and possible changes to elk hunting license allocations will go before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.

The commission is the policy-making board for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The commission meets Tuesday and Wednesday in Buffalo. Links to the agenda, and to join the meeting via Zoom, are available here.

CWD is a lethal nervous system and brain disease that is spreading among Wyoming wildlife, particularly mule deer. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department made it mandatory this year for hunters’ deer kills to be tested for CWD in several hunt areas.

Among other items, the commission will hear about an updated timeline for possible changes regarding elk hunting tag allocations. 

Wildlife Task Force: Preference Points And Hunting Technology 

The Wyoming Wildlife Task Force will consider technology’s effects on hunting and preference points systems for hunting licenses, among other things, when it meets Friday in Casper. Links to the agenda, and to join the meeting via Zoom, can be found here.

The task force has no decision-making authority. It was formed as an advisory board charged with studying high-priority wildlife management topics, public access for hunters, and other matters. It will present its conclusions to the Game and Fish Commission and Governor’s Office. 

A presentation on hunting technology is set for 9 a.m. There will also be a discussion on whether non-resident hunters should be allowed to purchase additional “preference points” when applying for Wyoming hunting tags. Those points could increase non-residents’ odds of drawing future deer, elk or antelope hunting tags. 

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Rabbit Disease Causing Unprecedented Golden Eagle Decline in Big Horn Basin 

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

In the Big Horn Basin, golden eagles are the apex predator, and their primary prey is cottontail rabbits. But a deadly disease has decimated the rabbit population, which are a key food to many different predators — so any decline in their numbers will affect the entire ecosystem.  

That’s according to Dr. Charles Preston, one of the world’s leading experts on raptors like the golden eagle. 

“Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2) is a highly contagious disease that is passed among rabbits and hares,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “In the 1980s, and 1990s, this Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus was found in Europe, and it really devastated European hares and rabbits – and therefore devastated the ecosystem, in a sense.” 

Preston is the founding and senior curator emeritus of the Draper Natural History Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, and a research associate at the Teton Raptor Center in Wilson. He explained that the rabbit disease first showed up in the U.S. in 2018, and in Wyoming in late 2020. It kills up to 80% of infected animals and is rapidly spreading throughout parts of North America. 

Preston said that a regular fluctuation in rabbit numbers occurs every 6-8 years. Researchers expected a rebound in the rabbit population in 2020, which should have resulted in an uptick in the numbers of golden eagles. 

“What we found was that not only did rabbits not rebound, but they declined from their lowest before,” Preston said. “And again in 2021, 2022, they’ve really stayed down in the tank.” 

Preston said that this year has revealed the lowest abundance of rabbits that they’ve seen since the study began in 2009. And not just in cottontails, the eagle’s primary food source. 

“Here in our area, this virus affects both jackrabbits and cottontails – every species of cottontail,” he said. “In fact, it even would affect pica, close relatives of the rabbits that live in the higher elevations.” 

Effect On Golden Eagles 

Along with staff and volunteers at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Preston has been studying the Golden Eagle population since 2009. He said this is the most dramatic decline in population they’ve observed. 

“We now have 14 years of data showing cyclic ups and downs of Golden Eagle reproduction that match the ups and downs of cotton tail abundance,” said Preston.  

He explained that when food abundance is low, the female golden eagle that is laying the eggs is not in top physiological condition, and so might not even lay eggs. “Sometimes if they have enough nutrition, they can lay the eggs, but they just don’t have the energy, the nutrition to incubate the eggs, or – if the eggs hatch – to feed the young,” said Preston.   

Not A Danger to Humans 

Preston stressed, though, that RHDV2 is in no way dangerous to humans or other pets – simply to rabbits. 

“Rabbits really take it on the chin,” he said. 

Primary Prey 

Although Golden Eagles are versatile predators, Preston pointed out that even when cottontail rabbit populations are low, they are still the preferential prey of raptors. 

“Through these cycles, we find that the Golden Eagle still focuses primarily on cottontails,” he said. “Anywhere from 60 to 80% of the diet is made up of cottontails – during the nesting season, at least.” 

Preston said that eagles will take other prey, such as ravens, great horned owls, coyotes, pronghorn fawns and even prairie dogs.  

But disease has hit the prairie dog population as well. 

“There’s a plague that goes through prairie dog colonies,” Preston said. “And so for the last several decades, prairie dog populations are probably about 70% lower than would be the natural background for them.” 

Populations Expected To Rebound 

Preston said in time, the rabbit population will come back up, as those rabbits with immunity pass that along to their offspring. But that’s in the future. 

“It may be that some rabbits have a natural immunity, just like we do to certain diseases,” he said. “And in time, populations will rebound.” 

But right now, the dramatic effect of RHDV2 is decimating not only the rabbit population, but the golden eagles and other predators that feed on the rabbits. 

And he said there’s no way to tell what the long-term effect will be on the Golden Eagle population. 

“We expect them to broaden their diet,” said Preston. “But it’s not going to be enough to make up for the loss of cottontails, probably. And so reproduction will, as we’ve seen already, stay very low.” 

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Wyoming Trapper Hopes Russia Raccoon Market Opens Again Soon, Not Concerned About Rabies Epidemic

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Even as the Eastern U.S. struggles with a raccoon rabies epidemic, a Lander trapper said he can recall a time when the critters were scarce in Wyoming, though that’s no longer the case. 

Todd Fross said he’s trapped some “gigantic” raccoons in recent years, mostly around Riverton and Powell. 

“I’ve got three (pelts) in my shed right now,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “From the tail to the nose, they must be 36 inches. The fur is really thick, really beautiful.” 

He’s even sold some of the better pelts to Russians. 

“They used the raccoon fur to line the hoods in women’s coats,” Fross said. 

The current state of global affairs has shut that market down for now, he said, but he hopes it picks back up again. 

Raccoon pelts weren’t easy to come by in Wyoming when his father taught him how to trap in the 1950s and early1960s, Fross said. Raccoons started becoming more common here in the 1980s and have increased since. 

People over the decades have drawn raccoons in with crops, garbage, pet food and other temptations, Fross said. Now the critters are plentiful, especially around settled areas. 

“Raccoons are like liberals,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “As soon as it gets really prosperous in an area and there is a lot of food for them, they show up.”

Big Rabies Problems Back East 

The raccoon rabies strain hasn’t taken hold in Wyoming, disease experts told Cowboy State Daily. Skunks and bats are the primary rabies carriers here. 

The Eastern U.S. has been struggling with a mushrooming raccoon rabies epidemic for decades, according to a recent article in The Atlantic magazine online. The epidemic is thought to have started in Florida and has since spread as far north as the Canadian border and as far west as Ohio. 

Officials in the East have resorted to air-dropping millions of oral rabies vaccine packets each year, the Atlantic said. The packets entice raccoons with two flavors; fish and vanilla. 

Skunks and Bats Are The Rabies Carriers Here 

Rabies isn’t prevalent in Wyoming’s raccoons, and there’s little evidence the Eastern raccoon rabies epidemic will keep up enough steam to reach this far west, two Wyoming disease experts said. 

“(The wildlife oral vaccination program) continues to be successful in preventing the westward expansion of the raccoon rabies variant from the Eastern US,” Dr. Emily Curren told Cowboy State Daily in an email. She’s the state public health veterinarian with the Wyoming Department of Health. 

“The skunk strain of rabies is the most common terrestrial rabies variant in Wyoming,” she said. 

“It (skunk rabies) does tend to be more concentrated in the north,” Curren added. “In counties such as Big Horn, Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell, and in the east, in Laramie and Goshen counties.” 

Rabies occasionally infects bats in Wyoming, wildlife disease biologist Michael Pipas told Cowboy State Daily. He works for the USDA Wildlife Services. 

“Bats can sometimes bite people,” he said. “You have to be extremely cautious if you need to remove a bat from your home.” 

Rabies is almost always fatal in humans unless a bite victim is vaccinated immediately. Wyoming’s only known rabies fatality was a Lander woman. She died weeks after being bitten by a bat that flew into her home in August 2015, according to news reports from the time. 

The woman was not named in the reports. Cowboy State Daily columnist Bill Sniffin, who lives in Lander, said she was Karen Farthing, whom he knew. 

In extremely rare cases, humans can become infected by breathing in rabies from bats, Pipas said. 

“If, for example, you were to go into a cave that was populated by bats, and some of those bats were rabid, it (the rabies virus) could be there in aerosol form,” he said. 

Vicious Cycle of Nature 

Fross said that in addition to trapping in the wild, he sometimes traps troublesome creatures, including skunks and raccoons, around settled areas.  

Traditional leg-hold traps typically don’t work in those situations, because they’re too dangerous to dogs, he said. 

Instead, for raccoons, he uses “dog-proof” devices that entice racoons to reach for bait with their front paws into a tube with a trapping mechanism inside. 

After decades of chasing wild critters around, Fross said he doesn’t recall ever snaring a rabid animal. 

“If in animal is sick out there (in the wild), it won’t last very long. Something else will eat it,” he said. “I know coyotes seem to like eating skunks. I guess it’s like Mexican food for coyotes, because to them, it’s spicy.”   

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National Elk Refuge Gets Gigantic Elk Incinerator To Burn Carcasses In Case Of Wasting Disease

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

The spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) onto the National Elk Refuge near Jackson could be inevitable, a refuge official said.   

Incinerating infected elk carcasses would be one way of halting wasting disease’s spread among the thousands of animals that live on or near the refuge, deputy refuge manager Chris Dippel told Cowboy State Daily. Toward that end, a mobile animal crematory was recently placed on the refuge. 

“There have been no positive tests so far for CWD on the refuge,” Dipple said. “(Getting the crematory) is more of an anticipatory move.” 

“Hopefully, we won’t have to use the crematory. At least not for a few more years,” he said. 

If used, the mobile crematorium will burn at 1,600-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and incinerate carcasses at a rate of 1,100 pounds per hour. 

Assuming the average size of a male elk is 720 pounds and a female elk is 520 pounds, it could torch two carcasses in just over an hour.

Within the past few years, wasting disease was found in two dead animals – a deer and an elk — within about a mile of the refuge, Dipple said. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The disease can spread through direct contact between animals, and can also linger for years in the soil or plants that elk and other wildlife eat, he said. So, one sure-fire way of stopping the spread is to cremate infected carcasses. 

Elsewhere in Wyoming, CWD has become rampant among game herds, mostly in mule deer. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department this year has made it mandatory for deer hunters’ kills to be tested for CWD in several hunt areas. Those include some popular general tag areas in the Laramie Mountain range between Laramie and Wheatland, as well as some hunt areas in Fremont County. 

Wasting disease is spread through prions, or malformed proteins. It causes a fatal degenerative nervous system and brain disease in elk, mule deer and other members of the deer family. It is similar to prion-triggered diseases that can infect and kill humans. Although there are so far no documented cases of CWD in humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Game and Fish recommend against eating meat from infected game animals. 

During the late stages of infection, animals become emaciated, lethargic and disoriented.  Elk don’t display any symptoms during the early stages of infection, Dippel said, and there are no practical ways of testing live animals. 

The refuge has implemented “intensive testing” for CWD on samples from carcasses of animals that have been killed by hunters or died of natural causes on the refuge, Dipple said. Only disabled hunters with special permits are allowed to hunt there. 

Animals’ lymph nodes are the best tissue to test for CWD. Refuge managers leave “head cans” in parking lots, where hunters can leave the heads of animals they’ve killed, so the lymph nodes can be removed and tested, he said. 

“We’ll also try to have personnel go out to hunters’ kill sites on the refuge and collect samples,” he said. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service must obtain a permit from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) before incinerating any carcasses. An application for the permit is pending, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be granted, Dipple said. 

If approved, the crematory will operate from a location about a mile east of Jackson, according to a public notice of the permit application posted online by the DEQ.

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Wyoming Scientists Worried About Declining Bee Population

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By Wendy Corr and Mark Heinz, Cowboy State Daily 

A species that is central to the very existence of life on earth is in peril, according to several organizations that monitor bee populations worldwide.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported in 2019 that bees are an essential part of the biodiversity necessary for humans to survive.

But according to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Bombus Pollinators Association of Law Students, the American bumblebee has almost completely disappeared from Wyoming, and from seven other states (Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, North Dakota, and Oregon).

The Center has led the charge to place the American bumblebee under Endangered Species Act protection. According to their petition, over the last twenty years, the American bumblebee population has decreased by 89% across the U.S.  

University of Wyoming entomologist Scott Schell said honey bees are the primary species responsible for cross-pollination of plants, which ensures the viability of crops. 

“Bees, the family Apidae, are kind of considered the superstars of pollination,” Schell told Cowboy State Daily. 

Without pollination, not only would the plants that require pollination die out, but so would all of the animals that eat those plants.  

“If we want to have a lot of color and variety and flavor on our plates, we need the bees,” said Schell. 

But it’s more than just variety. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a third of the world’s food production depends on bees. 

Weather Dependent 

The FAO reports that over recent decades, bee populations have been declining globally. Habitat loss, increasing use of pesticides and alleged changes in weather patterns have all contributed to the decline in the bee population. 

Those changing weather patterns have impacted the population of bees in Wyoming, according to Schell. 

“A lot of it probably has to do with climate change in reducing the habitat and changing the timing of the flowers that those particular bumble bees depend on,” Schell opined.  

He explained that long periods of drought affect flowering plants, which the bees depend on for food (nectar and pollen). If there are several dry years in a row, the bee population will decline. 

“Late spring blizzards and things like that might really impact the population of the pollinator,” said Schell, “whether the frost kills the flowers that they’re going to feed on, or it actually can kill the insects themselves.” 

Federal Protection? 

There are four species of bumblebees in Wyoming that are under consideration to be listed as endangered, according to University of Wyoming wildlife researcher Gary Beauvais. 

Beauvais is the director of UW’s Wyoming Natural Diversity Database. That department is charged with tracking the numbers and distribution of Wyoming’s native wildlife, including some insects. 

If granted federal protection, anyone found to have killed or harmed the bee could face up to $13,000 in fines.  

But Beauvais told Cowboy State Daily such listings could have implications for the state’s agriculture and energy sectors. However, provisions can be worked into endangered species listing for creatures such as bumblebees and butterflies to keep the listings from unduly burdening those industries. 

“Bumblebees and butterflies are generalists,” Beauvais said. “Wherever there’s flowers, they’re going to be. If they’re listed, what does that mean for operators — for ranchers, oil and gas, road crews — anybody who operates on the landscape?” 

But Schell pointed out that protecting these important creatures is crucial. 

“We need to protect and conserve what we’ve got,” said Schell, “and recognize that our actions can have an impact negative to the bees, and try to prevent that.” 

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Wyoming Combat Veterans Offer to Dart Wild Mustangs with Birth Control

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Putting combat veterans on the ground out West, including in Wyoming, to stalk mustang mares with rifles that shoot birth control darts could give those veterans healing purpose, while also solving the conundrum of how to manage mustang herds, a veteran’s advocate said. 

“Veterans, especially combat veterans, have the skills to navigate in rugged terrain and use stealth. Plus, those dart guns are remarkably similar to an M-16,” Army National Guard veteran Cameron Ring told Cowboy State Daily. 

Ring, who served as a Military Policeman, lives in southwest Virginia and is the founder of Veterans For Mustangs. The group has affiliation in Colorado, and hopes to establish a presence in Wyoming, he said. 

Meanwhile, proposed bills set to go before both the Wyoming Legislature and Congress could alter the management of the West’s mustang herds, which include roughly 4,000 animals in Wyoming. 

Specific to the Cowboy State, HB 0005 calls for compensation for mustangs’ grazing whenever they stray from federal lands. It would also give greater say in wild horse management to the state, as well as the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation, according to information posted on the Legislature’s website.  

Equine Controversy 

Wild – or some would argue, feral – horses have long been the subject of controversy in Wyoming and the West. The horse species that was native to North America is thought to have died out roughly 12,000 years ago. Starting in about the late 1400s, horses that escaped from or were abandoned by European explorers, the U.S. Calvary and others began populating various areas in the West. 

The herds are protected under the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which put the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in charge of them. The BLM will occasionally round up mustangs and either put them up for adoption or keep them in holding pastures. 

Proponents of free-ranging mustangs claim they symbolize the freedom of wide-open lands, and can be an ecologically sound species, so long as their numbers are reasonably controlled through humane methods. 

Others want harsher control, claiming the mustangs are essentially an invasive feral species that damage the landscape, disrupt ranching and hurt native species, such as mule deer. 

Darting Mares To Give Veterans Purpose? 

Ring said his group could give vital healing purpose to veterans while implementing mustang control that could help ease the longstanding dispute over the horses. 

He also likes the idea of more state authority over mustang management. 

“The federal government sort of has a one-size-fits-all approach, and the states would be better at managing it,” he said. 

That mirrors the experience of veterans wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental health challenges, Ring said.  

“The V.A. (Department of Veterans Affairs) sort of has a one-size-fits all approach to PTSD – ‘Here’s your happy pills. Now, go be happy,’” he said. 

It’s interesting that many older warrior cultures, such as the Apache Indians or Spartans, didn’t seem to have a problem with PTSD, he said. Those cultures involved the entire community in “absorbing the warriors’ pain” and giving veterans a purpose, he said. 

“In the modern Western culture, the warrior bears the burden of war alone,” he said. “The number one cause of depression in veterans is lack of purpose, and no pill can fix that.” 

So, letting veterans tap into their battle skills by sneaking up on mustang mares with birth control dart rifles would give them healing purpose, as well as helping to keep the mustang populations are reasonable levels, he said. 

An Act Of Congress 

At least one Congresswoman agrees. 

Rep. Lisa McLain, R-Michigan is onboard with Veterans for Mustangs, Ring said. 

In April, she sponsored H.R. 7631, which would authorize and “prioritize” veterans dispensing high-velocity equine birth control on BLM lands, according to information posted on the Congress.gov website. Veterans would be paid to do that. 

“(The Department of) Interior shall provide appropriate compensation to military veterans participating in such a certification program,” said the bill’s summary. 

Ring said he hopes Wyoming’s Congressional delegation will support the bill. 

The Healing Power Of Nature, Animals 

Ring said he’s witnessed one BLM mare-darting venture in Nevada. While there, he recognized the uplifting power of the West’s vast, wild lands. 

“There’s this unique Wild West that you don’t get anywhere else but in America,” he said. “It’s a big part of what these veterans fought to protect.”   

“Being out in nature is undervalued,” he added. “There is a healing property to it that you can’t get from drugs.” 

Being in close proximity to horses would also help veterans find serenity, he said. 

Ring adopted a previously abused Tennessee walking horse, “Awesome Gal”, which he credits for his own healing. And many veterans he knows have had similar experiences by adopting abused horses or mustangs. 

The idea for Veterans For Mustangs hatched from veterans’ mutual positive experiences with horses, he said. 

Wyoming’s Bill 

Wyoming’s proposed legislation claims that there has been “failure” on the part of the federal government, including the BLM and Forest Service, to adequately control mustang’s numbers, according to the bill’s text. It was sponsored and passed in March in by the Joint Agriculture and State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee. It should come before the Legislature during its next session, scheduled to begin in January 2023.

When wild horses stray off federal lands, the government should pay compensation for horses’ grazing on state, tribal, county or municipal land, according to the bill. Moreover, the state and tribal authorities should have direct involvement in wild horse management, which could include fertility control. 

Ring said he hopes his group’s idea, along with the proposed legislation, can strike a balance between what’s best for the land, the mustangs and veterans. 

“I think, and I’ve had other veterans tell me, ‘I would have been one of the 22 if it hadn’t been for horses,’” he said, in reference to the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide each day in America.

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Newly Released Sasquatch Data Shows More Wyoming People Are Bigfoot Believers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

In November of 1997, a man and his brother were cutting firewood ion the road from Cody to Yellowstone’s east gate, when they were startled by a strange sight in the distance. Looking through binoculars, this was their report: 

“It was definitely upright, walking on two legs. Though there is no way to say at this distance, the specimen appeared to be between 6 and 10 feet in height. More striking, however, was its mass. The creature, covered in dark hair, almost seemed fat. Maybe obese. This was no bear. I saw it walk for a good 100 yards and it never came down on all fours.” 

Bigfoot.

Over the last 50 years or so, there have been 28 reported sightings in Wyoming of a tall, muscular creature, covered in dark hair, with long arms, leaving behind huge footprints.  

More than 10,000 people in the continental U.S. have claimed to have had encounters over the decades with creatures known as “Sasquatch.”  Those claiming to have seen or interacted with the legendary beasts often are met with disbelief — and suspicion. 

But that disbelief is slowly dissipating. A survey in July by Civic Science found that more Americans believe in Bigfoot than they have in the past. Over the past two years, the number of adults in the United States who believe that Bigfoot is a real, living creature has gone up from 11% of those polled in 2020 to 13%.

But for many Wyomingites, Bigfoot’s existence is old news, as sightings have been reported throughout the region for decades. 

Bigfoot In Wyoming 

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), founded in 1995, documents sightings of the mythical beasts in North America. According to the BFRO database, the most frequent sightings in Wyoming have been in Park County – nine incidents have been reported over the years there, compared to other counties (Lincoln has had four sightings; Teton and Carbon counties have 3 each listed in the database; Uinta has 2). Seven other Wyoming counties have each had one reported sighting of the elusive Sasquatch: Crook, Fremont, Johnson, Sheridan, Sublette, Sweetwater and Washakie.  

“I do know that there are several sightings that have occurred in Wyoming,” said noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich. “Everywhere from up near Jackson, to the Wind River Range, to where I grew up, outside of Cody.” 

And although skeptics may balk, some of the reports have come from highly credible sources.  

Trained Geologists

In 1978, two trained geologists were on their way into Yellowstone National Park, driving west on Highway 14 at approximately 1:45 a.m., when they were startled by a “large, dark shaggy figure” coming up out of the ditch. 

“As we approached the figure at a speed of about 45 miles per hour, it looked first at the vehicle (we noticed the yellow reflection from its eyes that is seen in a dog’s eye when the light catches it at night) then deliberately turned it’s head away from the lights. That motion was non-human or bearlike, in that the shoulders, chest, and head moved simultaneously as it caught sight of our vehicle and then turned its face away from the headlights.” 

The geologists agree that the creature was between 6-7 feet tall; weighed between 600-800 pounds; and was most definitely not a bear. Neither was under the influence of alcohol or medication, and neither professed to believe in ghosts or other unexplained phenomena. 

Mount Washburn 

The most recent listing on the BFRO page for Park County was the account of a family of four touring Yellowstone National Park in July of 2002. 

“I was in my parent’s car on the northwest side of Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming when my mom, dad, brother and I saw a humanoid figure, too tall to be human, walking upright along a ridge around 300 yards off. It looked hairy, and between 8 and 10 feet tall. It was around noon and it was partly cloudy and my family was scanning the ridge for bighorn sheep when we saw it.”

Most Famous

The most famous of all the Wyoming Bigfoot stories, however, was the account of Wyoming Game and Fish biologist John Mionczynski, who spent almost two hours on a bright, moonlit night in the Wind River Range in 1972 in a standoff with what could only be described as Bigfoot. 

“Around midnight, I heard something outside, it was kind of a rumbling sound, like somebody snoring,” Mionczynski told listeners of the “Sasquatch Tracks” podcast this past December. “And I saw a shadow come by.” 

Mionczynski said the nearly full moon was bright, and the silhouette cast by the moonlight made him think a bear was nosing around at a bacon grease stain on his tent. So he smacked the beast through the canvas wall. 

“I took my right hand and just whacked it with the back of my hand, and yelled real loud right then, and that scared it,” he said. 

But the creature didn’t move too far away, actually returning to the sidewall of his tent two more times. When Mionczynski reached out a third time, he realized this was no bear. 

“This time when it came back, the silhouette was different – it was standing upright,” he said. “I hit it with my hand… and the instant I did that, I saw the silhouette of an arm come down on the top of my tent, which was about six foot four height.” 

The arm was long, covered with hair… and there was a humanoid hand at the end of that arm. 

“The silhouette of the hand on the top of my tent – and I say that rather than a bear paw, because digits point straight ahead on a bear paw, and this had obvious fingers, four fingers and a thumb that was opposed.” 

The beast pushed down hard on the top of Mionczynski’s tent, collapsing it on top of him. Mionczynski said that must have startled the creature, which he still, in his confusion, thought must be some sort of bear.  

Mionczynski clambered out of his collapsed tent and sat near the fire, holding his firearm, knowing the beast was still nearby. 

“I started dozing off,” he said, “and I woke up to the sound of something hitting the ground.” 

Several more similar sounds followed, and Mionczynski realized that something was throwing …pine cones. 

“A pine cone seemed to fall out of the tree, and it landed next to the fire,” he said. “And then another pine cone and then another pine cone. And I realized there was no wind blowing. These cones were not falling out of the tree. They were being lobbed at me from behind this little pine tree… and that went on for about 40-45 minutes.  

“So that was the extent of that experience,” said Mionczynski. “It threw pine cones for 45 minutes and then it left.”   

Local Agencies Weigh In 

When he reported the incident to the District Ranger for the Shoshone National Forest upon his return, Mionczynski was told that he was not alone. The Forest Service had received numerous reports that summer of 1972 of strange sightings and occurrences in that section of the forest, similar to his experience. 

In recent years, though, wildlife agencies like Wyoming Game and Fish are unaware of any sightings of hairy, humanoid giants. 

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said Corey Klass, Wildlife Supervisor for the Cody Game and Fish office. “But that being said, I don’t know. I can only answer based on my time and experience.” 

What We Don’t Know 

Although there is yet to be scientific proof that the Bigfoot creatures exist, Ulrich pointed out that there is much yet to be discovered in our world. 

“Think about what we are absolutely convinced we knew 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 10 years ago, to what we know now,” Ulrich said. “Imagine what we can find or discover or know in 10 to 30 to 50 years from now.”  

Unusual happenings, strange sightings and mysteries will continue to keep us guessing, said Ulrich. 

“When I was younger, I was convinced when my family was camping up Francs Fork outside of Meeteetse that a juvenile Sasquatch had wandered into camp,” he recalled. “The smell was right. The behavior was certainly consistent with what little we know about Bigfoot.  

“Unfortunately, it was just my little sister who hadn’t showered for a few days.” 

And the legend continues.

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Game And Fish Want Elk Blood From Hunters’ Kills To Track Outbreaks Of Brucellosis

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter  
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wants your blood. Your elk’s blood, that is. 

The Game and Fish plans to mail out about 8,500 blood sample kits to hunters who drew elk tags this year for numerous hunt areas across the state. The agency is urging those who kill elk to fill the vials provided in the kits with the animals’ blood and mail them back so they can be tested for Brucellosis. 

That’s vital to tracking the spread and infection rates of Brucellosis, a disease of great concern to Wyoming’s beef ranchers, State Veterinarian Hallie Hasel told Cowboy State Daily. 

“We really need that information from hunters,” she said. “We need to know where the situation with Brucellosis is changing and whether it’s spreading to anywhere new.” 

Wyoming currently has “Brucellosis-free” status regarding its beef trade. An outbreak among cattle could case Wyoming to lose that status. That could in turn devastate state’s beef’s transport and trade – both within the United States and abroad, she said. A state with known Brucellosis spread among its cattle could be banned from selling or transporting cattle or beef beyond its borders. 

Wyoming’s Brucellosis-free status hinges upon regular testing of cattle herds in a designated surveillance area in the state’s western and northwestern regions, Hasel said. And knowing the status of the disease among wild animals, particularly elk, helps prevent outbreaks from jumping into cattle herds. 

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that causes infected animals to abort their fetuses. It is thought to have first entered North America in the 19th Century, through infected cattle imported from Europe. The imported cattle spread the disease to Bison here. From there, it spread to other wildlife, including elk. 

Brucellosis can infect humans, causing a malaise commonly called undulant fever. 

“The disease is called undulant fever because the fever is typically undulant, rising and falling like a wave,” MedicineNet said on its website page about human Brucellosis infections. It can cause an array of symptoms, such as muscle aches and weakness. Infection usually occurs through direct contact with infected animals or carcasses.

Brucellosis infections are rare in humans, but can have effects that linger for years, Hasel said. 

The Game and Fish recommends that hunters wear latex or nitril gloves when skinning, gutting or quartering big game carcasses. 

Elk are the primary vector for Brucellosis in Wyoming, Hasel said. The most common ways the disease is spread among animals is through direct “nose-to-nose” contact, or through contact with fresh fetuses or placenta aborted from infected animals. 

It’s important to keep elk and cattle separated, especially during the elks’ calving season, usually May through July, Hasel sad. 

“It has to be at least far enough to prevent that nose-to-nose contact, but ideally, we don’t even want elk and cattle in the same pastures together during the elk calving season,” she said. 

Ranchers are encouraged to keep fences in good repair, particularly around food sources that might be tempting to elk, Hasel said. 

To encourage hunters to collect blood samples and mail them to the Game and Fish, the agency has sweetened the deal by offering prizes. Hunters who turn elk blood samples in could be eligible for entry into drawings for prizes such as hunting gear and rifles. 

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Wildlife On Highway 34: Driving Thru Sybille Canyon Is Like “Game Of Frogger”

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

 Chuck Brown of Wheatland recalls hitting a mule deer a few years back while driving through Sybille Canyon with his wife, Kate.  It was the third animal the couple has struck in more than a half-century of driving to and from University of Wyoming Cowboys football games in Laramie — but considering the high number of miles and quantity of road-crossing wildlife in the canyon, three is a fortunate number.   

Not all canyon-driving fans may be so lucky, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has issued a warning for the route. 

“That last one just bounced off the side off the vehicle and tumbled down into the burrow pit,” Brown told Cowboy State Daily. “We don’t know what its ultimate fate was, but the last we saw of it, it was up and moving, bounding away.” 

The Browns are diehard Pokes fans, and frequently take Highway 34 back and forth between Wheatland and Laramie. It’s a popular route for fans coming from Wheatland, Douglas, Casper and other points to the north of Laramie. During Cowboys football games, UW’s War Memorial Stadium frequently boasts a larger population than many of Wyoming’s towns. 

“We’ve traveled that Canyon (Sybille) for more than 50 years” and keeping an eye out for critters bolting into the roadway has become a full-time job for Kate during, Chuck Brown said. 

“I’m lucky to have the woman with the sharpest eyes in the world sitting next to me,” he said. “It’s usually the worst when driving back home from games in the dark. Kate just looks and looks, and I concentrate on the driving.” 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently sent out a notice urging Pokes fans to watch out for a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep that like to hang out near the highway in the canyon. The sheep are drawn there by rich forage as football and hunting seasons bring droves of vehicles through Sybille Canyon. 

Statewide, drivers hit wild animals an average of roughly 6,000 times per year, according to the Game and Fish. The agency, along with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, private donors and others have millions of dollars invested in pending or ongoing projects to mitigate roadkill. Those include such things as improved roadside fences and underpasses or overpasses which animals can use to safely cross roadways. No underpasses or overpasses are planned in Sybille Canyon. 

Chuck Brown said he and his wife are quite familiar with the sheep that the Game and Fish warned about. The Bighorns seem to favor a particular corner just before Morton Pass at the west end of the canyon, he said. They haven’t been much of a problem for the Browns. 

“We’ve had to slow down, or even stop for the Bighorns a few times,” he said. “But it’s really the deer that we have to watch out for.” 

Besides the incident with the deer bouncing off the side of their rig, they’ve been in two previous collisions that caused major damage to their vehicles and killed the deer. 

And exiting the east end of the canyon on the way home doesn’t always mean they’re home free, Chuck Brown said. 

“Especially as the crops mature, there will be a lot of game along the highway out on Wheatland flats,” he said. “Again, it’s mostly deer, but we do occasionally see antelope and we’ve even seen a few elk out there over the years.” 

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U.W. Professor, Who Is World’s Foremost Authority On Squirrels, Says Splooting Is OK

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By Joshua Wood, tourism/business reporter
josh@cowboystatedaily.com

The topic of splooting squirrels became a national story last week when the New York Department of Parks and Recreation discussed the topic on Twitter.

It seems most people don’t know what splooting is and the many, many media organizations that covered the topic did not seem to know that the world’s foremost expert on squirrels works at the University of Wyoming.

In fact, that expert, John Koprowski, serves as the Dean of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

So if anyone can explain the topic of splooting squirrels with authority, it’s Koprowski.

What Is Splooting?

So, what exactly is splooting? And why do squirrels do it?

Koprowski told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that splooting is when a squirrel will splay itself out on a cool patch of ground, a sidewalk, in damp dirt or a shallow puddle because it’s hot.

Koprowski said said squirrels are doing what is known as “heat dumping.” Every squirrel, regardless of geographical location, does this.

“As someone who has, through 30 years of doing research, spent way too much time watching squirrels, every squirrel species I’ve ever seen does this,” said Koprowski. “They do this in natural areas as well as urban areas.”

Squirrels in more urban areas might do it more, due to how metropolitan areas retain heat because of asphalt and cement.

But even in the chillier climes like Laramie, squirrels will sploot on warmer days. The upside to what Koprowski called heat islands is that cement sidewalks, while also retaining heat, will retain cooler temperatures while in the shade.

“Just like how we (humans) would jump into a pool to cool off. Effectively, it’s the same thing,” Koprowski said. “They put the tail straight up in the air and that’s the real thing that loses heat for squirrels. At the base of the tail, they’ve got a bundle of blood vessels that run right up next to each other. So the hot blood coming from the body is going out and they’ve got cooler blood coming back.”

Having ways to dump the heat is nothing new for animals, either modern or ancient. The gigantic ears of the jackrabbit—which are great for hearing—are used for heat dumping in the summer, Koprowski said. It is also been thought the purpose of the Stegosaurus’ plates were to help regulate body heat as well.

As helpful as those mechanisms are during the summer, they can be equally harmful in the winter when the temperatures drop, he said.

Though squirrels have always splooted, Koprowski said people may be noticing now due to the recent heatwaves in the eastern United States.

“On hot days people are noticing it more as a result because the squirrels do need to dump heat more, because it’s hotter and they’re in the heavily concreted, heat island of the city,” the professor said.

Koprowski Knowledge

This isn’t the first time Cowboy State Daily has turned to Koprowski to answer life’s mysteries.

Last year, there was concern by some that gigantic cat-sized flying squirrels found in the Himalayas might relocate to the U.S. similar to the hysteria over murder hornets setting up shop over here.

There were those who said the elevation in parts of Wyoming might lend itself to gigantic cat-sized flying squirrels.

Koprowski doused that rumor quickly.

He said the wooly flying squirrels are used to surviving at high elevations at around 16,000 feet and would probably struggle physiologically at lower elevations.

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Mule Deer Palooza Planned In Wyoming To Raise Money For Mule Deer Conservation Projects

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter  
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Those looking for a way to help conserve mule deer and their habitat might be interested in “Mule Deer Palooza” events set to be hosted this week in Sheridan, Cheyenne and Casper. 

“It used to be called ‘gun-a-palooza’ because of our gun raffles,” Shawn Blajszczak of Powell, the foundation’s Wyoming regional director, told Cowboy State Daily.  “But with the rules on social media being what they are, you can’t use the term ‘gun’, so we changed the name this year.” 

The events help the foundation raise money for various mule deer conservation projects around Wyoming, he said, and are being hosted in cooperation at Black Tooth Brewing Company locations. In-person raffles for several firearms will be part of the festivities. 

This year will be the “launch party” for Black Tooth’s Mule Deer beer brand, Blajszczak said. 

The fundraisers are scheduled to begin Tuesday at the Back Tooth location in Sheridan, followed by events in Cheyenne on Wednesday and Casper on Thursday. All events are set for 7-9 p.m. 

Black Tooth Brewing is at 312 Broadway, Suite 3917 in Sheridan; 520 W. 19th St. in Cheyenne; and 322 S. David St., Suite A in Casper. 

Some of the projects this year’s events will help fund include habitat preservation, fence repair, and research into mule deer migration corridors in the Cowboy State, he said. 

Habitat fragmentation and disruption of mule deer migration routes between summer and winter ranges have been among the biggest challenges facing mule deer in Wyoming and across the West. Disease, particularly chronic wasting disease, has also been a factor in mule deer decline, said Blajszczak, who is also a wildlife biologist and former game warden. 

Mule deer range across the Rocky Mountain and High Plains West, as well as parts of the Southwest. They are prized by hunters, wildlife photographers and others for their beauty and elusiveness. 

Mule Deer Palooza will give whiskey aficionados a chance to pitch in by buying one of 65 bottles of Wyoming Whiskey’s “Morty” label edition, Blajszczak said. Last year, a similar run of “Popeye” was offered, and “Goliath” is anticipated for 2023 — all in cooperation with the Powell-based Eastmans’ Publishing company. 

Those whiskey labels feature images of Popeye, Morty and Goliath — three exceptionally huge mule deer bucks that roamed Wyoming public lands in the 1990s. They were feverishly sought by hunters, but only Goliath was brought down. Morty and Popeye are thought to have died of old age. 

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Chronic Wasting Disease Testing Mandatory In Four More Wyoming Deer Hunt Areas

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Hunters who kill mule deer in four popular hunt areas in the Laramie Mountains of southeast Wyoming must submit samples to be tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD), according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

The hunt areas – 59, 60, 64 and 65 – were already known to be one of the state’s hot spots for CWD, which occurs primarily in mule deer, but can also infect whitetail deer, elk and moose. Testing for whitetail deer kills won’t be mandatory in those areas, but is still highly recommended, according to a Game and Fish press release. 

There are no known cases of the fatal neurological disease jumping to humans, but the Game and Fish and Centers For Disease Control recommend against eating meat from infected animals. 

Having to throw away the meat from an infested deer can be an agonizing decision, but it’s better to err on the side of caution, said Shawn Blajszczak, a hunter from Powell, who is also the Wyoming regional director of the Mule Deer Foundation. Getting kills tested, regardless what area they came from, is a good idea, he told Cowboy State Daily.

That is what happened with a deer his daughter shot during one recent season. 

“While we were waiting for the test results, she did most of the work on the carcass, including getting most of the meat cut off of the bone. We had the entire thing butchered and wrapped, and then the test came back positive. So, after all of her work, we had to throw everything away,” he said. 

“It’s really important for hunters to do their part in collecting and submitting samples, so Game and Fish can keep tracking to progress of CWD in Wyoming,” he added. 

Game and Fish added mandatory testing in those four deer hunt areas in order to get a better handle on how rapidly CWD continues to spread there, according to the press release. 

Testing will also remain mandatory in deer hunt areas 157 and 171, which are north and west of Riverton in Fremont County. 

The deer hunt areas in the Laramie Mountains cover a huge swath of territory across Albany, Laramie, Platte and Converse counties. Because of plentiful general tag allocations in most of those areas, the region is popular with local hunters coming from Laramie, Cheyenne, Wheatland and Douglas. Many hunters also come there from across Wyoming and out-of-state. They are drawn by plentiful deer – including some exceptionally large bucks – scattered across a variety of habitat, much of it on public land. 

General hunting tags may be purchased over-the-counter at any time. Draw tags must be applied for and paid in advance, usually in May. Tags are mailed out to successful hunters; those who fail in the draw have their money refunded. 

Archery seasons in deer hunt areas 59, 60, 64 and 65 run from September 1-30. Most rifle seasons run for about two weeks in October. There are also some special draw tag hunts that run through the end of December in places.

 Numerous other deer hunt areas across Wyoming have been designated as CWD monitoring areas, where testing isn’t mandatory, but strongly encouraged. Some of those include areas 1-6 in the northeast corner of the state, area 66 near Casper, area 124 near Burlington in north central Wyoming, area 130, mostly in Sublette County, area 131 in north central Sweetwater County and area 134 in southern Lincoln County and northern Uinta County. 

Also listed as CWD monitoring areas are deer hunt area 135 – which includes parts of Lincoln, Teton and Sublette counties, areas 138-146 in Sublette, Lincoln, Sweetwater and Teton counties, areas 150-156, which are mostly south and east of Grand Teton Park, and 165, southeast of Cody.

Game and Fish can take samples for testing from carcasses at roadside check stations, or any of the agency’s regional offices. Hunters can also remove animals’ lymph nodes themselves, and submit those for testing. A Game and Fish tutorial video on how to remove a deer’s lymph nodes is available on YouTube.

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Three Missing Cubs Not On Wyoming Grizzly Mortality List Probably Dead

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter  
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com  

The total number of grizzly bear deaths in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is likely at least three more than the current official tally of 28, a federal biologist said. 

Three cubs in Grand Teton Park that bear enthusiasts said went missing in June are likely dead. They can’t be officially added to the mortality list, because solid evidence, such as carcasses, have yet to be found, biologist Frank van Manen said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. 

Van Manen is the supervisory research wildlife biologist for the U. S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which includes members from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The team monitors and studies grizzlies throughout Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks, as well as on public and private lands adjacent to the parks in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 

Grizzly 793, commonly called “Blondie” had three cubs this year, but they disappeared in early June, said bear enthusiast Jack Bayles. He’s a member of Team 399, a bear advocacy group that posts photographs and videos of Grizzly 399, a bruin with a worldwide fan base. Blondie is another popular bear the group watches. 

“She had her cubs with her one night, and didn’t have them the next morning,” he said. 

Blondie lingered in the area for a while, possibly searching for her cubs. She also hasn’t been seen since June 12, although it isn’t unusual for her to stay mostly out of sight during the summer, Bayles said. 

It’s unlikely the cubs survived, van Manen said. Typically, 46 percent of grizzly cubs don’t survive their first year, he said, although hard evidence is lacking regarding the fate of Blondie’s cubs. 

“We don’t have evidence in hand of cub mortality for 793’s litter; she is not a radio-monitored bear,” he said. “The only cub mortalities that are included in our mortality list are those for which we have hard evidence (e.g., carcass), or for those instances where the mother is killed and we assume probable mortality of cubs-of-the-year.” 

Two cubs of the year are known to have been killed by another bear on May 28 in the Gibbon River area of Yellowstone Park, according to the grizzly bear study team’s mortality list. They are the only cubs of the year officially listed as killed so far this year. 

The total official grizzly death tally also includes 17 bears in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park;11 were killed by wildlife management agents after human-bear conflicts, according to figures from an interagency bear management team.   

Those 11 bears were killed either for preying on livestock or “food-conditioned” aggressive behavior toward humans, according to information posted online by the grizzly bear study team. 

Overall, grizzlies seem to be doing well as summer wanes into fall, Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. Birth rates remain healthy, and food sources seem plentiful as the bears seek ways to fatten up in preparation for winter hibernation. 

“We have no evidence of bears having difficulty putting on enough fat prior to the big sleep,” he said. “Honestly, I think we don’t give grizzly bears or other wildlife enough credit for their overall resilience.”  

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More Than 6,000 Vehicle-Wildlife Collisions Happen Every Year In Wyoming

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com  

About 6,000 times a year, on average, somebody plows into a wild animal along the Cowboy State’s highways, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

That not only kills numerous animals, it threatens human safety and causes hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to vehicles yearly, Game and Fish public information officer Sara DiRienzo told Cowboy State Daily. 

“We all drive because we all need to get around Wyoming and we’ve all at least had some close calls, or know somebody who has,” she said. 

To mitigate that, Game and Fish, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, private property owners and others are pitching in to make highways safer for people and animals alike. Some pending projects include overpasses or underpasses animals can use to cross roadways, as well as fencing designed to “funnel” the animals toward those crossing points, she said. 

Mule Deer Most Frequently Hit 

Roughly 80-85 percent of the collisions are with mule deer, a species already struggling with declining numbers across much of the West, she said. It’s probably because of the deer’s movement between summer and winter ranges, which are frequently split by roads and highways. 

“For us, that’s way too many mule deer that are being hit on the road,” DiRienzo said. 

Elk, moose, whitetail deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep are among other large animals frequently hit, she said. 

Big Projects Focused On Trouble Spots 

In all, there are 240 projects, large and small, intended to mitigate wildlife collisions. They are all either ongoing or starting in the near future. 

“There’s project in every community, all across Wyoming,” DiRienzo said, many of them small, such as improvements to roadside fences. 

There are three major projects in the works along stretches of highway that are particularly notorious for wildlife collisions, she said. 

The first is between mile posts 40 and 76 along U.S. Highway 287 near Dubois. It will involve three underpasses and one overpass, with fencing to funnel animals toward them, DiRienzo said.  

Some initial work has been done there, but it’s not known when major construction will begin. 

Along U.S. Highway 189 near Kemmerer, a pending project will improve fencing to funnel animals, mainly pronghorn, toward already-existing underpasses. That will be between mile posts 0 and 24, and a new wildlife overpass is also planned at mile post 24 DiRienzo said. 

As many as 80 collisions per year with big game animals have been reported there, she said. And traffic is expected to increase with the construction of the proposed nuclear Naughton Power Plant, which is scheduled to go online in 2028. 

“Some of those wildlife wreck numbers are slushy,” she said. “We can only report those incidents that are documented, and not everybody reports it when they hit an animal. We know that collisions overall are being under-documented.” 

An overpass, and high fences designed to funnel animals toward it while keeping them from running into traffic, is planned along a particularly troublesome stretch of Interstate 80 between mile posts 247-256, near Arlington. There have frequently been more than 150 wildlife collisions per year documented there, DiRienzo said. 

It’s not known when that project might start. 

“We’re really only in the preliminary phases of this one for now,” DiRienzo said. 

Raising Money 

Highway funds and private donations have helped the cause, she said. Game and Fish also recently raised the price of conservation stamps – which all hunters and anglers are required to have – from $12.50 to $21.50. For every stamp purchased, $1.35 will go toward wildlife highway safety projects. 

Proceeds from special “Wildlife Conservation” license plates will also help, she said. 

“Those license plates have proven really popular,” she said. “At least 1,000 had to be sold to make them official and permanently available, and we’ve reached that goal.”

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Large Bull Elk Poached Off Highway Near Wheatland; Head, Antlers Sawed Off

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

UPDATE: 4:50pm, August 18

It was confirmed on Thursday that the bull was killed on the south side of the highway, in hunt area 6, Game and Fish public information officer Robin Kepple told Cowboy State Daily. It still wasn’t clear whether it had been shot from the highway. The carcass was fully intact when wardens first investigated the scene, so it wasn’t clear if the person or people involved in the shooting were the same who came by later and took the head and antlers. 


A large bull elk was illegally shot earlier this month near Wheatland along a highway that runs between two of southeast Wyoming’s premier elk hunt areas.

The animal, described in a Wyoming Game and Fish Department press release as “a mature bull” was evidently illegally shot late August 5 or early August 6 along Wyoming Highway 34 about 2 ½ miles west of the Thorne/Williams Wildlife Research Center in Sybille Canyon. The bull’s head and antlers were then apparently taken sometime either late August 6 or Early August 7, while the carcass was left to rot. 

Along with the killing being out of season, it is illegal in Wyoming to abandon any edible portion of a big game carcass. The press release doesn’t specify if it’s suspected the bull was shot from the highway. It’s also illegal to shoot game animals from a road or highway. 

The stretch of Highway 34 where the poaching took place runs between elk hunt area 7 to the north and hunt area 6 to the south. The press release doesn’t specify on which side of the highway to bull was killed, and Game and Fish personnel from the Laramie Regional Office could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. 

Hunt areas 6 and 7 are highly favored for an abundance of elk across a variety of terrain. The earliest season there this year is a special draw tag, antlerless elk hunt in area 7 that opened on Monday. Those tags are valid only on private property in Platte County where hunters have the landowner’s permission. Archery hunts are set to open September 1 in both areas, while most rifle hunts there don’t begin until October. 

Area 6 has a mixture of general tag hunts – for hunters who have purchased elk tags over the counter – and draw tag hunts. For limited quota draw tags, hunters must apply and pay early, usually in May, and will have their money refunded if they fail in the drawing. 

Area 7 is draw tag only. Cow and antlerless elk tags are abundant for the area; bull tags are difficult to draw, and the area has a reputation for producing large bulls. 

“It is unfortunate this elk was taken out of season and left to waste,” Game and Fish Laramie regional wildlife supervisor said in the press release. “We are asking for the public’s assistance with bringing forward information about this investigation.” 

A reward is being offered for information, the press release said, without specifying the amount. People can call the Stop Poaching Tip Line at 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847). Tips can also be made by texting keyword WGFD and message to 847-411 or  can  be made online at https://wgfapps.wyo.gov/StopPoaching/submitTIp.aspx.  Informants can remain anonymous. 

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Mustangs vs. Muleys: Wild Horses Out-Competing Mule Deer For Food, Water 

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Across some of Wyoming’s vast prairies and badlands, two species iconic to the West – wild horses and mule deer – compete for food and water. 

The deer are coming out on the losing end, a Wyoming hunter and deer conservation advocate said. 

“It’s a free-for-all buffet on the landscape. It (the presence of horses) is certainly having an effect on the landscape and the groceries for deer that this landscape produces,” Josh Coursey, the co-founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, told Cowboy State Daily in a recent interview. 

The horses, commonly called mustangs, can also be hard on water sources and the adjoining riparian areas – or strips of greenery near the banks of small springs and streams – upon which the deer depend, he said. 

“They (horses) can get into a springhead and stomp it until it no longer exists. And that damages the riparian areas. So, it’s a trickle-down effect, no pun intended,” Coursey said. 

Horses are all-around grazers, he said, whereas mule deer browse on only specific plants, such as mountain mahogany, sage brush and buck brush. So, when forage gets sparse, the deer simply can’t compete. 

There are thought to be roughly 80,000 mustangs scattered across 10 western and southwestern states, according to information posted online by the Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over the animals. Nevada has the most – nearly half of the mustangs live there. In 2021, the BLM rounded up about 4,100 wild horses in Wyoming, thought to be about half of the state’s mustang population at the time. Captured mustangs are sent to long-term holding corrals, and frequently put up for adoption. 

“Grey Ghosts” 

Mule deer are admired and prized by hunters and wildlife enthusiasts across the West. Most of the deer by far in America are whitetails. Those deer are smaller than mule deer, but more aggressive about claiming territory and occupy habitat in virtually every part of the country, including some areas in Wyoming. 

Mule deer are native to the Rocky Mountain and High Plains West; they can occupy habitat ranging from lowland sage flats and basins to high-mountain forests and subalpine zones. During the warm months, their coats can be reddish, but turn grey as fall approaches. Older, trophy-sized bucks in particular are known to be clever about evading hunters, earning them the nickname “grey ghosts.” 

Mule deer have been in decline in Wyoming and across the West, with experts citing a number of factors, some of which include habitat loss and disease. 

Add to that list competition with free-running horses, especially in parts of central and south-central Wyoming, Coursey said. 

Wild Or Feral Horses? 

Whether the mustangs are wild or feral is a matter of debate. In general terms, animals are considered wild if they’re native to the landscape and untamed. The term “feral” refers to animals that aren’t native to the landscape – those that have escaped captivity or been abandoned to live in the wild — and their descendants.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which doesn’t have jurisdiction over the horses, considers them feral. An article published in the December 2021 edition of the agency’s Wyoming Wildlife magazine said that North America’s last true native horses died out long ago. 

“Literature notes true wild horses went extinct in North America between 10,000 to 12,000 years ago and were never domesticated,” the article said.  “(Mustangs’ linage) traces back to domestic stock introduced by Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus, the moniker ‘wild’ doesn’t truly describe the horses on the landscape now.” 

From the 19th Century onward, the mustangs’ numbers have been augmented by horses that escaped or were abandoned by the U.S. Army or private citizens, according to the Game and Fish, and the horses continue to compete with native species for food, water sources and habitat. 

However, the American Wild Horse Campaign, a mustang advocacy group, claims the mustangs are essentially the same species as the original North American horses, and have been loose on the range long enough to be considered truly wild, according to the group’s website. A request for more comment from the group wasn’t answered. 

How To Manage Mustangs? 

Prior to 1971, horses had no legal protection or agency management, and were sometimes killed at random. The Federal Wild Horse and Burro Act, passed by Congress that year, gave those animals protected status, and put them under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, with the BLM named as the agency directly in charge. 

From the BLM’s perspective, the mustangs frequently become overpopulated, Azure Hall, a public affairs specialist stationed in the agency’s Wyoming state headquarters, said on Tuesday in an email to Cowboy State daily. 

And overabundance of mustangs can damage the habitat, threaten other species, such as mule deer, and even hurt the mustangs themselves if resources become too scarce, Hall said. Occasional roundups are the BLM’s preferred method of culling the horses’ numbers on the range. 

Low-flying helicopters are the primary means of rousting the mustangs from cover and driving them toward capture points, according to a video the American Wild Horse Campaign posted on its website. The campaign considers that inhumane, because horses panicked by the choppers will sometimes injure themselves, and foals can become separated from their mothers in the confusion. 

The campaign said in the video that the group favors birth control as the most humane and effective way to keep the mustangs’ numbers in check. Mares can be shot with darts that inject them with contraceptives. 

Romantic Ideals vs. Pragmatism?

The BLM’s mustang management approach also skews too heavily in favor of cattle grazing on the agency’s land, the wild horse campaign said in its video. 

Coursey disagreed, saying that cattle grazing permits on BLM property take into account the carrying capacity of the land and needs of mule deer and other wildlife, while horses too frequently are left to run and reproduce unfettered. 

Management policies are hampered at the federal level by people outside of the rural West who have overly-romantic ideas about mustangs, he said. 

“Folks that don’t live here day-to-day are thinking this is some sort of free spirit icon that can roam the land with great beauty,” he said. “This isn’t a Disney cartoon; we live this day in and day out.” 

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Wyoming Hunting Forecast: Elk Exceptional This Fall; Deer, Antelope Should Be Good Too

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Elk should remain the state’s top species of opportunity for Wyoming big game hunters going into this year’s hunting season, according to a forecast released this week by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

Mule deer hunting opportunities will continue to be mixed, while antelope in some regions are still recovering from the effects of drought, although hunting should still be great in most areas, according to the report. 

Elk 

Elk herd numbers are good and hunting opportunities abound across all eight of the Game and Fish’s hunting regions across Wyoming, according to the agency’s 2022 hunting season forecast, which was released Monday. https://wgfd.wyo.gov/News/Hunters-2022-Wyomng-hunt-forecast-available 

Those regions are respectively centered in Jackson, Cody, Sheridan, Green River, Laramie, Lander, Casper and Pinedale. 

Elk herds remain at least “near” Game and Fish management objective numbers in all regions, and some herds are exceeding those numbers in the Cody, Casper and Laramie regions. 

In the Laramie region, there could be exceptional opportunity for elk hunting in the aftermath of the 2020 Mullen Fire – which burned more than 176,000 acres about 28 miles west of Laramie. Plants sprouting up in the old burn areas attract elk, according to the report. 

“Hunters are encouraged to hunt south of Wyoming Highway 130 in the Snowy Range to take advantage of elk utilizing the burn scar where these vegetation improvements occurred,” the report said. 

Cow/calf licenses and hunting opportunities are plentiful in the Sheridan region. Any-elk tags were harder to draw, but “those lucky enough to draw have a reasonable chance at harvesting a mature bull,” the report said. 

On the west side of the Bighorn Mountains in the Cody region, elk hunt areas 41 and 45 remain ripe with good chances for success, with the Medicine Lodge herd in particular being “chronically above its population management objective.” 

Mule Deer 

Mule deer herds across the West have long been in decline because of a variety of factors.   Some reasons include development encroaching on the animals’ habitat and migration routes, disease and competition with other species. 

“Mule deer are sensitive to a variety of factors and continue to take it on chin,” avid hunter Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer, told Cowboy State Daily in a recent interview. He is the founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, a mule deer advocacy and conservation group.  

Weather has also come into play against mule deer, according to the Game and Fish. For example, harsh winters have hampered mule deer herd recovery in the Sublette and Wyoming Range areas of the Jackson region. The Game and Fish’s management strategy there has been geared toward producing more mature bucks, thereby giving tenacious hunters better chances of making “trophy-class” kills, according to the report. 

Likewise, licenses for antlerless mule deer will remain limited in the Sheridan region, where the hunting regulations were altered to no longer allow killing mule deer does on private lands in some hunt areas. 

Drought and an uptick in chronic wasting disease (CWD) have continued to hurt mule deer in the Cody region, although hunting conditions there should be “slightly improved” compared to 2021, the report said. 

CWD among mule deer was cited as a factor in other hunting regions. It’s a fatally degenerative nervous system and brain disease that has long infected mule deer, as well as some elk herds, in Wyoming and the West. Although there are no known cases of transmission to humans, the Centers for Disease Control and the Game and Fish recommend against eating meat from an infected animal. The Game and Fish provides free CWD testing of samples taken from hunters’ kills. CWD sample submission is mandatory in some deer hunt areas, such as areas 59, 60 and 64 in the Laramie region. 

Antelope 

Pronghorn, commonly called antelope, remain an iconic Wyoming species. Although record-smashing trophy bucks aren’t as common as they might be among some antelope herds farther to the south, Wyoming is known for its abundance of opportunity to hunt the speedy animals across vast plains and badlands. 

New this year, hunters who hold tags for hunt area 85 in the Jackson region may pursue antelope on the National Elk Refuge. Antelope in the Jackson region are a migratory segment of the Sublette herd, which remains somewhat below the Game and Fish’s desired numbers, along with some other herds in the state. 

Drought in some areas was been cited as one reason for lagging antelope numbers, but Game and Fish still predicts plenty of opportunity and ample hunter success across Wyoming. 

In the Green River region, a mild winter should have allowed antelope to bounce back. A mild and wet early summer should have also prompted better horn growth in bucks there. 

Antelope numbers can vary within regions, the Game and Fish said. The famed herds in the Laramie Valley and Shirley Basin areas of the Laramie region have been in decline, but numbers are up in hunt areas 47 and 48, which are northwest of Laramie and east of Rawlins. 

Some whitetails hit hard by disease 

The report also includes forecasts for some other species, such as upland birds, waterfowl, small game and whitetail deer. 

Wyoming isn’t particularly known for whitetails, hunters who know where to look can find those deer, including some large bucks, in lowland thickets and river bottoms scattered across the state. 

Whitetail deer tag allocations remain “liberal” in the much-vaunted Sheridan region, although CWD and bluetongue disease (Hemorrhagic disease) have killed a number of deer there. Bluetongue can also infect antelope, but isn’t transmissible to humans. 

In the Casper region, massive outbreaks of the disease killed many whitetails last fall, which mean hunters pursuing the wily species might face thin odds this year. 

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No Albino Moose Lately In Wyoming But There Has Been An Albino Catfish And Albino Antelope

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter  

Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com  

 It could be an ethical quandary for hunters: If you had an albino critter in your sights, would you pull the trigger? 

So long as the hunter has a valid tag and the species is in season, there’s no regulation against killing albino game animals in Wyoming, Sara DiRienzo, the public information officer for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said in an email on Tuesday to Cowboy State Daily. 

Still, some hunters might hesitate, because such all-white creatures are so rare and unusually beautiful. A video of an albino moose sent out across Twitter went viral and immediately gained fans all over the world. 

The website “All About Moose” says albinism occurs in about one of every 100,000 animals in that species. 

The condition is caused by a recessive gene and is extremely rare, DiRienzo said, although “in Wyoming, we’ve seen wildlife from deer to catfish with albinism. “ 

There wasn’t information available about the last time an albino moose was spotted in Wyoming. 

An albino channel catfish was found in May 2017 among a tank of 2,500 catfish that had been transported from Arkansas for stocking in Sloan’s Lake in Cheyenne, according to a Game and Fish news release at the time. 

The same year, an albino pronghorn (antelope) caught attention after being spotted among a herd near Cheyenne. A photo of it was posted on a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation members’ chat forum. Other members of the forum shared photos of albino wildlife from around the country. 

Albinism in wildlife occurs when an animal’s cells can’t produce melanin, a pigment that causes colorization in skin, eyes, scales or fur, according to information posted on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website. Because of the lack of eye pigmentation, albino animals can suffer from impaired eyesight. The bright colorization can also make them more vulnerable to predators.  

However, albinism isn’t an all-or-nothing condition. Some animals can be only partly bright-white, while the rest of their skin, scales or fur will have normal colorization. 

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Speed Goats, Swamp Donkeys, Assault Cows: Nicknames Abound For Wyoming’s Wild Critters 

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

A band of speed goats leaves a cloud of dust in their wake as they tear across the parched basin, while a swamp donkey enjoys greenery along a creek bed high on the slopes of nearby mountains. 

Along a highway in a wooded valley on the other side of the mountains, intrusive tourists test the patience of assault cows. And from his perch in an alpine zone between the basin and valley, a whistle pig keeps diligent watch for predators near his den. 

If they could grasp an understanding of those nicknames, the creatures pegged with them might be offended. Or amused. It’s impossible to say. 

Formally, they go by the more dignified titles of pronghorn, Shrias Moose, American plains bison and yellow-bellied marmot. (OK, perhaps the “yellow-bellied” part isn’t so dignified). 

Other animals, such as elk, might be misnamed, depending upon the perspective. 

The Need For Speed (Goats) 

Hang out around hunters long enough, and you’ll likely hear the animals commonly referred to as antelope being called “speed goats.” 

So, are these animals members of the antelope family, or the goat family? 

Trick question – they’re neither.  They don’t belong to any family. At least none still living. 

Pronghorn are a uniquely North American species. At one time in the distant past – probably even before the first humans arrived in what is now Wyoming – they had a few direct relatives. But those other species have since died out, leaving pronghorn as the sole survivors. 

They’re built to survive. They have hollow hair which helps keep them cool during the blistering summers and warm during the frigid winters on their home range. Their vision is about as good as a human’s looking through a pair of 10-power binoculars. 

And they’re arguably the fastest land animals on earth. African Cheetas can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in short bursts – considerably faster than the pronghorn’s estimated top speed of about 55 mph. However, pronghorn can keep their top speed up for extended periods and across several miles. So, they would leave Cheetas in the dust in any race that lasted for more than a few seconds.   

That, coupled with what could charitably be described as a goat-like face has led to perhaps their most popular nickname, “speed goats”. 

“Antelope” is the most common informal name for them; even the Wyoming Game and Fish Department uses that title in its hunting regulations. 

It’s speculated that when the first pioneers of European descent started to see the creatures as they pushed into the vast lands of the West, they didn’t know what to call them. Images of the various antelope species native to Africa probably came to mind, and the name stuck. 

Large, Confusing Deer 

“Swamp Donkey” is a fairly common colloquialism for moose, probably because of their awkward faces and huge, floppy ears. 

Moose are the largest member of the deer family, which in Wyoming also includes whitetail and mule deer, as well as elk. (Well, moose might actually be elk, and elk might not be properly called elk after all – but more on that in a bit.) 

The subspecies native to Wyoming is the Shiras Moose. They are smaller than Alaskan moose, but still impressively huge. And certainly nothing to trifle with. Moose are known to be generally fearless, and cow moose can become downright vicious if they sense a threat to their young. 

The term “moose” is thought to have originated from “moosh”, which in the dialect of the Indigenous Canadian Innu people translates to “stripper and eater of bark,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica’s online edition. 

Except in Europe, they’re known as “elk”, and the European Cousins of what Americans call “elk” are “red deer.” 

The European term “elk” probably traces back to old English and/or German words meaning “large deer,” according to Britannica. Which is why swamp donkeys … err, moose, are called elk on that side of the pond. 

Meanwhile, the creatures known to Indigenous Americans as “Wapiti” are called “elk” over here.  Probably, again, because European explorers called them “elk” upon first encountering them, because that was their old term for “large deer.” Which is what they are. 

Who You Calling “Whistle Pig”? 

Yellow-bellied marmots are frequently called “rock chucks,” at least in this region. Although they go by a variety of nicknames. They might occasionally be called “whistle pigs” in Wyoming, but that term seems to be more commonly used in the South for ground hogs. 

Wyoming’s marmots are sometimes also called “ground hogs”, even though they aren’t. Marmots, which populate the Western states, and ground hogs, which are found in the East and South, are closely related, but not the same species. They are among the largest members of the squirrel family. 

The term “chuck” is frequently attached to both critters, as in “rock chuck” or “wood chuck.”  That’s probably because of a the “chucking” sound of their alarm calls, according to the Marmot Burrow web site and University of California biologist Daniel T. Blumstein. 

“Assault Cows” 

And lastly, we come to buffalo … no, wait, bison. 

These massive, iconic creatures are most properly called American plains bison. They are related to the American wood bison, which has a more northern, forested home range. 

They aren’t related to actual buffalo, which include Asian water buffalo and African cape buffalo. 

As to how they came to be called buffalo, it seems that confused European explorers are again to blame. 

“The word buffalo is derived from the French “bœuf,” a name given to bison when French fur trappers working in the U.S. in the early 1600s saw the animals,” says information posted online by the National Park Service. “The word bœuf came from what the French knew as true buffalo, animals living in Africa and Asia. Although this name was a mix-up of two different animals, many people still know bison as buffalo today.” 

The online site “Yellowstone: Invasion of the Idiots,” founded by two Yellowstone-area residents to chronicle the misadventures of tourists, features a far better nickname. It’s based upon the bison sometimes losing patience and hammering foolhardy tourists who have invaded the bison’s personal space: “High capacity assault cow.” 

Courtesy: Yellowstone Invasion of the Idiots

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Biologists Say Established Wolf Packs Outside of Wyoming’s Northwest Corner Are Unlikely

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

About four years ago, Johnny Bergeson – an avid hunter and hunting guide from Laramie – watched a wolf from the cab his pickup. 

Bergeson, his pickup and the wolf were in southern Wyoming’s Wick/Beumee Wildlife Habitat Management Area.

“I was driving up the main road,” Bergeson told Cowboy State Daily. “He ran alongside the road, right in front of me, for quite a ways.” 

Bergeson has extensive experience hunting and guiding in backcountry regions with known established wolf packs, so he knows what he saw.  However, the management zone he was in that day is commonly called “Wagonhound” because of its proximity to the Wagonhound Rest Area near the Arlington Exit off of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Rawlins. 

In other words, he saw the wolf in nearly the opposite corner of the state from Wyoming’s established wolf habitat in the Greater Yellowstone area in the Northwest corner.   

Stories of wolves or fresh wolf sign from all across Wyoming have been circulating for years. Some are probably true, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist said. 

“Wolves dispersing out of suitable habitat in northwest Wyoming are capable of traveling long distances and have been documented in all regions of Wyoming, and in all surrounding states, through the years,” Ken Mills, the lead Game and Fish wolf biologist, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. 

“There will sometimes be random sightings of individuals (lone wolves) in southeast Wyoming. Game and Fish gets a few reports every year in southwest/south central Wyoming but very, very few are verified,” he said. “Wolves have been down that way but it is not common. A single wolf moving through or a pair of wolves are not easy to document.” 

The nearest documented wolf packs to the Laramie area have been west of Casper, Mills said.  

Colorado Connection 

As part of the wider dispersal pattern Mills described, some wolves have settled in Colorado, where they remain mostly protected. So, it could be difficult to say whether the wolf Bergeson saw had traipsed all the way diagonally across Wyoming, or simply come north from Colorado. 

Moreover, Colorado voters in 2020 approved a measure to reintroduce wolves in areas of that state west of the Continental Divide, according to reports on Colorado Public Radio’s news website. The plan is to begin releasing reintroduced wolves there by the end of 2023, in hopes of establishing permanent packs. 

That would be similar to the Greater Yellowstone area wolf program, which used relocated wolves from Canada as a seed population in the mid-1990s. That has since blossomed into numerous established packs in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 

Inside the park, wolves are fully protected. Outside of it, all three states have established hunting zones, where licensed hunters may kill wolves according to bag limits and during set hunting seasons. In most of the rest of Wyoming beyond the controlled hunt zone, wolves may be killed on sight with no season or bag limit restrictions. 

So long as Wyoming’s shoot-on-sight law remains for most of the state, that will apply to wolves that might cross over from Colorado. So, it’s unlikely that Colorado’s anticipated packs will ever be able to establish a significant population in Southeast Wyoming, Mills said.

Lack of habitat will also be a factor, he said. 

“An expanding wolf population in Colorado could provide a source for dispersing wolves to move north into Wyoming,” he said. “However, there are no tracts of suitable habitat large enough to consistently sustain resident wolf packs outside the northwest corner of Wyoming.” 

Wanderlust 

Wolves will probably still occasionally show up in southeast Wyoming and across other regions of the state, Mills said. 

Young wolves in particular might strike out on their own and travel vast distances, he said. They’re more likely to take off if their home range becomes too crowded. 

“Wolves disperse from their natal territory at around two years of age and are primarily in search of breeding opportunities,” he said.  “Males disperse slightly more than females because female breeders are often recruited from within the pack; males are usually recruited from outside the pack.”   

One mated pair of wolves is known to have traveled separately from Wyoming before meeting in Colorado, Mills said. And a lone female from Wyoming made it all the way to the Grand Canyon.

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Lawsuit Could Halt Wolf Hunts In Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

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By Mark Heinz , Public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@cowboystatedaily.com

Alleged bad wolf management by Montana and Idaho could shut down wolf hunts in those states and Wyoming, if a complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by environmental and animal welfare groups succeeds. 

“Wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains are not currently protected under the ESA” (Endangered Species Act), says a complaint filed in Missoula, Mont. Division of U.S. District Court, and more aggressive hunting and trapping methods that have been proposed in Montana and Idaho could threaten the animals’ continued recovery in the region.” 

The complaint requests that ESA protection be restored, which would effectively halt state-managed wolf hunting and trapping in those states, as well as Wyoming. It was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Sierra Club. The defendants are named as the U.S. Department of Interior and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director Martha Williams. 

Wolf management has been a cantankerous topic in the Greater Yellowstone region for the nearly 30 years since the apex predators were reintroduced into the area in the mid-1990s. And pitched debates over the topic date even further back – to when reintroduction began to be seriously considered in the late 1980s. 

Proponents of wolves have argued that the predators bring vital balance and restoration to ecosystems. Wolves not only cull the numbers of large ungulates such as elk, but they also keep their prey moving, instead of congregating in and trampling vulnerable areas such as willow stands and delicate streamside riparian habitat, advocates claim. 

Opponents have claimed that reintroducing wolves has threatened ranchers’ livelihood and taken too great a toll on big game herds, thereby ruining hunting opportunities in many areas. Wolf opponents also claim that packs have severely set back other vital species, such as moose. 

By the mid-2000s, it seemed that both sides had settled into a sort of grudging acceptance. The anti-wolf side had accepted that the predators weren’t going away. Meanwhile, wolf advocates had to accept that eventual management by the states – which had been built into the reintroduction plan from the start – would mean that hunters would be allowed to kill some wolves. 

Still, lawsuits have occasionally cropped up, requesting that ESA protection be restored for wolves, as some continue to claim that the state wolf management programs lean too aggressively toward elimination, rather than conservation. 

The new complaint claims that a finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, previously requested by the plaintiffs, did in fact find a credible case for relisting the wolves. That finding was issued on Sept. 17, 2021. The deadline for FWS to determine whether relisting was warranted passed on June 1, according to the complaint.   

The complaint seeks a court order declaring that the defendants violated the ESA by failing to meet the deadline. 

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Scientists Say Wyoming Spared From “Murder Hornets” Because Of Climate

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, a dark-humor meme started going around, which Facebook users termed “Apocalypse Bingo.” 

“Flesh Eating Robots,” “Tiger King Craze,” “Toilet Paper Hoarders,” and “Massive Saharan Dust Cloud” were all real-life extreme events that appeared on some of those hypothetical Bingo cards – as well as another title that sounds like something from a bad B-grade horror film: “Murder Hornets.” 

But where have those terrifying insects gone, since their disturbing appearance in popular culture two and a half years ago? And do they pose any threat to insects – and humans – in the Cowboy State? 

Asian Giant Hornets 

In early 2020, Asian Giant Hornets were making a name for themselves, attacking hives of honeybees in the Pacific Northwest. Just last month, the species (which are officially labeled Vespa mandarinia) was given a new name by the Entomological Society of America – the northern giant hornet. 

The “giant” label is well-deserved. The queens can grow up to 2 inches long.  

And the unofficial designation of “murder” hornets is also accurate.  The insects target other bee colonies.  They use mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins to decapitate their smaller prey, then feed the dead bees’ bodies to the young hornets.

However, unless provoked, scientists say the hornets rarely attack humans. Each year 30-50 people die from northern giant hornet stings in the insects’ native Japan; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that hornets, wasps and bees kill an average of 62 people per year in this country. 

But the stinger of a murder hornet can puncture a beekeeping suit – and human victims have likened the sting to “red-hot thumbtacks” puncturing their skin. 

Since the insects were first spotted on the west coast in 2019, scientists and beekeepers have been trying to eradicate the invasive species, primarily because of the threat to native honeybees. So far, they’ve been successful in keeping the numbers under control, destroying several hives within a year after they were discovered in North America.  

Wyoming’s Climate Not Hospitable 

But the chances of the aggressive insects relocating to Wyoming are small, according to Scott Schell, an entomologist at the University of Wyoming. 

“The extremes of our climate, heat and dryness in the summer and the extreme cold of the winter, they’re just not adapted to it,” said Schell. “They come from maritime habitats like Taiwan and Japan, and of course they were able to successfully live in the Pacific Northwest next to coasts. I don’t think the habitat of the dry interior of those states is suitable for them.” 

Watch Out For Wyoming’s Dangerous Insects 

Schell warns, though, that there are insects in Wyoming that can cause harm to humans. 

“The European paper wasp seems to have spread to most towns in Wyoming,” Schell said. “It seems pretty well adapted to living in towns, I haven’t found many out in wild areas.” 

Paper wasps will deliver a painful sting if they are disturbed, or their nests are threatened, and cause allergic reactions, just as other insect stings do. 

“But they’re no worse, and are probably actually less aggressive than, say, our western yellowjackets,” Schell said. 

Ticks, which are found in wooded and grassy areas, can carry diseases such as tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Colorado Tick Fever.  

And mosquitoes carry the threat of West Nile Virus, which can develop into West Nile neuroinvasive disease with symptoms such as severe headache, fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions and paralysis. 

But just in case, keep an eye out for murder hornets. 

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State, Fed Biologists Warn Public To Stay Away From Grizzly Trapping Sites

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

They aren’t “no trespassing” signs in the strictly legal sense, but venturing into the woods beyond one would still be ill-advised, because therein could be an irritated grizzly. 

Bright orange “do not enter” signs warning of grizzly bear live trapping and examination sties had been posted in remote areas near Yellowstone National Park earlier this summer.  They will continue to appear inside the park through October. 

Take Signs Seriously

There’s a reason those signs are there.

Take the case of Ewin Frank Evert of Cody, Wyoming. Back in June 2010, an adult male grizzly that had apparently just recovered from being tranquilized and examined by biologists at one of the sites attacked and killed Evert.

The attack occurred near Evert’s cabin along Kitty Creek in the Shoshone National Forest near Cody. Evert’s widow later unsuccessfully sued the federal Government, on the claim that the trapping and examination site hadn’t been adequately marked with warning signs beforehand. 

Tube-Like Metal Traps

The signs mark off areas where government biologists set baited live traps for bruins, in hopes of gathering data related to individual bears’ health, as well as insights into the vitality of the overall population.  

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and related agencies will use bait such as carrion to lure bears into large, tube-like metal traps.

They can be tranquilized for examination by biologists and then left alone to revive and go on about their grizzly business, which this time of year usually involves packing on fat for the upcoming hibernation season, according to the study team’s website. 

Still Going On In Yellowstone

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrapped up its trap-to-monitor program in areas outside Yellowstone this summer, large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. 

Game and Fish finishes its trapping early in order to lessen the chances of conflict between grizzlies and hunters, firewood cutters and others who start venturing out during the late summer and autumn. 

The program will continue inside the park – where activities such as hunting and woodcutting aren’t allowed – until late October, Frank T. van Manen, a USGS ecologist and the study team’s supervisory research wildlife biologist, said in an email. 

The team typically traps and examines grizzlies inside the park “throughout the bears’ active season” which begins in April or May, he said. 

The exact locations of the trapping sites aren’t widely released to the public, to protect both the bears and people who might be foolhardy enough to venture into the sites, van Manen said. The sites are clearly marked with the warning signs at “all major access points.” 

Grizzlies Captured

Game and Fish this year captured seven grizzlies in the Sunlight Basin region and another six in Moccasin Basin, Thompson said. Of those caught and examined in the Sunlight area, two adult males, an adult female and young female were fitted with radio collars. All of the bears from Moccasin basin were collared, and included two adult males and four adult females.

“Capturing four adult females in one area is pretty significant, and they were all new captures,” he said.    

“Information from these collared grizzly bears provides data on survival, reproduction, distribution, habitat use, and movements of grizzly bears,” Thompson said. “In addition, some bears are not collared but samples obtained provide insight into genetics, diet, body condition.  Every animal handled provides a wealth of information for the overall population.” 

Radio collars provide a vital overview not only into the bears’ movements, but also provide insight into things such as mortality rates and the estimated number of females and cubs of the year, van Manen said. 

During the examinations, each bear’s size and weight is taken, along with hair and blood samples. The latter help biologists determine genetics and monitor the possible spread of disease, he said. 

Another vital measurement is body fat, he said. “Females need to enter the hibernation period with more than 20% body fat to successfully reproduce.” 

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British Tourist Still Hospitalized After Bison Attack; Remains Partially Paralyzed

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been seven weeks since British tourist Amelia Dean was gored and flipped by a bison in Custer State Park.

Dean is still hospitalized in Rapid City, South Dakota where she is going through therapy to deal with partial paralysis as a result of the injuries.

Unlike many of the tourists in Yellowstone National Park who have deliberately put themselves in harm’s way by taunting bison or trying to pet or ride them, Dean said she was doing everything by the book.

Dean stayed far away from the bison herd, she said, although admitting that she could have turned around upon spotting the bison but was thirsty so decided to continue and “walk around them.”

Bison Attack

Yellowstone officials advise staying at least 25 yards away from bison. Dean said she was more than 100 yards away from a bison herd when one began running her way.

“The bison just ran down the hill at her. It came right up and stopped in front of her and then apparently, they had a bit of eye contact for a few seconds,” Dean’s mother Jacqueline told South Dakota TV Station KOTA.

The bison stopped right in front of Dean and then gored her, Dean said.

“It went through her thigh with the horn. Came out the other end. Tossed her in the air,” Jacqueline said.

Dean’s father said she achieved between 10 – 15 feet of altitude before hitting the ground.

“I remember the sensation of flying in the air and going head over heels,” Amelia said.

According to KOTA, Dean’s femoral artery was punctured and although her prognosis was not good, she didn’t bleed out and was able to survive the injury.

“So, it’s a miracle I even lived until the ambulance got there, you know, let alone when I got here and kept my life and my leg,” she said.

Doctors say Dean is paralyzed from the knee down in her injured leg due to significant damage to two of her nerves.

Medical authorities are unsure how long Dean will be hospitalized. Dean’s mother said they tried to send her to the Mayo Clinic to see a specialist but the request was denied.

In the meantime, Dean said she hopes no one will cancel their trip to see wildlife as a result of her injuries.

“I think I hope this doesn’t discourage people from traveling. Travel and explore and have fun. This is a freak accident this isn’t going to happen every time somebody walks in a park. Hopefully,” she said.

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Cicadas Have Emerged in Wyoming This Year To Throw Predators Off, Entomologists Say

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It was last year when the 17-year periodic cicadas emerged from their cocoons and annoyed many (at least on the eastern portion of the country) with their constant buzzing.

So, if these bugs emerge only once every two decades, why are we hearing them at night in Wyoming this year?

According to University of Wyoming professor and entomologist Scott Schell, cicadas are emerging right now because they are trying to keep predators from tracking their life cycles. The state actually is not home to the long-living cicadas that emerge once every 10-plus years.

“The various cicada species that have been emerging in noticeable numbers in various parts of the state are mainly the proto-periodic species,” Schell said. “It is thought they have random mass emergences so their predator’s populations can’t track and depend on them.”

There are more than 20 species of cicada in Wyoming. They usually live anywhere from two to five years and are typically found in sagebrush, grassland and shrubby areas.

“Like most insects their maturation has to do with degree day accumulation, meaning that temperatures above a certain threshold allow for faster growth to adulthood,” Schell said.

While they are quite easy for most people to hear, especially in the evening, they are much harder to spot.

Schell said there are three different life cycles for cicadas: annual (which is self-explanatory), periodical (ones that emerge together after a long period of time, such as the 17-year Magicicada species) and proto-periodical, which is what Wyomingites are hearing this summer.

The two largest cicada species in the state are the giant grassland cicada and dog-day cicada. Both insects are close to two inches long with wingspans of over four inches, according to previous writings by Schell.

According to Wyoming outdoors writer Amber Travsky, cicadas don’t bite, sting or otherwise attack humans. They also do not eat plants or flowers, but instead subside on sap from trees and shrubs.

The Environmental Protection Agency said cicadas actually provide some environmental benefits, such as being valuable food sources for birds and other predators, aerating lawns and improving water filtration into the ground and adding nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Pesticides are also ineffective against them, the EPA said. Plus, since so many emerge at the same time, the ones killed by pesticides will just be replaced with new cicadas.

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Wyoming Game and Fish, Guides Warn Against Fishing In Hot Weather

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West Laramie Fly Store in Laramie. Photo by Mark Heinz
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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Catch-and-release fishing is common among trout enthusiasts who relish having a good scrap in picturesque settings without depleting fisheries, but experts cautioned that during hot spells it can harm or even kill fish. 

That’s vital to keep in mind as searing temperatures continue across much of Wyoming, said Wyoming Game and Fish Department public information officer Sara DiRienzo. 

“We’re discouraging people from catch-and-release fishing for trout during the middle of the day in this heat,” she said. “Trout, especially, are cold water fish. When hot weather raises water temperatures, then they can become too stressed more quickly.” 

Trout are prized by anglers because they’re apt to put up a fierce fight once hooked, but that can be their undoing when waters get too warm, DiRienzo said.  

Water temperature above about 70 degrees is considered dangerously hot for trout. The fish tend to lurk deep in cool water during the peak of summer. Getting hooked and then struggling mightily while being reeled toward the surface through increasingly warm layers of water can stress trout past their limits, she said. 

It’s best to catch-and-release trout only during the relative cool of early mornings or evenings, and only in water that is adequately cool during those periods, DiRienzo said. 

“Play and land the fish as quickly as possible to avoid exhausting them,” she said. “We recommend using barbless hooks, because they’re easier to remove, and removing the hook while the fish is in the water. Don’t squeeze the fish or put your fingers into their gills. If people can adjust their practices, they can still have a good time fishing and protect the trout.” 

If, despite an angler’s best efforts, a trout appears to be hopelessly lethargic after the hook is removed, consider quickly dispatching it and keeping it to eat, rather than leaving it to suffer a lingering death, DiRienzo said. 

Warm water species, such as walleye, aren’t as susceptible to heat stress and exhaustion. These could be an alternative to trout until cooler weather arrives, she said. 

Guides

Roger Bredehoft, manager of the Laramie-based Two Dogs Guide Service, agreed. 

 “This time of year, we pretty much quit trout fishing on most of the rivers,” he said. 

The only exception is on stretches of river that are directly below dams, where cool reservoir water is released regularly, he said. 

“If you want to catch trout in lakes, go really early in the morning or late in the evening,” Bredehoft said. Or, consider going only to high-altitude lakes and ponds, where the water is more likely to be adequately cool. 

He echoed DiRienzo’s advice on how to treat trout during hot weather. 

“No matter where you are, on a river or a lake, land them as quick as you can, unhook them as quick as you can and release them as quick as you can,” he said. “If you want to take a picture, have the person with the camera all set up and ready. Lift the fish out of the water, take the picture and put the fish right back into the water.” 

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Wyoming Hunting Regs Going Paperless – And It Could Be Permanent

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Hunters – if you’re wondering when printed copies of the 2022 big game hunting regulations will start showing up at your favorite sporting goods stores – they won’t.

Global paper supply problems are probably to blame, Wyoming Game and Fish Department public information officer Sara DiRienzo said in an email Tuesday to Cowboy State Daily.

The company that Game and Fish contracted with for the printing, RR Donnelley, has cited supply problems as the reason for being unable to fulfill the contract this year, DiRienzo said. Printed small game and trapping regulations also won’t be available, except at regional Game and Fish offices.

The department’s 2022 fishing regulations were part a printing run in December of last year, before the supply problems started, and so they are widely available, DiRienzo said.

Swinging by the store in late summer to pick up a copy of “the regs” has over the years become a tradition for many hunters, along with other pre-season rituals such as re-calibrating the accuracy of rifles or archery tackle and checking to make sure packs, boots and clothing are in good repair.

The magazine-style booklets contain a wealth of pertinent information, such as season dates and which licenses may be used for which species in any of Wyoming’s numerous hunting areas for pronghorn, deer and elk.

Permanent?

But in an increasingly paperless world, this year’s change might become permanent.

Regarding whether big game regulations will be printed next year or anytime thereafter, DiRienzo said, “The department is still evaluating our options for coming years.”

Printed copies of the big game regulations are also typically mailed out with hunting tags that have been issued to those who were successful in drawings for limited quota hunt areas. That won’t happen this year, but there should be limited supplies of printed regulations available at Game and Fish offices throughout Wyoming, DiRienzo said.

“The contractor typically prints and mails about 40,000 copies of big game regulations to licensed hunters on behalf of the department,” DiRienzo stated. “Game and Fish has sourced printing – mostly through WY Brand Industries – for 10 percent of our typically run to make available in our regional offices.”

Digital Options

Hunters also have digital options – Game and fish has launched “an interactive, online version of our regulations that are mobile friendly and a webpage with easy-to-download versions for people to print at home”, DiRienzo said

She noted that Game and Fish has heard only “limited negate feedback” about the general availability of printed regulations.

There haven’t been any complaints at the Laramie Sportsman’s Warehouse outlet, said Nick Trampe, the store’s office manager.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming in and asking about them (the printed regulations), but not really anybody complaining,” he said.

Game and Fish has supplied stores with laminated printout sheets featuring a QR code that hunters can scan, and then download a full digital version of the regulations to their mobile devices, Trampe said. Those digital copies should open directly from mobile devices, even when hunters are in remote areas that are otherwise out of cellular or wireless connection range, he said.

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Grizzlies Moved After Killing Sheep, Cattle Near Yellowstone

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Two male grizzly bears that killed livestock in separate incidents in the Cody and Pinedale regions of Wyoming were captured and relocated to remote drainages near Yellowstone National Park on Sunday and Monday, according to the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.

The bear captured and relocated on Sunday was released in the Bailey Creek drainage about 11 miles from the south entrance to Yellowstone, according to a Game and Fish News release issued early Tuesday. The grizzly captured and moved on Monday was released in the Five Mile drainage roughly five miles from the Park’s east entrance. 

The first bear “was involved in sheep depredations” while the second “was captured and relocated for cattle depredation,” Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson stated said Tuesday in an email to Cowboy State Daily. The first incident occurred on private property and the second on public land.. 

The bear captured and moved on Sunday was a “sub-adult,” estimated to be about three-four years old and weighing 265 pounds, Thompson said stated. The other bruin was a mature bear, approximately eight years old and weighing just over 361 pounds.

“Sub-adult” is a designation generally used for bears aged two-four years, that have split from their mothers, but aren’t yet old enough establish a home range and possibly start mating – which usually occurs around age five, according to Thompson. 

Upon capture, tranquilized bears’ ages can be estimated according to tooth wear; exact aging requires an analysis of samples taken before the animals revive and are released.

Relocation is an option for grizzlies that have been involved in conflicts with human interests after “other deterrents or preventative options are exhausted or unattainable,” according to the Game and Fish news release. Bears that pose a direct threat to human safety don’t qualify for relocation and must sometimes be killed, according to the Game and Fish. 

Headed For New Trouble?

As to whether bears such as the two males in question could be headed for conflict with other grizzlies that have already established territories in the relocation zones, Thompson said that’s possible, but not a major concern. 

“Bears are not territorial in the sense that a wolf pack is territorial and actively defends territory boundaries,” he said. 

Grizzlies can have overlapping home ranges, “but a resident male is not tolerant of another male attempting to acquire some of the ‘spoils’ of the home range (food sources, reproduction).”  

“Our resident males are all pretty battle tested and battle scarred from some of these disputes, which would be expected of a high-density bear population as we have in the GYE” (Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem),” Thompson wrote. 

That has made it more difficult to find suitable relocation sites, but there is no indication that the relocation program has hurt the overall survival rates or longevity of bears, Thompson said.

“Luckily, the majority of our bears do not develop a propensity for conflict behavior,” Thompson said. “Bears involved in management actions and relocation or removal gain notoriety in the media and public, but these are a relatively handful of situations for a population in excess of 1,000 bears that is spread across a diverse array of suitable habitat.  We deal with conflict situations on a near daily basis, but that is a reflection of successful recovery efforts.” 

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Don’t Milk The Snake: Wyoming Reptile Expert Busts Rattler & Other Snake Myths

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
clair@cowboystatedaily.com

If you see a rattlesnake this summer, don’t milk it for venom.  Also, be careful when hunting rattlesnakes for their meat.    

These are the warnings of Zack Walker, Wyoming Game and Fish non-game supervisor and reptile expert.     

Walker told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday he’s heard of many Wyomingites eating rattlesnakes, but hadn’t heard of people surviving on them.    

“I do talk to people who say they’ve had them before,” said Walker, who has not eaten a rattlesnake. “I’ve never met somebody who eats a lot of them, I guess.”    

Rattlesnakes, which taste slightly of chicken, are not legally protected from being hunted or killed.    

However, they are venomous and sometimes deadly snakes, with frontal fangs that can easily pierce human flesh.    

Walker said he hadn’t heard of Wyomingites trying to milk rattlesnakes for their venom, but he advises against that.    

“I would leave that to the professionals,” he said. “That makes me a little worried and hopefully people don’t do that.”    

Though deadly, rattlesnakes generally are not aggressive unless provoked, which is why most rattlesnake bites occur when people try to attack or handle the snakes without prior training, Walker noted.  

For that reason, he added, snake hunters should use caution.    

Eat This, Not That   

If you must eat a rattlesnake, note that the prairie rattlesnake population in Wyoming can handle it better than the midget faded rattlesnake, which is a different subspecies that, Walker said, is somewhat rare.    

“It’s a little bit more of a conservation concern than is the prairie rattlesnake,” said Walker, specifying again that he wasn’t encouraging snake-hunting for dinner.    

The midget faded rattlesnake in Wyoming is found only in the southwest corner of the state, “kind of near the Flaming Gorge area,” whereas the prairie rattlesnake is widespread.    

Walker, who earned a master’s degree in herpetology and has spent his career tracking and studying reptiles and amphibians, said he wasn’t sure if he’d eat a rattlesnake because he’s spent so much time studying them.    

“I’d feel a little guilty, but I might.”    

If bit by any kind of rattlesnake, remove constricting accessories such as rings and bracelets, and seek medical care immediately. Rattlers can dry bite, that is, bite a person without injecting venom, but it’s best not to gamble on that possibility, said Walker.   

Hog-Nosed   

Rattlesnakes aren’t the only venomous snakes in Wyoming, but they seem like it.    

There’s also the hog-nosed snake.  

“The hog-nosed snake does have a weak venom, but it’s rear-fanged,” said Walker. “You usually never hear about anybody getting bit by hog-nosed snakes. That’s difficult to do.”   

Besides having a weak, usually non-fatal venom and a mechanical disadvantage of attack due to its rear fangs, the hog-nosed snake has sweeter manners.    

“Their temperament is such that they don’t bite you anyway,” Walker added.    

A Job To Do   

Bull snakes have a job to do.   

These five-foot-long snakes are a common sight in Wyoming, and can be distinguished from rattlesnakes by their narrower heads and rounder pupils. They are not venomous  but can cause pain and bruising if they bite and latch on during an attack.     

Despite that, the clever bull snake will mimic a rattlesnake when threatened, by shaking its tail in debris to emulate a rattling, and by making a rattling hiss through its mouth.    

Bull snakes eat rodents and birds.    

“They’re out there doing a job. They keep the rodent population down,” said Walker. “If people are scared of them they can run them off, but (bull snakes) are doing their job.”    

Wyomingites often will tell one another to keep bull snakes around, because bull snakes eat rattlesnakes.

“The truth of it is, they don’t commonly eat rattlesnakes,” said Walker. “One might eat a small rattlesnake, but it’s not typically going to go out of its way to eat one.”   

Walker said the bull snake is more likely to shack up with the rattlesnake than eat it.    

“I’ve personally seen bull snakes and rattlesnakes in the same hibernacula (den),” he said, adding, however, that the two types of snakes are too far apart genetically to inter-breed.   

Giant Ball of Snakes   

Another Wyoming legend about snakes is that rattlesnakes crossing a lake will knot themselves into a huge ball, and can cause major water-skiing accidents in that form.    

“I have never seen that, and I wouldn’t expect that to happen, just by the sheer nature of a rattlesnake,” said Walker.    

Just like all snakes, rattlesnakes can swim, but they usually prefer to cross lakes and other water bodies alone.    

The knotted-snake legend may have its origins in facts, however, since garter snakes emerging from hibernation gather into a huge knot together to mate.    

A knot of garter snakes in the water might harm a person’s boat, said Walker, but not more than any other clump of debris of equal size.    

The Reek   

Water snakes make children stink on purpose.    

A final commonly-held belief about snakes in Wyoming is that children catching water snakes will have foul-smelling hands.   

Not only is this belief true, it’s completely intentional on the part of the water snake.   

“They produce a musk that comes, basically out of their cloaca, or their vent, and it’s designed to smell bad and dissuade predators,” Walker said.

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Cody Horticulturalist Worried Impact Of Monarch Butterflies Making Endangered Species List

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Last week, monarch butterflies were added to the endangered species list.

Despite Wyoming not being in Canada-to-Mexico annual migration flight path, a Park County horticulturalist hopes that the monarch butterfly species’ endangerment will bring awareness to all pollinators.

“I’m in Cody and I have a pollinator garden and I usually see a couple of monarchs every year,” Bobbie Holder said. “Their endangered status won’t make a difference in Wyoming to that specific butterfly, but I think by listing them as endangered, everybody is a little more aware of all butterfly species.”

Wyoming has more than 200 species of butterflies, according to data released by the University of Wyoming. These include Northern crescent, Eastern tiger swallowtail and mourning cloak.

And while the monarch is not one of the species commonly found in the state, Holder pointed out that butterflies of all types are at risk of endangerment or even extinction.

Much of this is due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides, but the journal “Science” published a study in 2021 that showed warming climates have also played a role in the decline of butterflies.

Over the last 40 years, more than 450 butterfly species across 11 states (including Wyoming) have declined at an average rate of nearly 2% a year, the study showed.

Holder said the plant/pollinator relationship is in distress.

“We want to get rid of any weed that’s the least bit annoying,” she said. “So they just douse it in chemicals and those just kill everything. Plus with climate change, we see plants maturing earlier than they normally do, so when a butterfly hatches and needs to find nectar, a lot of these plants are already past their time.”

When adult butterflies cannot find a proper food source, they become stressed and lay fewer eggs as a result.

“Then we get a decline in the population and there are less butterflies next year and it becomes a snowball effect,” Holder said.

She recommended that anyone who is looking to help the butterfly populations in the state avoid using as many pesticides in their yard and garden, if any at all, and to put some native plants in their yards.

“We can start becoming aware of the things around us and the role they play in our lives,” Holder said. “The big thing people should know is if you like food, you might want to pay attention to what’s going on with these pollinators. But if you don’t eat, then you don’t need to worry about it.”

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Passed-Out Man Sleeps Through Moose Encounter

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s probably a good thing that a sleeping man in Breckenridge didn’t wake up when two moose came within a foot of him on Monday.

The unknown man was passed out on a lawn when two moose came up behind him to investigate.

According to the Summit Daily in Colorado, witnesses said the man was in “deep sleep” when the moose sauntered by The Crown, a popular restaurant in the area.

The owner and a friend told the newspaper they didn’t know what to do. They eventually tried to wake him up but to no avail.

“Should we try to wake this guy up?” one of the bystanders said to the other.

“There’s a moose behind you dude!” the other yelled. “There’s moose behind you.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no no,” said the first bystander as the first moose got within a foot of the slumbering man.



But both moose didn’t seem to care as they walked on by.

As for the man, he eventually woke up.

The Summit Daily reports that he never moved during the ordeal, which lasted about five minutes.

One of them eventually went to talk to the man. He told them that he had been wearing earbuds so missed the cautionary advice.

“At first, she said the man laughed sat the encounter but that when she showed him the video, he turned serious,” the newspaper wrote.

Much Better Results

The sleeping guy fared much better than a snowmobiler in Canada earlier this year who was stomped repeatedly for trying to pet a moose.

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Wyoming Wildlife Task Force Enters Final Stretch After Controversial Hunting Recommendations

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

After making recommendations on controversial topics such as hunting permit ratios for residents and non-residents and the lottery system for drawing game licenses, the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force is entering the final stretch of its existence.

The Task Force was created as a temporary body by Gov. Mark Gordon in 2021 to study Wyoming wildlife management issues on a much deeper level than Legislature and state Game and Fish Department have an opportunity for. The panel will expire with the completion of Gordon’s first term in office at the end of the year.

“I think they’ve done exactly what we’ve asked them to do — handle complex issues,” said Brian Nesvik, director of the Game and Fish Department and a Task Force member.

Since being created in 2021, the Task Force has received nearly 3,000 public comments, said Co-Chair Josh Coursey.

Coursey said one thing he has been reminded of during his time on the Task Force is that making change or taking an action doesn’t always have to be the end result of effectively studying a problem or issue.

When it comes to wildlife management in Wyoming, he said certain topics come with so much nuance and so many layers that keeping the status quo is sometimes the best route, even if certain problems persist into the future.

“Sometimes doing nothing isn’t a failure,” he said. “You don’t have to do something just to do something. Wyoming, while certainly not perfect, has got it pretty darn good.”

The Task Force has studied protocols implemented by many other state wildlife agencies throughout the country and West to help develop recommendations the board makes to the Legislature and the Game and Fish Commission, as the Task Force itself has no regulatory power. 

The Task Force started with 26 topics of priority, studying measures at its 1- to 2-day meetings that usually run for around 10 hours each day.

“We have done the deep dive to flesh out these topics,” Coursey said.

One recommendation the Task Force made that passed into law last spring was to reserve 90% of the once-in-a-lifetime ram bighorn sheep, wild bull bison, bull moose, mountain goat and grizzly bear “big five” licenses for Wyoming hunters, with the remaining 10% set aside for non-residents. 

Bighorn sheep and moose tags had not previously been a once-in-a-lifetime draw.

Grizzly bears are federally prohibited from being hunted and are still listed on the Endangered Species Act. Wyoming will take over management of the species if it is removed from the ESA.

The Task Force also unanimously recommended $75 million in funding for the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust be included in the budget that was passed in this year’s legislative session and approved by Gordon.

“That’s very valuable to have in the conservation world,” said Coursey, who is executive director of Muley Fanatics Foundation.

The Task Force recently recommended initiating a weighted bonus point system for drawing moose and bighorn sheep licenses. 

The system would increase the odds for a person who has been applying unsuccessfully for a tag for a long time to receive one, with the greatest increase in odds beginning after the 30th year of applications. This measure is still being considered in the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. 

The Task Force also unanimously recommended the Game and Fish Department treat whitetail deer and mule deer as a separate biological species, a move that could lead to separate tag draws down the road for each. Coursey said the need for this delineation has occurred because of great growth in the whitetail population, an issue Coursey said has been prevalent throughout the West.

“We have the tools in the tool box to manage this accordingly,” he said. “They (whitetail) are just as different to mule deer as elk is to mule deer.”

This change would require a statutory change by the Legislature. A statutory change would then require the Game and Fish Department, through a public process, to adopt a new management plan for the two species and a possible separate hunting draw for each.

Right now, deer tags allow for hunting of both species. Coursey said detractors of the change have said it will impact their odds of drawing a license, a viewpoint he considers “very self-serving.”

The Task Force has also recommended removing the 33-year-old limit of 7,250 on the number of non-resident elk licenses available to reflect strong growth in that species, particularly in the eastern part of the state where many private landowners have reported property and habitat damage because of the elk. 

The elk population has grown to 132,000 in Wyoming.

“This would allow for Game and Fish to effectively target those large populations,” Coursey said.

That decision will go solely before the Game and Fish Commission. No more than 16% of all available elk licenses can be distributed to non-residents. 

On Aug. 8, the Task Force will vote on whether to establish a special license draw reserved only for outfitters. Its members will also consider setting a ratio of resident to non-resident tags of 90% to 10% for elk, deer and antelope. The ratio is now now 84% to 16% for elk and 80% to 20% for deer and antelope.

The Task Force will also discuss landowner license allocations and a mandatory three-year break for those who draw tags on deer, elk and antelope in high demand areas. High demand areas will be determined as regions with less than 30% draw odds. 

“The other option (to all of these considerations) is to maintain status quo,” Coursey said.

Coursey said the 18-member board, representing many different backgrounds in the wildlife community, has not been free of bias. 

He noted the special draw for outfitters, not surprisingly, would be advantageous to outfitters. Conversely, the proposed change in resident to non-resident tag ratios are not popular with many in the tourism industry, which provides lodging and meals for many of the non-resident hunters who would see their chances of drawing a tag decrease.

“If a party disagrees with something, it’s clear which side of the fence they’re on,” he said.

Coursey said there is a defining line on many issues that depends on whether a representative is from the eastern or western part of the state.

But Nesvik said he’s been pleased with the quantity of compromises reached by the group that includes state legislators, outfitters and sportsmen.

“There has been some compromise I’ve seen from members who move and support different ideas that aren’t hardline or extreme,” he said, citing the 90% to 10% “Big Five” ratio recommendation passed last summer. “I thought the outfitter members were really looking out for the greater population outlook of Wyoming.”

Nesvik said there are no considerations being made to continue the Task Force after Gordon’s term expires, adding the board has brought up issues G&F can spend years studying. 

There is still plenty of time left for the public to provide input on Task Force topics. To do so visit docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kjGJBrxwiB43V0hvDGUEsZUys8iin20v/edit#gid=1970363000.

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Paparazzi To The Bears: Famed Wyoming Photographer Sweeps International Photo Competition

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Jackson-based photographer known for his up-close-and-personal wildlife photos has won a prestigious international photography award – for the third year in a row.

Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven was recently named one of the top 35 photographers in the world by the 35PHOTO Professional Photo Community. This is the third year that Vangoidtsenhoven has been honored for his wildlife photography, and some of his individual images won awards in the competition as well.



Vangoidtsenhoven’s honor was not just for being one of the top 35 wildlife photographers in the world, but for being one of the overall top 35 photographers in the world across all categories.

124,827 professional and amateur photographers from 174 countries participated in the annual 35PHOTO competition, and Vangoidtsenhoven said his images were chosen as being among the best of 470,000 photographs submitted.



A Life He Chose

Vangoidtsenhoven’s journey to Wyoming began in an unlikely place. Born and raised in Belgium, Vangoidtsenhoven told Cowboy State Daily he was able to travel to the United States as a young man to work in computer technology.

“When I graduated, and I traveled to the U.S. more and more, I was finally thinking, ‘I’m tired of living in Belgium,’” he said. “It’s too crowded. There’s no wildlife there. There’s no mountains.”

Vangoidtsenhoven said the one thing that he appreciated was the vacation time, which allowed him to travel.

“In Belgium, you have pretty good vacations, you have almost a month of vacation a year,” he said. “And so I would come on these month-long vacations to the U.S. after I graduated.”



Vangoidtsenhoven found work in various U.S. cities, earning his green card and eventually citizenship (he’s a dual citizen in the U.S. and Belgium), but gravitated toward the places where he could practice his passion – wildlife photography.

“Being more around wildlife and reading more about preservation, the national park system, wildlife refuges and all that good stuff, I started to realize more that maybe someday I’ll be able to forget about all my computer stuff and just basically dedicate my career to wildlife in general, and nature,” he said.

Vangoidtsenhoven was able to realize that dream in 2018, when he quit his computer job and devoted his full attention to wildlife photography.

“My number one interest for photography is grizzly bears and wolves and everything that Wyoming has to offer,” Vangoidtsenhoven said. “So that’s why I find myself in Wyoming most of the year, obviously, especially fall and springtime.”

Paparazzi To The Bears

Vangoidtsenhoven said springtime in Wyoming, when the bears come out of hibernation, is an exciting time to take pictures. He said he’s met fellow wildlife photographers, such as Thomas Mangelsen, who specializes in photos of bear 399 and her famous cubs.

“Some of those bears have become real celebrities in a way,” Vangoidtsenhoven said, and his own images of the famous mama grizzly enhance that reputation.



Vangoidtsenhoven acknowledged the difficulties in becoming noticed as a professional wildlife photographer in a region flooded with wildlife photography. What got him noticed, he said, was the stories he puts with his pictures.

“I noticed early on when I tried to make the switch to wildlife (photography) that it’s very tough to make a living simply by taking a good picture and then saying, ‘Hey, do you want to publish my one good picture?’” Vangoidtsenhoven said. “It’s easier, I notice, to write an article about it, and then provide your pictures along with it, because it provides the whole story and it’s an update that many people around the world are interested in.” 

Conservation

Much of what drives him, Vangoidtsenhoven said, is playing his part in encouraging conservation efforts.

“It’s fun, and it’s rewarding to be able to help in spreading the word,” he said, “especially about the large carnivores that are predators, that always seem to be under attack, especially by people whose livelihoods (are affected by) those carnivores maybe eating a cow from their land. So there’s always a battle going on between people who want to preserve everything and people who want to kill all the predators.” 

Vangoidtsenhoven said he appreciates his role in educating both sides of the conservation argument through his photographs and stories.

“Especially on social media, which is kind of like a mixed bag, it’s great for publicity, but at the same time, we do get a lot of mixed reactions,” he said. “People either don’t want to learn or they don’t care, they’re stuck in their ways. And so it’s interesting to be able to tell people, ‘Hey, you may want to read this, and then maybe you’ll change your mind – your prejudice you have against whatever may be happening in the animal world, and how we treat them.’” 



Wildlife Photography Year Round

Vangoidtsenhoven said he lives in Wyoming for about five to six months a year, Alaska about three months, and then someplace warmer in the winter – lately it’s been New Mexico for three to four months. 

“I’m in Alaska now,” he said. “The vast majority of people who do come to Alaska for photography come for the grizzly bears, especially because they have the salmon run.”

And Vangoidtsenhoven said his choice to leave his native land has resulted in a life lived in wild places, creating images that he shares with thousands of people all over the world.

“In Belgium, we don’t have that much nature left,” he said. “It’s people everywhere, and hardly any wildlife.” 

“I like the American openness, and just the amount of wildlife, especially on the west side of the Rockies,” he added, “and the fact that there’s more wildness still available.”

Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven’s photos can be found on his website, vangophotos.com

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Sighting Of Ultra-Rare Wolverine Confirmed In Grand Tetons

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It may look like nothing more than a grainy blip, but that blip is something not seen very much in Wyoming.

It’s a wolverine and seeing wolverines in Wyoming is really quite rare. In fact, it’s only the second time one has been seen this year — which is a lot.

For perspective, a wolverine is only seen on average about every two years in Wyoming. That’s why it’s a big deal.

Out On A Run

Mike Devine, who took a video of a wolverine while out on a run in Darby Canyon over the weekend, told Cowboy State Daily he wasn’t sure exactly what he caught on his phone. Then he went home and went through the video and compared the footage to other wolverines he saw online.

“I started thinking that I actually saw one and then after just watching some videos on YouTube, I was pretty sure it was and then I sent it off to friends who worked at a EcoTours and they had it checked,” he said.

Thompson Tenley, a guide at Jackson Hole Eco Tours, said they forwarded the video to Wyoming Game and Fish which later confirmed the animal was a wolverine.

They instantly posted it to their Instagram page.

“Rare wolverine sighting on the west slope of the Tetons!” the company wrote. “Thank you to our friend Mike Devine for sending in this incredible footage.”

Not That Unusual?

Devine, a carpenter who lives in Victor, Idaho, said he was excited to spot the animal but more surprised it wasn’t as rare of a sighting that he thought.

“The more people I’ve talked to it’s kind of surprising like how many people have seen them,” he said listing many friends in the area who have also had encounters.

The sighting comes just a few months after a wolverine was video recorded in Yellowstone National Park.

Zack Walker, non-game supervisor with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that it was quite rare for there to be two video recorded sightings of a wolverine in the same year.

“We get a handful of observations every year, but a lot of them are on trail cams or people seeing them, but not being able to grab their phones or cameras fast enough,” Walker said. “It’s really big to have the opportunity to see those videos.”

Growing Population

Walker said from the wolverine management data the Game and Fish Department collected over the winter, it appears that wolverines are popping up in more locations than they did five years ago. While he said the data the department has now does not confirm the population is getting bigger, that is believed to be the case.

A wolverine was spotted in Yellowstone in March, likely the eighth time the creature has been seen in the park in 15 years.

Walker previously told Cowboy State Daily that wolverines are protected by state law.

In 2017, when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department last did wolverine monitoring, there were at least six confirmed individual wolverines in the state.

Nearly Extinct

However, Wyoming is not alone in having low wolverine numbers.

The entire species nearly went extinct in the 1920s in the lower 48 states because of unregulated harvesting, habitat loss and broad-scale carnivore poisoning, according to the Game and Fish department.

“They’ve been naturally trickling back into the state over the years, reoccupying new areas,” Walker said in an earlier interview.

“The other part of why they’re so rare to see is because they’re really solitary animals. They have very large home ranges and they’re spaced out across the landscape. Life history has made it so you never really have any congregations of them in one place.”

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Carbon County Prepares For Onslaught Of 10,000 “Rainbow Family” Members This Weekend

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Carbon County officials are working with the U.S. Forest Service to prepare Wyoming and Colorado for the arrival of thousands of Rainbow Family of Light members attending the group’s 50th annual gathering.

“We found out two weeks ago they were going to be on the Routt National Forest,” said Aaron Voos, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson. “We’d known they wanted to be somewhere in Colorado, but due to the loose leadership of the group, we didn’t have a lot of lead time to prepare.”

More than 10,000 Rainbow Family attendees are expected to visit the Adams Park area of the Routt National Forest, about 13 miles south of the Wyoming border, during the Independence Day weekend.  

“We went down to Craig, Colorado, with the Carbon County fire warden and a sheriff’s deputy,” Carbon County Emergency Manager Lenny Layman said. “I wanted to see a general layout of Adams Park and get a feel for where they would be coming through.”

The Rainbow Family is “the largest non-organization of non-members in the world,” according to one of its websites, www.welcomehome.org. The group declares it has no leaders and no organization and it promotes intentional community building, non-violence and alternative lifestyles.

The group has been gathering on National Forest land since 1972, when it hosted its first gathering near Strawberry Lake on the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado, the Forest Service reported. 



Because of the group’s lack of leadership, the Rainbow Family does not apply for a special permit the Forest Service would typically require of a gathering this large. 

“This is an unlawful, unauthorized gathering on public land,” said Hilary Markin, a spokesperson for the Forest Service’s National Rainbow Incident Management Team (NRIMT).

Regardless of the gathering’s legality, Layman said it’s incumbent on Wyoming to be prepared in the case of an emergency.

“If a fire started southwest of the event, the egress routes south might be blocked, making an evacuation only viable north into Wyoming,” he said. “If we don’t think of these things before they happen, then we are caught on our heels.”

Unlawful Gathering

As of Monday, more than 2,000 attendees were already on site in the Adams Park area, the NRIMT reported. 

Much like wildfires and other natural disasters, the Rainbow Family gathering is assigned its own incident management team, said Markin, who’s been with the team since 2019. 

“We have about 60 people in the management team,” she said. “We’re here to engage the public, field questions, deal with health and safety risks and reduce the amount of actions that could impact the land.”

Voos said one of those impacts is caused by the number of vehicles that can accompany 10,000 people. Rainbow Family gatherings are typically hosted in vehicle-accessible areas and while the forest has some parking available, the sheer number of vehicles could damage the resource.

“When you start talking about thousands of people, there’s potential for serious impacts,” Voos explained. 



For the family’s part, Markin said group members will try to negate the impact of their vehicles by carpooling in busses and RVs. 

While working with the NRIMT in 2021, Markin said she saw one gathering attract about 7,000 people who traveled to the area in about 2,000 vehicles. 

“Even with the carpooling, it’s still a significant impact,” Markin said. 

The Forest Service has periodically cited Rainbow Family members for failing to obtain a permit, according to NRIMT documents. However, the agency also works with the family to adhere to a resource protection plan in lieu of a special use permit to protect the health and safety of individuals at the incident and in the surrounding community, to ensure sensitive resources are protected, to minimize any environmental damage and to coordinate post-event cleanup and rehabilitation of the event site, the documents state.

“Members of the group typically start showing up at gathering site a week or two in advance,” Markin said. “Then, after the event, the Rainbow Family will have a group come in and rehab the area, which can take weeks.” 

Ever Ready

Officials from Routt County and Colorado are the gathering’s lead responders should anything go awry, but Layman said Carbon County’s communication center stands ready if the need arises. 

The Carbon County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) could dispatch Carbon County resources, such as medical or law enforcement personnel, if requested, he said.



“What I’m asking for from Colorado partners is that all non-911 resource requests go through our EOC,” Layman said. “That way, rather than someone calling up to every firehouse or police department in Carbon County to locate a needed resource, all the calls come into one place, and we can find them the resources they need.” 

County officials are also working with partner agencies to create an evacuation plan. While the most likely evacuation route would take family members further south into Colorado, Layman said he wants Wyoming to be prepared should it prove the only viable means of escape. 

While the gathering is no longer than a few weeks, Voos said the Forest Service’s primary goal is to ensure it does negatively affect the landscape for years to come. 

“Where there are lots of people, there are lots of feet, wheels and infrastructure,” he said. “So there are impacts to the land, wildlife and natural resources.” 

Go to https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbr/landmanagement/?cid=FSEPRD1033996 for daily NRIMT reports about the gathering. 

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And Another Person Gets Gored By Bison In Yellowstone; Second Person In A Week

in Yellowstone/News/wildlife
Photo credit: Allen Tooley
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Just days after a Colorado man was gored by a bison in Yellowstone National Park, a woman from Pennsylvania was injured in a similar situation, park officials said.

A 71-year-old woman from West Chester, Pennsylvania, was gored by a bull bison near Storm Point at Yellowstone Lake on Wednesday, officials announced on Thursday.

According to reports, the bison charged the woman and her daughter as they inadvertently approached it while returning to their vehicle at the trailhead. The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in the encounter and was taken by ambulance to West Park Hospital in Cody.

This is the third reported bison goring of the 2022 season and the second to take place this week.

A 34-year-old man from Colorado Springs, Colorado was gored by a bison on Monday near Old Faithful and according to one eyewitness who filmed the incident, the tourist brought it on himself.

“The dad and the kid were just walking up to the bison when the bison took off,” Rob Goodell told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. 

An Ohio woman was gored by a bison and thrown 10 feet in the air at the park in late May.

As the bison walked near a boardwalk at Black Sand Basin, just north of Old Faithful, the woman approached the animal. The bison gored her and tossed her 10 feet into the air.

The woman sustained a puncture wound and other injuries that were not immediately specified.

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