Category archive

wildlife - page 2

Sheridan Game Warden Commended For Saving Two Moose in Wyoming

in News/wildlife
7693

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

‘Threatened’ Status For Tree Concerning, Gordon Says

in News/Mark Gordon/wildlife
7685

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

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

in News/wildlife
7514

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Elk Cull To Begin In Grand Teton National Park This Weekend

in News/wildlife
Bull and cow elk in a meadow, ALT=Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment in elk and cattle
7219

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Just after wrapping up its annual goat culling operation, Grand Teton National Park will begin an elk reduction program on Saturday, allowing elk to be killed to properly manage and conserve the park’s herd.

Federal and state resource managers have reviewed available data and concluded that the program is necessary this year.

The need for the cull is determined annually based on the status of the Jackson elk herd, including estimated herd size and composition and the number of elk on supplemental feed on the National Elk Refuge. A total of 550 hunting permits are authorized for this year’s program.

The only area open to the elk reduction program is Wyoming Game and Fish Elk Hunt Area 75, located mostly east of U.S. Highway 89. The Antelope Flats portion of this area closes Nov. 23, and the remaining portions close Dec. 13.  

The Snake River Bottom between Deadmans Bar and Ditch Creek is closed.

Wyoming Game and Fish Elk Hunt Area 79 will be closed to limit harvest pressure on northern migratory and resident elk.   

Participants in the program must carry their state hunting license, conservation stamp, elk special management permit and 2020 elk reduction program park permit, use non-lead ammunition, and are limited in the number of cartridges they are able to carry each day.

The use of archery, handguns, or other non-center fire ammunition rifles is not permitted, nor is the use of artificial elk calls. In addition, participants, regardless of age, are required to carry a hunter safety card, wear fluorescent orange or pink and carry and have immediately accessible a 7.9oz. (or greater) can of non-expired bear spray.

Information packets accompanying each permit warn participants of the risk of bear encounters and offer tips on how to minimize the risk of human-bear conflicts. 

Following detection of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a mule deer within Grand Teton National Park in November 2018, the National Park Service increased surveillance efforts to include mandatory collection of elk heads from all elk harvested during the program.

Park personnel will collect biological samples from the heads and submit them to the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory for testing. Participants can check their results online.

National Park Service and Wyoming Game and Fish staff will monitor and patrol elk reduction program areas to ensure compliance with rules and regulations, interpret the elk reduction program to visitors, and provide participants with outreach regarding bear activity and safety.  

These areas remain open to park visitors, and wearing bright colors is highly encouraged during this time.

The park’s goat cull was supposed to take place in February, but was delayed to the fall after there was a call to stop the aerial gunning of the animals.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wolf Illegally Killed In Grand Teton National Park

in News/wildlife/Crime
7210

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The National Park Service is investigating the illegal killing of a wolf in Grand Teton National Park.

National Park Service investigators are seeking information regarding the shooting of the wolf, which was collared and described as black-colored. Its body was found near the park’s Pilgrim Creek Trailhead on Oct. 26.

By placing radio collars on wolves, researchers can track the animals’ movements, finding out where they reside in the winter and other information while still allowing the wolves to roam free inside the national parks.

The illegal taking of wildlife is a violation and subject to a fine up to $5,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment.  Additionally, it is a violation to aid or assist in the illegal taking of wildlife and is also subject to a fine up to $5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

Anyone with information that could help identify any of the individuals involved or was in the area of the Pilgrim Creek Trailhead the morning of Oct. 26 and can provide any information regarding this activity, call or text the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch Tip Line at 888-653-0009. Information can be provided anonymously.   

The Investigative Services Branch assists units of the National Park Service with the immediate and long-term protection of park resources, visitors, assets, employees and residents. 

They accomplish this through detection, investigation, apprehension, and successful prosecution of persons who violate laws of the United States while within, or while affecting, the National Park System.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Cheney, Enzi Applaud Trump Decision To Remove Gray Wolf From Endangered List

in News/wildlife
7137

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list by the administration of President Donald Trump on Thursday, prompting responses from officials all over the nation, including Wyoming’s senator and representative.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi both issued statements in support of the delisting.

“Delisting the gray wolf has been a long and bumpy road, but I think everyone should take pride in this announcement today,” Enzi said. “States like Wyoming have shown they are able to effectively manage the gray wolf.

“It is important to remember that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to get to this point, where a species is fully recovered,” Enzi continued. “I am hopeful that even more species in the future will be able to reach this milestone.”

Gray wolves in Wyoming were removed from the endangered species list in 2017. In other states where the wolves remained on the endangered special list, their management and protection will be taken over by state and tribal wildlife management agency professionals.

“This final rule puts the process of managing the gray wolf back where it belongs – in the capable hands of individual states,” Cheney said. “Over the past decade, our courts have been abused by radical environmental groups filing frivolous lawsuits to prevent states from managing the gray wolf population, despite repeated delisting decisions.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the species for five years to ensure its continued success. The agency made its final determination to remove the wolves from the list based on a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated, as well as efforts by states and tribes to manage the species for healthy populations.

“We are proud of our efforts in Wyoming to conserve the gray wolf’s habitat and population in consultation with federal agencies,” Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said. “Populations continue to thrive in the northern Rocky Mountains because states implemented scientific measures that balance the needs of the species and our residents at the same time. Today’s decision to delist the gray wolf in the lower-48 states is further proof that population recovery goals can be met when all levels of government work together in a collaborative manner.”

The gray wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act more than 45 years ago.

Not all of the responses to the delisting were positive.

“Again and again the courts have rejected premature removal of wolf protections,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted its broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet. The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat.”

In total, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000, greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.

The gray wolf is the latest in a long list of endangered species recoveries that includes the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator, brown pelican and 48 other species of animals and plants in U.S. states, territories and waters.

“For over ten years the State of Wyoming, together with our sister states of Idaho and Montana, has demonstrated the ability to manage an ever-increasing delisted wolf population,” Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna said. “Wyoming accomplished this with a steady hand despite periodic re-listings mandated by the courts. State management succeeds in large part because state management plans are developed in close collaboration with local, directly affected interests.

“We commend the USFWS for this nation-wide delisting that is long overdue,” Magagna continued. “Successful delisting of this high-profile species will serve to incentivize diverse partnerships that can expedite the recovery of many other listed or imperiled species,” 

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Bison Herd Keep Tourists Away From Calf In Yellowstone

in Yellowstone/News/wildlife
6857

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Tourists managed to avoid being treated like a “Mortal Kombat” character, thankfully, after being warned to keep away from a herd of bison in Yellowstone recently.

By the bison.

A video posted to Rumble that was recorded in August showed three bison warding off curious tourists trying to get a closer look at the herd and a calf in particular.

Unlike many other wildlife encounters in the park, this one ended peacefully and with no blood or pants being ripped off.

A family was shooting a video of the bison as two males began to approach, grunting loudly.

It was unclear if the family recording a video were the same people who uploaded the video to Rumble.

In the video, people can be heard commenting on the bison calf, saying things such as “Look at the baby.”

“The person shooting the video realized the danger of the situation and quickly jumped into the car to get out of their way,” the video description said.

After the person shooting the video got into their car, you can hear them say “Oh my God” as more of the bison herd appears in the frame.

It should be noted that the average bison weighs in at one ton, making it about an even match with most of the cars usually surrounding the animals in Yellowstone.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gordon, Barrasso Call For Update Of Endangered Species Act

in News/Mark Gordon/wildlife
6501

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso joined forces in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to call for work to update and modernize the federal Endangered Species Act.

Gordon testified during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday. He expressed strong support for allowing states and tribes to continue to expand their work on conserving imperiled species.

He pointed to some significant improvements proposed in the Endangered Species Acts Amendments of 2020, which would elevate the role of state wildlife agencies in species management, allow impacted states the opportunity to help develop recovery plans and delay judicial review of delisting rules during the post-delisting monitoring period.

He also emphasized the damaging impact excessive litigation has had on those efforts.

“These lawsuits, and the associated investment of money, time and energy, detract from species recovery and conservation and divert important resources away from species that truly need help,” he said. “The states have proven time and time again they are committed to and capable of managing wildlife within their borders. They should be given the chance to do so for delisted species without the threat of endless and costly lawsuits that in the end do not benefit the species in question.”

Gordon pointed specifically to the staggering costs of managing wildlife through litigation and stressed his belief that prohibiting judicial review during post-delisting monitoring will not be harmful to species conservation. 

“The largest barrier to returning the management of fully-recovered species to the states and tribes is litigation,” Gordon said. “These suits, and the associated investment of money, time and energy, detract from species recovery and conservation and divert important resources away from species that truly need help.

Private landowners also need to be recognized for their contributions to the conservation of wildlife, Gordon said.

“Private landowners, ranchers and farmers across our nation have made amazing contributions to wildlife conservation and should be recognized,” Gordon told the committee. “In my state, farmers and ranchers have demonstrated their commitment to wildlife as the ultimate conservationists.”

During his testimony, Gordon outlined Wyoming’s leadership on efforts to protect several species, including the grizzly bear, gray wolves, black-footed ferrets and the greater sage-grouse.

He noted that Wyoming’s core area strategy to conserve greater sage-grouse populations was copied by other states and has been effective at preventing listing of the species as endangered, allowing multiple-use activities to continue in those areas. 

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Researchers Continue Long-Term Study Of Wyoming’s Golden Eagles in Big Horn Basin

in News/wildlife
6493

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Researchers in Park County are keeping an eye on golden eagles in the Big Horn Basin as an indicator of the health of the area’s ecosystem.

According to biologists, the golden eagle is a species of greatest conservation need because of the rapidly changing conditions of its primary habitat. 

Dr. Charles Preston is the curator emeritus for the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. For the last 12 years, his staff and a group of volunteers have been keeping a close eye on the golden eagle population in the Big Horn Basin.

“Because raptors are the top of the food chain – and, so they give us an idea of what’s going on with the ecosystem,” Preston said. “And I’m really interested in ecosystem dynamics, how ecosystems change through time. Raptors give me a good window into that.”

Each year, select birds are banded, measured, weighed and their general condition is determined. This year, feathers were collected from the golden eagles as well.

The team also collects the remains of prey found in the eagles’ nests to study how what they eat affects their reproductive cycles. 

Data from the study will be stored in the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody for the public to access. 

But it’s not just the predator-prey relationship that the study has focused on, according to Preston. People are also a large part of the equation.

“It’s important to understand how our activities affect, both positively and negatively, the wildlife,” he said. “Because almost everybody wants to maintain a healthy wildlife population and community.”

Preston noted that continuous, long-term research is the key to this study – especially for a species like the eagle.

“Because things change from year to year, whether it’s weather, or prey abundance, or landscape, those changes are important,” Preston said. “So just a couple of years, a snapshot in time might be valuable for one thing, but it doesn’t give you a big picture.”

With the advancements of wind farms and other energy development, an increase in outdoor recreation, and residential construction encroaching on the birds’ habitat, Preston said studies like this one will continue to provide valuable information.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

History Channel Star From Lander Frees Stuck Bison Caught in Cattle Guard

in News/wildlife
6489

Adrenaline rush of the day, I am still alive and the bison cow is healthy and back with her calf.~ Josh Kirk#joshkirkmountainmen #mountainmen #history #windrivermountainrange

Posted by Joshua Native Kirk on Thursday, September 17, 2020

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

One of the stars from the History Channel’s TV show “Mountain Men,” sure knew how to celebrate his birthday last week at his home outside of Lander.

Josh Kirk, who is a regular on the show, posted a video showing him cutting through an old cattle guard to free a bison cow who got caught up in it.

“Adrenaline rush of the day, I am still alive and the bison cow is healthy and back with her calf,” Kirk announced on his Facebook page.

Kirk apparently sedated the bison and it took some prodding to get the animal to walk away once freed from the trap.

To do that, Kirk swatted the bison on the head a few times. After about the fourth swat, the bison had enough, got up, and stumbled away.

“I was shaking because once she got up, I was afraid she was going to move forward on me,” he said.

Although the animal was limping, Kirk believed she would be ok. And who’s going to argue with him?

“The sedation should be wearing off. Bison are pretty tough.  I’m glad to see her up and moving. She’s going to be sore but she’s going to be alright,” he said.

Kirk went on to say that after that tense episode, he was taking the rest of the day off.

Well done, Kirk. And happy birthday.

Attention Iowa People: Don’t try this. You’ll get de-pantsed. Or worse.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

No Way — Outside of Time And Traveling Whack-A-Mole — To Escape the Smoky Air in Wyoming

in News/wildlife/Don Day
6350

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Like it or not, parts of Wyoming and other places in the west are stuck with smoky air for awhile because of the wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

And that can be problematic for everyone but especially for people who already have breathing issues.

That’s why when we saw a television station in Spokane recommend Cody and Rock Springs as locations in Wyoming to escape the bad air, we wondered what was so special about these locations. Could they be home to smoke-free unicorns?

Sadly, there are no unicorns. The respite from the smoke could all be temporary.

Wyoming meteorologist Don Day said those two locations might be have good air quality presently, that could easily change.

“It is a moving target, the whole Cody/Rock Springs thing was at a moment in time, the smoke plumes come and go, so what is good one day may be bad the next,” Day told Cowboy State Daily.

“There are no good or worst spots,” he said.  “It all depends on the day.”

Day recommended visiting this website to check on the conditions in case you wanted to travel to get away from it.

If that is your strategy, be prepared to play a game of traveling whack-a-mole. You might be in a good location for six hours, only for weather patterns to shift and smoke to roll-in.

If you can suck it up for a couple more days, he says it will get better.

“I expect the smoke through Thursday, it starts to thin out Friday and into the weekend but may not completely move out,” Day said.

He said much-needed rain is headed for Washington and Oregon in the next few days which will certainly help. But most locations in California are still going to be dry.

“California fires will only get rain in the far north,” he said.  “Central and southern California fires will be the bigger smoke producers this weekend and next week.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Wildlife Webcam Shows Moose, Elk, Deer (Sadly No Bears) In Action

in News/wildlife
6173

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

We love wildlife stories.

Especially wildlife stories that have a bit of drama to them.

Whether it’s the convenience store worker who has to fight bears (despite it not being in his job description) or the hikers who ran away from the grizzly (no one got hurt), or the bison de-pantsing the woman tourist who thought Custer State Park was a petting zoo (she lived).

So although we would prefer the trail cam — set up in the Snowy Range by the Wyoming Game and Fish department — have a little more action to it, it’s still worth watching.

On the trail cam compilation video (embedded above), you can see moose, deer, elk, and other animals going about their business unaware they were being filmed.

What’s nice about this video (unlike the webcam of the recently awakened Giantess Geyser in Yellowstone) is that sound is included. 

So when a storm rolls in, you hear it.  When a moose explores the webcam, you hear it. When a moose gets caught in the storm and is not happy, you hear it.

Of course, it’s always better in person. But with the webcam, you stand a better chance of not being a headline with hundreds of commenters calling you a “moron tourist” or a “touron”.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Yellowstone Releases Battling Elk Video To Warn Tourists About The Rut

in News/wildlife
6053

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

It’s like Yellowstone National Park created its own version of the “Blair Witch Project.”

The spooky black and white video the National Park Service released on Friday comes complete with eerie sounds, a shaky camera and plenty of violence.

But there aren’t any people in this video they call “Bull Fight.” Instead, snorting elk are the main subjects. And the topic: The rut.

The video contains nighttime footage of bucks battling it out to impress the female subjects of their affection.

And the last thing these horned-up elk want to deal with are people. That’s the point the Park Service is trying to get across.

The agency’s accompanying cautionary tweet is powerful on its own, but officials should have considered hiring James Earl Jones to voice it:

“WARNING: The elk rut has begun in Yellowstone National Park. Bull elk can be extremely dangerous during this time,” the agency’s tweet read.

The best line was saved for last:  “You are responsible for your own safety.”

Again, they really needed James Earl Jones here.

No doubt some tourists will disregard the warnings and end up on the wrong side of an elk’s antlers, but at least the park tried.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Game Officials Removing Fences To Save Wildlife From Getting Run-Over

in News/wildlife
6049

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

In Wyoming, fences are used to keep range animals in or out of an area. 

But according to Tony Mong, the Cody Regional Wildlife Biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, wild range animals, such as deer, elk, or antelope, can get caught up in fences – or worse, the fences cause the animals to run into a roadway.

As a result, the Game and Fish Department, along with other agencies, is looking at places where fences might be removed or replaced to help wildlife.

“Here recently we’ve had a lot of interest in movement of animals across the landscape,” Mong said. “So, part of that is looking at fencing and seeing if it’s hampering their abilities to move, or if it’s actually enhancing and helping.”

With the assistance of other agencies such as the Department of Transportation, the Game and Fish Department is replacing fencing that is dangerous to wildlife. 

The most recent stretch of fencing that’s been replaced is near Wapiti, west of Cody on the highway to Yellowstone.

“This particular stretch of fence is what’s called sheep fence,” Mong said. “So, it’s woven wire, it’s very difficult for animals to get through it. And so, because there was no need for that fencing anymore, because they weren’t running sheep or things that could get out of the fence and get into the roadways, we’re able to look at it and say, you know, it would be better if it’s wildlife friendly.”

Mong says that the Wyoming Department of Transportation took the initiative to contact landowners and get the project going.

Cody Beers with WYDOT said the work began with fencing that already needed repair.

“We’ve put fencing in on the Meeteetse rim, and also out by Skull Creek east of Cody on (U.S. Highway) 14-16-20,” Beers said, “and now we’re working in this area.” 

Beers added that the project – which is being paid for with federal highway funds –  isn’t limited just to the Cody area.

“And that’s something we’ve been working with Game and Fish, all across the state,” he explained.

Beers said much of the effort statewide is focusing on the removal of woven wire.

“Wyoming does not run as many domestic sheep as it used to,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity where, when we go in and replace fences, to have the dialog with private landowners and say ‘Hey, we’d like to come back with this fence type that’s more friendly toward pronghorn, toward mule deer and toward elk and other species of wildlife.’”

As landowners allow the change to be made, the agencies can install more wildlife-friendly fencing, he said.

“Where we can, we’re making those improvements to benefit wildlife passage,” he said. “So when we can make that passage more natural, we’re in better shape and that’s something that all of us in Wyoming want. We want healthy wildlife populations.”

Mong said because the wildlife fencing issue have become more prominent, landowners, wildlife organizations and agencies organized what they call the Absaroka Fence Initiative, which will allow them to share resources to to help keep wildlife – and motorists – safer.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming, USDA Sign Forest Improvement Agreement, Which Focuses On Fire Protection

in News/wildlife
5943

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a new agreement Tuesday between the U.S. Forest Service and the state to promote forest management and respond to ecological challenges.

Under the “Shared Stewardship Agreement,” Wyoming and the USDA will work together on forest and grassland restoration across both federal and state lands, with a focus on protecting at-risk communities and watersheds from wildfire.

“I am excited to sign this agreement today with Secretary Perdue. It marks an increased opportunity for us to combine expertise and resources, better our national forests and grasslands, and serve all of the citizens of Wyoming,” Gordon said in a news release. “The importance of our national forest system lands, to our communities, for water, for businesses like logging and agriculture, and just for general enjoyment cannot be understated. I applaud the efforts to date and am genuinely excited to see what we can do together in the future.”

The agreement calls for federal and state agencies to take part in joint planning, the pooling of resources and continued investment in existing partnerships and programs that support collaborative work.

“This agreement strengthens the already strong partnership between the Forest Service and the State of Wyoming,” Perdue said in a news release. “Through Shared Stewardship, Wyoming and the Forest Service will work together to identify landscape-scale priorities and build capacity to improve forest conditions.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

A Fight To The Death – Bison Rut Is On In Yellowstone

in News/wildlife
5874

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Bison are currently gathering in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys, moving into massive aggregations of hundreds, if not thousands, of the iconic animals of Yellowstone National Park.

Massive bulls, some as large as 2,500 pounds, are fighting for the chance to breed. Challenges begin with bellows, as other bulls enter their territory. If the challenger replies, the bulls will begin to plow the ground, throw their huge frames on the ground and wallow, attempting to dust up.

From a distance, the clouds of dust look like the smoke from dozens of small fires, catching the sunlight in hues of yellow. What comes next is one of the most amazing displays of raw power in the park. The bulls move close — head to head — and unless one is willing to back down, the fight is on.

“It will culminate then in essentially a fight to the death as they butt each other’s heads. Many bison are killed there,” said Chris Geremia, Yellowstone’s top bison biologist. “There’s really nowhere else in the world to see a breeding season like this with thousands of bison breeding.”

Less than two centuries ago, there were as many as 30 to 60 million bison moving across the plains.

Though there are far fewer now, the middle of a bison rut is still one of the most dangerous places to be in the park. The fighting can happen anywhere, including on the road through Yellowstone’s famous valleys.

Still, visitors will clog pullouts and roadways during late July and the first three weeks in August — some of the busiest weeks in the park — hoping for a chance to see the spectacle.

Every year bison injure visitors, goring them or tossing them aside like rag dolls.

“Give them some space, let them do their thing,” Geremia said. “Even if you’re doing the right thing, there’s a really good chance that those bison will move in your direction. We encourage people to get in their vehicles and move away… Try and get to the next safest spot to observe.”

Yellowstone doesn’t keep track of property damage and injuries caused by bison. Most injuries happen when visitors, underestimating the speed and aggressive nature of the massive creatures, get too close.

Bison can run at 35 mph and jump 5 feet in the air. Humans are no match for their athleticism. Every year the species cause property damage and injuries, Geremia said, so “use your best judgement.”

On Wednesday, the Park Service posted a video of one bison sending a rival partially airborne during a fight on a park road.

Geremia is currently working on research projects, including the effects of thousands of bison on the park’s flora.

The herd, estimated at approximately 5,000 individuals, is constantly on the move and constantly feeding. Bison migrate over 70 miles each year, Geremia said, and they walk more than 1,000 miles while searching for food during the year. Wolves and grizzly bears keep them moving, just like in pre-colonial times.

“We’ve realized that, as the bison population has gotten larger over the last decade, it’s changed the entire way that plants grow in the park,” Geremia said “So much so that it affects how spring green-up occurs across the park and how the plants ground down when it dries out in summertime.”

The effects of the herds on plants is so dramatic, you can see a distinct difference in the way the park greens up in spring from space, he said. “It was really stunning to me … just because we’ve got wild bison roaming across the spaces.”

Geremia is also testing genetics of the population and how it varies between these breeding areas.

The PhD started as a field technician in 2002, collecting fecal samples and studying brucellosis in the population. He later became the program biologist and then was promoted to the bison team leader in 2018.

“Bison make this ecosystem intact again,” Geremia said. “And the recovery of large predators and large herbivores is essential to making Yellowstone a full ecosystem, where you’ve got top predators and giant herbivores influencing what the land looks like.”

“Park visitors get the benefit and get to see this interaction happening,” he added. “There’s nowhere else in North America where you can see what you can see here.”

As Yellowstone’s bison population has grown, park managers have taken actions to reduce the size of herd, culling hundreds of animals on an annual basis. Some have been transferred to Native American tribes.

This month, the InterTribal Buffalo Council will transfer 40 former Yellowstone bison to 16 tribes in nine states.

These transfers will help develop and sustain tribally-managed herds while preserving the unique genetics and lineage of the largest and continuously free-roaming herd.

The transfers are a victory of Native American tribes and represents the culmination of nearly 30 years of advocacy by the council on behalf of its member tribes, said council president Ervin Carlson.

Many Native American Tribes have been working to restore buffalo across the U.S., where they now number in the tens of thousands.

Bison managed by Yellowstone National Park have never been interbred with cattle and will be used to help increase the long-term health of many populations across tribal lands.

The fight to protect Yellowstone bison is significant to many Native Americans, who disagree with management strategies which have led to the slaughter an estimated more than 10,000 since the early 1990s, according to the council.

The Choctaw Nation and Fort Belknap Tribes provided land and resources to support the development of bison quarantine facilities in 2018.

The facility was built by the Fort Peck Tribes, funded in part by the council, and was approved for use in post-quarantine assurance testing by the State of Montana.

Since then, the council says, quarantine operations have saved over 200 bison from slaughter.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

No Fatal Animal/Vehicle Collisions Have Occurred In Wyoming This Year (So Far)

in News/wildlife
Bison in Yellowstone
5759

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has seen zero fatalities resulting from collisions between animals and vehicles this year so far, a great statistic Wyoming Department of Transportation officials hope to see continue.

WYDOT provided information to Cowboy State Daily regarding these types of collisions, breaking down what animals are usually involved and the trend of animal/vehicle crashes over the last five years.

In 2020, there have been 15 crashes that resulted in injuries related to wildlife, with a total of 19 injuries occurring in those crashes. There have been 904 animal-related crashes this year, with 889 only causing some type of property damage.

Of all the 2020 crashes, three were considered critical, meaning there was a serious injury involved.

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

The highest number of injury crashes involving wildlife occurred in 2017, with 77 crashes and 99 injuries.

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

Second was antelope, with just over 2,000 being involved in crashes over a decade.

Buffalo were ranked lowest on the list, with only 50 crashes involving the animals occurring over a 10-year span.

The animal report stated there were 13 fatal crashes involving wildlife over the 10 years, with 16 people dying in that time.

“W[YDOT] urges motorists to slow down, look for animals alongside the roads as they sometimes dart out in front of drivers, pay attention to posted wildlife warning signs, be extra vigilant during dawn, dusk and at night and not swerve to avoid an animal,” WYDOT spokeswoman Aimee Inama said. “When you swerve, you run the risk of a head-on collision with another vehicle, you can flip your vehicle or you can end up in the ditch.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Woman Violently Attacked By Bison; Pants Ripped Off During Encounter

in News/wildlife
5745

Just a day after Yellowstone National Park put out a video warning tourists about getting close to bison, an Iowa woman got too close and suffered the consequences.

This incident, captured on video by onlookers, happened In Custer State Park in South Dakota.  An Iowa biker reportedly got off her motorcycle and approached a buffalo calf.

As might have been predicted by anyone familiar with bison, an adult bison came charging after her.

Reports from the Custer County Chronicle state one of the bison’s horns got caught in the woman’s belt and “swung her around violently.”

“She was apparently saved when her pants came off and she fell to the ground unconscious,” an eyewitness said.  “[A]t that point, the attacking animal ran off along with the rest of the herd.”

Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechalev told the outlet that the woman escaped serious injury in the incident.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Yellowstone Biologists To Poison Fish For Restoration Work

in Yellowstone/News/wildlife
5742

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

From Aug. 17 to 23, portions of the upper Gibbon River drainage in central Yellowstone National Park will be closed to allow park staff to poison nonnative fish in the area, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

The closures are necessary for park staff to continue work on a project to eliminate the nonnative fish. Biologists will remove nonnative rainbow trout and brook trout using the fish toxin rotenone.

The toxin is a naturally-occurring chemical compound derived from the roots of tropical plants. Below the treatment area, biologists will add potassium permanganate to the water to remove the effects of the toxin and prevent impacts to downstream waters.

This is the final treatment to remove nonnative fish from this section of the river. The reintroduction of the native Arctic grayling and westslope cuttroat trout will continue as needed to restore these species.

The historic stocking of nonnative fish nearly eliminated the native species from Yellowstone. In recent years, the park has restored the native species to the East Fork of Specimen Creek, Goose Lake and Grayling Creek.

Virginia Cascades Drive and Wolf Lake Trail to Little Gibbons Falls will be closed for the week, but if the project is completed early, closures will be lifted. Campsites in the area will remain open.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Game And Fish Investigation Into Poaching Uncovers Bobcat Suspect

in News/wildlife
5523

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s recent investigation into a possible poaching incident led officials to discover a furry suspect, according to a news release.

Last month, the Worland Game Warden Matt Lentsch received a possible poaching tip regarding a headless deer carcass located between Manderson and Basin. When Lentsch arrived at the location, he discovered a deer carcass with the head intact, but partially buried under dirt and vegetation, making it appear headless.

The game warden noted bobcat tracks near the partially cached carcass and determined a bobcat was responsible for killing the deer rather than illegal human activity.

“It is not every day that a bobcat takes a mature deer down,” Lentsch said.  “The deer was an adult doe mule deer in what seemed to be good health.”

Lentsch set a trail camera on the carcass and that night captured footage of the bobcat coming back to feed on the deer.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Game And Fish On Alert For Deadly Rabbit Disease

in News/wildlife
5359

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is collecting wild rabbit carcasses to test for a deadly disease that can affect wild, domestic and feral rabbits.

According to a news release from the Game and Fish Department, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus2 hasn’t been found in Wyoming, but it has been found in neighboring states. Testing rabbits is key to monitoring the spread of the disease.

RHDV2 is a fatal disease that affects rabbits and hares. An estimated 35% to 50% of infected wild rabbits succumb to the disease.

The disease has been confirmed in California, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. 

Game and Fish state wildlife Veterinarian Samantha Allen told Cowboy State Daily that the United States Department of Agriculture is also involved in tracking the disease, as it’s considered a “foreign animal disease.”

“There have been a couple other cases of RHDV2 in the last 10 years, but this is definitely new that cases are climbing,” she explained. “We don’t really know why there’s such an outbreak, which is why it’s so important to track any cases found in Wyoming.”

All of Wyoming’s rabbit and hares are susceptible, including game and nongame species such as cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits and pygmy rabbits. Domestic rabbits are at risk, but other domestic pets and livestock aren’t.

If someone finds a dead rabbit in their yard or while out hiking, they shouldn’t touch it or pick it up. Instead, they should note the location and call the Game and Fish Wildlife Health Lab at 307-745-5865 or the nearest regional office.

Game and Fish personnel will evaluate the situation and make plans to collect the rabbit.

RHDV2 doesn’t post a risk to humans, but rabbits can carry other disease that can pose a harm, such as tularemia or the plague.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Yellowstone Tourist Trips And Falls When Charging Bison Takes After Her

in News/wildlife
5346

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

She wasn’t a complete idiot.

It was probably for the best that a woman who got way too close to a herd of bison tripped when one chased after her.

That’s because the woman reportedly said that she knew the best thing to do in that situation was to play-dead.

The video, at least in this instance, appeared to show that was a good strategy. The charging bison stopped, investigated the scene, and eventually left her alone.

The individual who shot the video said the incident occurred at Nez Perce Creek and and the woman was “a Montana local so she knew to play dead in that situation.”

Of course the best way to avoid that situation is not to get too close to the bison in the first place.

Reports are that the woman was not injured. 

No word on the condition of the man, appropriately dressed in green shorts and sandals, who tried to pick up a tree branch (and failed) in an effort to look like he could actually do something against a 2,000 pound bison.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Grizzly Bear Donated to Natural History Museum

in News/wildlife
5238

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

More and more often, residential developments in the Rocky Mountains are encroaching on the grizzly bear’s natural habitat. 

This close proximity means that human-bear interaction is happening much more frequently — and the outcome for the bears is often not good.

But sometimes, something good can come out of a bad situation.

Dusty Lasseter, the Bear Wise Coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cody, pointed as an example to an incident in May near Wapiti that resulted in the death of a 14-year-old bear – the third bear to be put down this spring.

“He had killed some chickens,” Lasseter said, “and when we caught him this spring he was in really poor physical condition.”

However, the bear’s death created an opportunity for researchers at the Draper Museum of Natural History at Cody’s Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Lasseter said.

“He was just a really good specimen, and the Draper had been asking us for some bears to use for educational purposes,” he said. “I thought this bear was a perfect candidate for that.”

And at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, technicians and museum staff will give the bear a new life – and purpose.

Nathan Doerr, curator of the Draper Museum, said the donation of the bear brings a unique educational opportunity.

“Draper staff and an incredible team of volunteers, we get together, and we dissect the specimen, we de-articulate it, and we clean the bones,” he said.

Then when the process is complete, which could take a year or more, Doerr said museum patrons will have multiple opportunities to learn from the bear’s articulated skeleton.

“Each bone is individually labeled, cataloged and stored for, whether it be scientific research, educational programming, or, in this case, exhibit,” he said.

But Doerr said that the ultimate goal for the experience is inspiration.

“We hope to ignite the curiosity in the visitors, get them to want to go out and explore more, and really start to dive into, if you will, the natural wonders of not just the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and not just the American West, but really their own backyards as well,” he said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Sees Surge In Miller Moths

in News/wildlife/University of Wyoming
4965

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Poor wildflower growing conditions on Wyoming’s prairies are pushing miller moths into communities in search of food, resulting in the flocks of the insects being seen throughout the Front Range, a University of Wyoming extension entomologist said.

Reports have flooded in from all over Wyoming, Colorado and Montana about the influx of miller moths, a type of moth that’s abundant in the western region.

Miller moths are usually gray or dark brown in color, with a wing span of 1.5 to 2 inches. On their wings, the moths have fine scales that easily rub off.

UW entomologist Scott Schell told Cowboy State Daily that a wet spring and summer last year, combined with a drier winter and spring of this year, caused fewer wildflowers to produce on the prairie and near sagebrush steppes. Without flowers to feed on, the moths will come to towns and areas with a lot of water for food instead.

Schell’s heard reports of the moths from all over the state, particularly in southeast Wyoming, Niobrara County, Sublette County and the Big Horn Basin.

While the moths are a nuisance when in a home, they generally don’t cause any damage to buildings or furnishings, Schell said, because the moths don’t lay eggs in a house.

The moths are attracted to certain types of light, as they use the moon and other celestial lights to guide them on their flights.

To keep moths outside, Schell recommended sealing obvious openings, turning off unnecessary lights and switching to non-attractive yellow lights to keep the moths away.

He also suggested vacuuming the moths and releasing them outside or setting a trap by using small nightlights in various outlets and keeping a small dish of soapy water beneath each one. Moths will be attracted to the light, fall into the water and die.

Many birds, beetles and hunting wasps eat miller moths. Bears also feast on miller moths, especially the grizzlies in Yellowstone.

“The moths shelter under rocks and come out at night to feed on wildflowers, so during the day, the grizzlies will flip the rocks over and eat all the moths they find,” Schell said. “The millers are a tremendous source of nutrition for bears.”

Although miller moths have been taking over the Front Range for the last few weeks, Schell did say the end was in sight. The moths are migrating toward the high country and should be gone in the next couple weeks.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gordon, Enzi Object To Sage Grouse Ruling

in News/wildlife
4685

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming officials are objecting to a federal judge’s decision to invalidate oil and gas lease sales on public land in the state.

Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen Mike Enzi, in separate statements, criticized the decision of a U.S. District Court judge in Montana to strike down the leases issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in lease sales held in 2018. The judge said in the May 22 ruling that the BLM failed to adequately protect sage grouse by issuing the leases, which included three in Wyoming and Montana.

Gordon said the decision was particularly troubling given the amount of time and money Wyoming has spent developing its own sage grouse protection program.

“We have spent over $200 (million) on habitat conservation, research and other actions meant to maintain this iconic species,” he said. “At the same time, our ranchers, oil and gas companies, miners and other citizens and industries have helped develop protections that put the species first. This court decision is nothing but a slap in the face to all the efforts that have been undertaken in good faith to protect the species.”

Gordon said Wyoming’s actions already protected sage grouse habitat from drilling on public land, so the judge’s decision had little real impact on the birds but a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.

“The sad thing here is this decision does nothing the bird and it may undermine the voluntary and cooperative work Wyoming citizens have been willing to do to protect this species,” he said. “The decision to simply toss the leases is impractical, impulsive and prevents Wyoming from effectively managing the sage grouse and a vital part of our economy.”

Gordon also said he is studying the possibility of legal action to contest the decision, which he said will cost the state tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

Enzi also expressed disappointment that the cooperative efforts of Wyoming and industry officials to protect sage grouse habitat were rejected.

“I am disappointed in the federal judge’s decision to side with environmental activists on this issue,” Enzi said. “I’ve long been a proponent of allowing the Wyoming governor’s office to work with the BLM and our stakeholders to implement management plans that work for all. This decision fails to properly acknowledge all the hard work that has been done to protect the species by those on the ground who know what works best.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Game And Fish To Begin Bear Trapping

in News/wildlife
4500

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department announced Wednesday that as part of an ongoing effort to monitor grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it would trap grizzly bears in the northwest portion of the state over the next few months.

Department biologists will conduct grizzly bear trappings in both front- and backcountry areas. All areas where trapping is being conducted will have major access points marked with warning signs. All trap sites will be posted with area closure signs in the direct vicinity.

When captured, the bears are collared, released on site and monitored by the Game and Fish Department and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

This is an annual event and is vital to the ongoing management and conservation of grizzlies in the state.

Information obtained through the department’s efforts is used to assess the status and health of grizzly bears and provides insight into population dynamics.

All of this is critical to the continued recovery of the Greater Yellowstone population.

This announcement comes days after department officials relocated a grizzly in Cody to Dubois. Earlier in May, a grizzly was captured and euthanized in Wapiti due to health issues and a Cody man was mauled by a bear.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Smart Yellowstone Reporter – Unlike Idiot Tourists – Leaves Bison Alone

in News/Tourism/wildlife
3600

We’ve seen the videos many, many times. Tourists come to Yellowstone and attempt to pet bison.

The result? Oftentimes, not good.

Deion Broxton, from KTVM TV in Bozeman, Montana, did the right thing. He saw a herd of bison coming his way and bailed out.

“Oh my God,” he muttered while carefully observing the approaching herd.

“I ain’t messing with you,” he said moments later, while walking off-camera and to his car.

“Oh, no,” he continued while packing his car with his gear. “Oh no, I ain’t messing with you.”

His actions got him praise from the official Yellowstone Twitter account.

“A perfect example of what to do when approached by wildlife! Rolling on the floor laughing Thanks Deion for putting the #YellowstonePledge into action!” they tweeted.

As for that herd of bison, those were some serious animals. Once he got to a safe location, he shot a quick video of them.

Wyo Moose Population Drops Amid ‘Perfect Storm’ Of Issues

in News/wildlife
Wyoming Moose
3152

By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Hundreds of people on Facebook were alarmed recently when a graphic shared widely on social media showed Wyoming’s moose population has been decimated in recent years, dropping from more than 10,000 animals in the mid-1990s to 1,500 by 2017. 

Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the graph showed the population plummeting by more than 4,000 animals. Wyoming Sen. Ogden Driskill shared the image on his Facebook page, pointing toward the rising wolf population as the culprit for the decline, like many others did.

“At what point do the moose become endangered and we start killing wolves to save an endangered species????” Driskill wrote in January.

The graph is not entirely accurate, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials.

“That graph had quite a few errors in it,” said Doug Brimeyer, the department’s deputy chief of wildlife, including the fact it showed a steep 2012 population drop that was actually the result of a change in the way the agency estimated moose numbers.

But the state’s moose population has declined significantly in recent years because of a mix of factors, Brimeyer said.

“I think it’s unfair to put it off on one single cause, because I think moose have faced the perfect storm of issues,” he said.

Currently, the statewide moose population is Wyoming is just under 3,500 animals, Brimeyer said. And the graph shared on social media isn’t all wrong — the population has been trending downward since hitting 10,000 in the mid-1990s.

“Overall, we’ve seen some significant declines over the last 25 years,” Brimeyer said. “Historically, it’s obviously a declining trend.”

Moose challenges

The “perfect storm of issues” that moose are facing is widespread. Officials in Idaho, Utah and Montana have reported similar population declines, a trend that’s raised concern since the early 2000s.

“They’re influenced by a whole variety of issues,” Brimeyer said.

Predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions plays a role.

“Wolves start showing up in the late ‘90s,” Brimeyer said. “Around the same time, grizzly bears start expanding their range. They’re all a piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to diminish the role that predation played, because it’s pretty significant.”

Brimeyer said wolf hunting seasons are successfully keeping the predators in check in Wyoming, which could prove beneficial to moose.

In addition to predation, moose are threatened by other environmental factors, from massive wildfires that destroy habitat to tiny parasites that can bring mighty moose down from the inside.

Brimeyer said warmer, drier weather in Wyoming in recent years has made it easier for parasites like winter ticks, which attach themselves to moose in the fall, to stay alive and feed on the moose.

“In dry falls, those animals tend to pick up a lot of (winter ticks), which can affect their ability to maintain their nutritional status,” Brimeyer said. “Some of these animals can carry a very high tick load.”

A 2018 study on New Hampshire moose found that animals with high ticks loads died of emaciation and malnutrition linked to the arachnids.

Wyoming moose have also been affected by a carotid artery worm, a parasite transmitted by horseflies that constricts blood flow and can lead to death. The parasite’s target host, deer, are often asymptomatic.

“The moose is the wrong host for this parasite, so they have symptoms where they start walking in circles and eventually die,” Brimeyer said.

Humans aren’t blameless in the decline, either. Brimeyer said the department has seen an uptick in vehicle collisions resulting in moose fatalities.

Saving the moose

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has long been looking for ways to boost struggling moose numbers. Over the last 15 years, Brimeyer said, the agency has consistently decreased moose tag numbers and changed the structure of its hunting season to give the animals a better chance at recovery.

In the 1990s, Game and Fish changed regulations to ban hunters from harvesting cow moose with calves at their side. Around 2000, the agency eliminated cow moose hunts in some units. 

“In the ‘90s, we were harvesting over 1,000 moose,” Brimeyer said. “In 2019, we harvested about 300 moose.”

The efforts could be paying off — although it is difficult to determine because moose are notoriously difficult to count. Despite their huge size, moose are elusive and largely solitary.

“Right now, there’s no feasible census techniques out there,” Brimeyer said, adding that Game and Fish Department is working on trail camera counts, as well as DNA sampling of hair and fecal pellets to try to identify animals.

Still, department counts show some potentially good news for moose. Calf ratios are improving in Western Wyoming, where officials counted more than 2,000 specimens in 2018.

“We’re optimistic that Wyoming’s moose populations are beginning to change a bit,” Brimeyer said.

Wolf Pups Killed on Road Became Used to Humans, Officials Say

in News/wildlife
2790

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

To many in northern and western Wyoming, wolves are now a part of everyday life. Ranchers, wildlife enthusiasts, backcountry hikers and Sunday drivers are conscious of the presence of wolves – even if they can’t be seen.

In November, two wolves in Yellowstone National Park were hit by a vehicle. 

The pair of black wolf pups from the Junction Butte Pack, one of the most visible packs in the Park, were struck on the road between the park’s northeast entrance and Tower Junction. 

According to park officials, the pups had become habituated to humans due to a number of hikers who violated the required 100-yard barrier between people and wolves. Because they had grown accustomed to humans, the pups had several close encounters with visitors – which eventually led to their deaths, as they started spending more time near the highway. Officials said they attempted to haze the wolves away from human hangouts, but were unsuccessful.

Ken Mills is a large carnivore biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who focuses on the state’s wolf population. He said officials don’t often have to use hazing, because the animals tend to shy away from humans.

“We have tools such as cracker shells shot out of a shotgun or a specific cracker shell gun that explode and make noise, and we use those to haze different species,” he explained. “We do have available what we call ‘turbo fladry,’ which is an electrified single strand wire fence with red flags hanging off it, and those can be effective to keep wolves out of specific areas, say, a calving pasture. We’ve used flashing lights before.

“Any sort of negative interaction with a person would scare a wolf away,” he added.

Yellowstone National Park biologists report that there were at least 80 wolves in nine packs living primarily in the park at the end of December, 2018. 

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, that number is included in the total estimate of 286 wolves that reside within the state’s borders – which is down significantly from the 2017 count of 347, and is the fewest recorded since the department took over management of the species in 2012.

A total of 177 wolf mortalities were documented statewide in 2018, according to the Game and Fish Department. Mills said the decline in the population is due to a combination of factors.

“It’s partly hunting and there was some disease operating in the population, because it had been at high density for a number of years,” he said. “So that initial decrease in 2018 was from a combination of disease, from hunting, and from other human-caused mortality.”

In 2018, the Game and Fish Department implemented a wolf hunting season, with an objective of reducing the population to around 160 wolves in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area. 

According to the 2018 annual report from the department, 90 percent of wolf deaths that year were human-caused, either through hunting, conflict control or predator control measures. The other 10 percent died of natural causes or the cause of death was unknown.

Despite the high mortality rate last year, Game and Fish reported that the wolf population is still significantly higher than the target number set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“(The 2018 count) was near our population objective, which is quite a bit higher than the minimum recovery criteria, what we’re required to maintain following de-listing,” Mills pointed out. 

While hunting allows the Game and Fish Department to control the population, the novelty of wolves being present and visible in northwest Wyoming can itself pose a danger to the animals, as demonstrated in the deaths of the wolf pups this winter.

“Visitors must protect wolves from becoming habituated to people and roads,”  said Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s senior wolf biologist. “Stay at least 100 yards from wolves, never enter a closed area, and notify a park ranger of others who are in violation of these rules.”  

Energy Development Part of Complex Problem in Wyo Mule Deer Decline

in Energy/News/wildlife
2778

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Research indicates energy development played a role in declining mule deer populations, but it’s only one part of a complex problem, a University of Wyoming researcher said.

“When mule deer are present on winter range, we tend to see movement away from energy development,” said Kevin Monteith, a UW assistant professor of natural resource science. “And, when they are near development they tend to be more vigilant and less interested in feeding. I wouldn’t say (energy developments) are the primary factor of declining populations, but with certainty, I can say they are contributing factors.”

In a draft plan for mitigating Chronic Wasting Disease, Wyoming Game and Fish reported the state’s mule deer populations are down about 40 percent since the 1970’s, and for years, researchers across Wyoming have tried to answer the question of why.

Working through the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Monteith’s team researches how large ungulates such as deer, moose and pronghorn interact with their habitat. 

Using data collected since the 1990s, Monteith and fellow researchers were able to determine deer traveling from their winter range to their summer range ate less than usual when traveling near oil and gas well pads. 

“We’ve known for sometime that deer tended to avoid energy development on winter range,” Monteith said. “But on the surface, there wasn’t a great connection between that behavior and the population declines.”

From 2015 to 2017, Monteith gathered data on mule deer in the Upper Green River Basin with the intent of drilling down on the connection between habitat usage, energy development and population flux. 

The study did not yield a definitive connection, but rather expanded on the scientific community’s understanding of mule deer behavioral patterns near well pads. 

“We tend to see (the deer) are not making as complete use of food on land near energy development as they are in other places,” Monteith said. “Food is that ultimate building block. If we lose food on the landscape, we would expect a population decline to occur thereafter.” 

In response to his research, many people pointed out an abundance of deer traveling near developed areas.

“These results are not counter to those observations,” Monteith said. “Our results are not saying the animals we monitored were never next to a well pad. They absolutely were.” 

But after comparing all the places they lived throughout the winter, his team determined the deer didn’t eat as much when near to energy developments.

Gadget science

Much of Monteith’s work is made possible by advances in GPS technology since the turn of the century, said Hall Sawyer, a wildlife biologist who published research papers with Monteith in 2017 and 2019.

“There’s two tools that have certainly revolutionized the way in which we collect animal movement data,” Sawyer said.

The first is GPS tracking collars. 

Sawyer conducts research similar to Monteith’s, but for the private sector through Western Ecosystems Technology (WEST), Inc., based in Laramie.

To help with Monteith’s winter range studies, Sawyer shared data his company collected since the late ’90s.

“GPS collars get better every year,” Sawyer said. “Before GPS, people used VHF collars. You’d have to go out with a big ol’ antenna and listen for an animal.”

The results were varied, and at times, inaccurate, he said.

“Fifteen years ago, we had collars that could collect a couple hundred locations and would last about six months,” Sawyer said. “Nowadays, we have collars that can collect locations every hour, 24 hours a day for several years at a time.”

The second significant advancement is the use of helicopters and net guns to capture animals prior to collaring.

“The challenging part is you have to put those collars on the animals,” Sawyer explained. “Before helicopter-net gunning, the techniques were really labor intensive and not very efficient.” 

With the help of these advancements, wildlife research entered a new era of understanding animal behavior.

“If you’re going to manage any wildlife population you need to understand when and why animals move,” Sawyer explained.

What’s next?


While neither Sawyer’s nor Monteith’s research determined energy development played a primary role in mule deer population declines, it will serve to educate the scientific community and help wildlife managers mitigate potential damage future developments could cause, Monteith said.

“The hope is this sort of research can help wildlife managers make more informed decisions,” he said, explaining managers have to sign off on development permits. “The unknowns and uncertainty can create tension between different groups.”

Speculation can slow or even halt the permit process, causing problems between the permitting authority and the applicant. With an in-depth analysis of cause and effect in hand, Monteith said he hopes his research can benefit everyone involved in the energy development process.

The field work on winter range may be complete, but the research continues, he said. Monteith is currently working to publish another paper related to his findings.

“Now that we understand the effects, the next step is to develop better strategies for habitat management,” he explained. 

Sawyer said the research conducted by WEST, UW and the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit helped developers create a pipeline for liquid waste removal which reduced herd disturbance. And the studies showed directional drilling from a single well pad also mitigated some of the unproductive behaviors exhibited by mule deer near well pads.

“Directional drilling multiple wells from a single pad and liquid gathering systems are really good practices,” Sawyer said. “But while they help minimize disturbances, they do not eliminate them.”

Wind, Winter Storm Force Grand Teton to Delay Mountain Goat Cull

in News/wildlife
2694

By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Several days of wind and snow in western Wyoming forced National Park Service officials to delay plans to eradicate non-native mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park, according to park spokeswoman Denise Germann.

The Park Service initially planned to close portions of Grand Teton from Jan. 5 to 12 in order to remove the mountain goats by shooting them from helicopters. Wind earlier in the week created unsafe flying conditions, Germann said on Thursday, while snow from a winter storm later in the week created further issues.

Germann said the removal will be rescheduled, though no dates have yet been determined. An environmental impact study on the removal determined efforts should be completed by early March, when park visitation is low.

Approximately 100 mountain goats dispersed into Grand Teton National Park in recent years. Germann said the animals are descendants of mountain goats released south of the park by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for hunting purposes in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“We’ve been looking at this for the last few years,” Germann said.

National Park Service officials said the mountain goats carry pathogens that can cause pneumonia, posing a potential threat to a herd of bighorn sheep native to Grand Teton.

“(Disease transmission) has not been documented, but it is a primary concern,” Germann said. “The bighorn sheep have low genetic diversity … because they’re isolated from neighboring herds.”

Germann said using firearms from a helicopter was determined to be the most efficient way to eradicate the mountain goats.

“We’re trying to rapidly reduce their numbers,” she said.

According to the environmental impact study, National Park Service officials believe the entire population of mountain goats can be eradicated in one to five years.

“The National Park Service has a responsibility to arrange for native populations,” Germann said. “When there’s something that jeopardizes that native population, we take action.”

The National Park Service is not the only agency to address the encroaching species. Last year, Wyoming Game and Fish Department opened a new mountain goat hunting season on the west side of the Teton mountain range in an effort to allow hunters to thin the herd. Forty-eight licenses were issued.

Year of the Pig sees Wyoming cut the fat, celebrate equality, go gaga for choo-choo trains

in Energy/Jobs/News/wildlife/Agriculture/Transparency/Business
Year of the Pig
2613

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

In 2019, Wyoming celebrated the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage, welcomed back members of the Black 14 and bemoaned the worsening coal crisis.

Cowboy State Daily was there to cover it all.

Here’s some of our top stories from throughout the year.

Coal

Mineral extraction in Wyoming could enter a slump in the next four years, and the coal industry is slated to experience the worst of it, according to a report produced by Gov. Mark Gordon’s Power Wyoming initiative.

Some of the initiative’s scenarios predicted a recovery period in two years, but most, and the most likely, predicted a devastating decrease in both Wyoming’s total employment and population.

For the residents of coal country, those predictions could be life changing.

“The coal jobs have historically been the stable jobs,” said Alison Gee, a Gillette attorney. “Now, we’re shifting to an environment where we have to look to oil and gas to try and provide some of the stability for our families. And as you know, the oil and gas markets just aren’t that way. They’re very volatile because of the world economy.”

Although several hundred miners returned to work at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines after Eagle Specialty Materials assumed ownership from the bankrupt former owners, Blackjewel, the reverberations of 600 coal miners being laid off in one fell swoop earlier this year are still being felt statewide.

Corporate income tax

Despite dying in the Senate during the 2019 Legislative Session, a legislative committee is once again studying a proposal to impose an income tax on so-called “big box” stores.

The Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee listened to testimony in September regarding a 7 percent corporate income tax on companies with more than 100 shareholders.

A similar proposal, House Bill No. 220, referred to as the National Retail Fairness Act, was not considered by the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee before a deadline in February.

Both measures were raised as state officials were faced with rapid declines in the state’s mineral tax revenues, historically the biggest contributors to Wyoming coffers.

Irrigation collapse

After an irrigation canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska without water for months this summer, officials are looking into ways to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Built by the Bureau of Reclamation more than 100 years ago, the Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapsed in July, causing the governors of Wyoming and Nebraska to declare states of emergency.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture later said crop losses would be covered by insurance, a previous economic analysis report produced jointly by the Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension originally estimated the collapse could cost both states about $90 million combined. 

Opening the books

After a years-long legal battle between Wyoming officials and non-profit organizations over state government transparency, Wyoming State Auditor, Kristi Racines released Wyoming’s checkbook  shortly after taking office in January.

The data dump contained approximately 4.9 million line items of expenditures made by state agencies during the last six years, but it does not include several spending categories such as state employee salaries or victims’ benefit payments.

Racines took transparency a step further and launched a website dedicated to providing the public with basic spending data for the state.

Using the data provided through both the checkbook and website, Cowboy State Daily covered a series of state spending stories including the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s sponsorship of rodeo teams, the Wyoming Department of Correction’s purchases of religious items and a look at Wyoming’s own air fleet

Big Boy

The largest steam engine ever built, the Big Boy locomotive, crossed Wyoming for the first time in 60 years, bound for Utah and the 150th anniversary of the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railway.

“A steam locomotive is a living, breathing piece of machinery,” said Bob Krieger, a former steam locomotive engineer who now runs the UP Historical Society in Cheyenne. “You can see its muscles. You can hear it breathe as it pulls a grade. All steam engines do that. The Big Boy is just the biggest.”

Train enthusiasts from all over the world flocked to Wyoming to witness the historic trip.

Capitol renovations

State agencies started moving back into the Wyoming Capitol building this summer as a $300 million renovation project neared its end.

The refurbishment of the 129-year-old Capitol was the centerpiece for the Wyoming Capitol Square Project that also involved updating the Herschler Building to the north and the space between them.

The reopening ceremony coincided with the celebration of Wyoming’s Statehood Day, and the unveiling revealed a Capitol building considered to be much more accessible to the public, with larger rooms, broader passageways and more open space.

“They’ve done a lot of stuff here that opened up the Capitol,” said Joe McCord, the former facilities manager for the Capitol. “The stairs going into the House and Senate are wide open right now. Downstairs, you’ve got the galley that’s wide open. The rooms are bigger. I just love it, what they’ve done. They’ve done a great job.”

Despite being mostly complete, many agencies were still working with temporary furniture towards the end of the year as the state worked out the details of new furniture request for proposal.

Taco John’s

There was a whole lotta Mexican goin’ on at Taco John’s 50th anniversary this year, some of which the company is taking to Minnesota.

While founded in Cheyenne half a century ago, the fast food chain announced in December it was expanding its corporate office to Minneapolis, where there are more than 200 Taco John’s locations within a few hours drive from the city. But for those readers who can’t get enough oles, the franchise is slated to remain headquartered in Wyoming. 

Women’s Suffrage

State legislators kicked off the 2019 Legislative Session by passing a measure setting aside a day to recognize Wyoming as the first state in the nation to give women the right to vote.

The measure declared Dec. 10 as “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day,” which marks the day in 1869 when Territorial Gov. John Campbell signed the bill giving women the right to vote in Wyoming.

Marking the occasion with music, the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra commissioned an original work from American composer Stephanie Ann Boyd. 

“Wyoming, of course, put through women’s suffrage about 50 years before everybody else, and so we’re taking the inspiration of that, and the stories of the women that were instrumental in that, and writing a piece about them, but also writing essentially a 25-minute minute love letter to Wyoming,” Boyd said.

On Dec. 10, women and men marched to the Capitol commemorating the newly declared holiday and highlighting instances of inequality that still need to be addressed.

Black 14 

Fifty years after the University of Wyoming expelled 14 members of its football team, known as the Black 14, for wearing black armbands onto the field, race relations are still strained in the Equality State, said Mel Hamilton, one of the Black 14.

“It’s a shame to say, but it’s pretty much the same as when I entered Wyoming in 1965,” Hamilton said, adding, “with one exception — it went underground.”

Adding diversity to the history books and teaching students how minorities contributed to growth of the U.S. as well as informing them how racism was cultivated by ignorance would be a strong step toward improving Wyoming’s future race relations, Hamilton said. 

“They must be allowed to learn what other races have given this country,” he said. “They are ready to lead the way if we — the old vanguard — just get out of the way and let them do it.”

Chronic Wasting Disease 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department released a draft plan to address a fatal disease running rampant through the state’s wildlife population.

“(Chronic Wasting Disease) has been documented spreading throughout the state, and there are areas where its prevalence is high enough that we think it could be having significant impacts on some of our herds,” said Justin Binfet, one of the plan’s authors and a Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator. “The plan is based on recommendations that were developed through an extensive collaborative process.”

Dubbed a “suite of strategies,” the plan suggests managing the disease by installing wildlife feeding bans, potentially targeting mule deer bucks during breeding season, voluntary and mandatory submission of harvested animal samples and working with landowners, cities and counties to eliminate areas with unintentionally high concentrations members of the deer family.

Game and Fish drafts plan to manage Chronic Wasting Disease

in News/wildlife
2563

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A draft plan put forth by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department could stymie the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among the state’s deer, elk and moose populations.

“CWD has been documented spreading throughout the state, and there are areas where its prevalence is high enough that we think it could be having significant impacts on some of our herds,” said Justin Binfet, one of the plan’s authors and a Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator. “The plan is based on recommendations that were developed through an extensive collaborative process.”

Working with other state agencies, conservation groups and members of the public, Game and Fish created a “suite of strategies” for combatting the disease’s spread, Binfet explained.

Those strategies include wildlife feeding bans, potentially targeting mule deer bucks during breeding season, voluntary and mandatory submission of harvested animal samples and working with landowners, cities and counties to eliminate areas with unintentionally high concentrations of cervids, mammals of the deer family.

Incurable and spreading

CWD is a fatal disease affecting cervids’ central nervous systems and is caused by abnormal proteins called prions.

The disease is currently incurable and animals show no clinical signs of CWD during the early stages of the ailment, the plan stated. First documented in Wyoming about 30 years ago, CWD has spread to 84 percent of the 37 mule deer herds observed by Game and Fish while assembling its CWD plan. While the disease also affects elk, moose and white-tail deer, it is most prominent in Wyoming’s mule deer populations, the plan reported

“Prevalence of this disease in chronically infected Wyoming deer herds has exceeded 40 percent, with one elk herd exhibiting nearly 15 percent prevalence,” said to the plan’s executive summary.

Muley Fanatic Foundation Co-founder Josh Coursey served as a member of the CWD Work Group assembled by Game and Fish to help create the plan.

“This is a very complex issue — there’s no silver bullet,” Coursey said. “It’s devastating to herds, and there’s no scientific data determining whether it’s transferable to humans.”

The Centers for Disease Control reported some studies have shown the disease can be transmitted to squirrel monkeys who were fed the muscle tissue or brain matter of CWD-infected deer and elk.

“If we know this can live in the environment, there’s not a commercial meat processor anywhere that has not been contaminated with CWD,” Coursey said. “There’s no doubt people are eating and have eaten CWD-infected meat.”

Diminished herds

Wyoming’s mule deer population is struggling, and CWD could be playing a major role, Hunting With Heroes Co-founder Colton Sasser said.

Hunting with Heroes takes disabled veterans hunting with licenses donated to the Game and Fish Department and has completed more than 1,000 hunts since 2013, but none of the animals harvested tested positive for CWD, Sasser said.

“A lot of people complain about the decreasing mule deer population in our state and boil it down to lack of predator control and hard winters,” Sasser said. “But I think CWD is a huge part of that.” 

Coursey said several factors are affecting Wyoming’s mule deer populations, but CWD is high on the list.

“There’s no doubt there’s definitely an impact on CWD taking a toll on mule deer,” he said. “But, there isn’t just one issue that is going to solve declining herd counts.”

Options on the table

The Game and Fish Department’s CWD plan has hunters talking, Coursey said, and one of the hottest topics is the plan’s suggestion game managers could propose allowing hunters to harvest mule deer bucks during the rut, or breeding season.

“Late season hunting of mule deer bucks is not a common practice in the Cowboy State,” he said. “That’s when mule deer bucks are at their most vulnerable, and quite frankly, they’re silly.”

The rutting season is also when bucks make contact with numerous other mule deer, increasing the likelihood of contracting and spreading CWD, Coursey explained.

While the plan doesn’t give a Game and Fish game manager express permission to let hunters target mule deer bucks in the late season, Coursey said it does allow the game manager to propose late-season hunting as an option to his region for public feedback.

Still in the early stages of development, the CWD management plan could benefit Wyoming’s wildlife herds for decades to come.

“I think it’s going to take time for these management actions to be employed,” said Hank Edwards, a Game and Fish wildlife lab supervisor. “I don’t see them being employed right away, but they will start to be considered with the upcoming seasons next spring.”

Game and Fish spokesperson Janet Milek said the department will collect public comment on the plan until Jan. 15.

“At this point, a few comments have trickled in but they have not gone through the review process yet,” Milek said.

Residents can submit feedback online or by sending mail to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 3030 Energy Lane, Casper, Wyoming, 82604. Letters should be labeled ATTN: CWD Management Plan.

Tracking Wild

in Cat Urbigkit/News/Column/wildlife/Agriculture
Good deer
Researchers use radio collars to track mule deer migration through the Wind River Mountains. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)
2544

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

There are probably thousands of tracking devices installed on wild animals in Wyoming.

From collars or eartag transmitters placed on big game animals and large carnivores like wolves and bears, to backpack harnesses or neck bands installed on a variety of bird species, and the surgical insertion of devices into fish, the amount of wildlife tracking conducted every year in Wyoming is astounding.

The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed.
The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

But the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) can’t tell you how many animals are wearing these devices. I know that because I asked: first informally, and when that didn’t yield any information, I was instructed to submit a formal request, which I did. The response noted “there is not an easy way to show how many animals actually have collars on them at this point.” I was told that “it would take quite a few hours to go through each permit report” to see how many animals were actually collared under each permit issued by the department even in a single year, but if I wanted to pursue the matter, the agency would send me a cost estimate for that effort. I declined. 

I had naïvely assumed there must be a central electronic location accessed by wildlife biologists to see the status of monitored animals, but that is not the case. Even the University of Wyoming’s Wildlife Migration Initiative’s Migration Viewer provides simple summaries of ungulate movements. WMI notes in bold type that “the raw location data can only be obtained by contacting the original data owner,” and “This allows us to share ungulate movement data with a broad range of users, while protecting the integrity of the datasets and the proprietary study or project needs of the many researchers that collected and own the data.”

This bison in Yellowstone National Park had its radio collar tangled in its horn.
This bison in Yellowstone National Park had its radio collar tangled in its horn. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Some of the tracking devices placed on wild animals in Wyoming are conventional, very-high-frequency (VHF); others provide satellite tracking; and still others make use of the global positioning system (GPS). But all wildlife research in Wyoming that requires live-handling of animals to attach tracking devices begins with obtaining a permit from WG&F. Although wildlife researchers have until January 1 of the year following their permit expiration to file a detailed report with the agency, it’s unfortunate that data-sharing with our state’s wildlife managers is limited to by-then dated information.

When the Teton County Planning and Development office contracted with Biota Research and Consulting, Inc., to identify, describe, and map important habitat features for a range of wildlife species as part of its county comprehensive plan process, Biota worked to develop GIS overlays for all wildlife species in the county. That process required identifying all available datasets in existence, held by both private and public entities conducting wildlife research. Biota ended up developing unique data sharing contracts “in the interest of meeting the various concerns about misuse of data from each of the project contributors.”

“Although some potential collaborators willingly shared their data, other potential collaborators in both the private and public sector clearly articulated their unwillingness to share data, or failed to provide data that they agreed to share,” Biota noted.

What prompted my interest in the issue was the appearance of radio-collared mule deer and pronghorn antelope on our place, and some of those collars were not properly fitted. Since some of the mule deer have an easily-read bright numbered tag attached to the outside of the collar, I assumed our local WG&F biologist would be able to provide information on when the collar was placed, and to what end (the goals of the research project). Alas, that is not the case. The public or private entity conducting the research retains the real-time specifics, while WG&F has more a general knowledge of what research projects are taking place, and can access the annual reports from those research projects.

Research on the impacts of natural gas development on the Pinedale Anticline resulted in the collaring of this pronghorn antelope which was getting rubbed raw by its loose collar during frigid winter temperatures.
Research on the impacts of natural gas development on the Pinedale Anticline resulted in the collaring of this pronghorn antelope which was getting rubbed raw by its loose collar during frigid winter temperatures. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Open sores and hair loss are frequent adverse effects from the use of radio-collars and other telemetry devices, as are animal entanglements in the collars themselves. Ill-fitting collars cause wounds and infections, and too tight a collar can restrict air flow and swallowing. As some researchers have pointed out, “ill-fitting collars and problems associated with them clearly influence research results and have implications for ethics within the wildlife profession.”

Behavioral impacts from the use of radio-collars are often discounted as insignificant, but there has been little research into this issue. Still, some research has revealed that collared moose in Norway keep in groups separate from non-collared moose. Brightly-colored collars on deer have resulted in higher harvest rates by deer hunters able to see these colors from a distance. Water and ice build-up under and around collars has been an issue for young ungulates. Other research has found impacts to a broad range of species, from voles to penguins.

There is no doubt that telemetry is an important tool in the research and management of many wildlife species. It’s my hope that researchers will strive for a better understanding of the potential negative consequences of strapping telemetry devices to wild animals (altering behavioral patterns should be a significant concern). And as science and technology advances, agencies like the WG&F may have to put in place better data-sharing mechanisms for the information harvested from wild animals in Wyoming.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

As feds move to drop Wyoming bear baiting lawsuit, environmental groups say they’ll continue to pursue it

in News/wildlife
2489

By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Sy Gilliland isn’t even entertaining the idea of how his business would be affected if a lawsuit that aims to end bear baiting in Wyoming is successful.

“The state of Wyoming is going to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the outfitting industry,” said Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association and owner of SNS Outfitter & Guides. “(The lawsuit) is frivolous. It’s not based upon sound science.”

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June by environmental groups Wilderness Watch, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. The groups claim that using food to bait black bears for hunting poses a threat to grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho, where grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act

Last month, federal officials filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, citing previous agreements allowing the states to regulate bear baiting through their own wildlife management agencies, even if the practice occurs on national forest land. The plaintiffs say that’s not a solid argument.

“The states get to regulate hunting; however, if you want to create a food dump on federal land, you need a permit,” Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said Monday. “It’s not really a matter of legal debate.”

By early December, the lawsuit remained in U.S. District Court in Idaho.

At the crux of the lawsuit are questions over whether grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho still need to be protected. The bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were deemed “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975, and federal agencies have been in and out of court over the last decade as grizzlies have been repeatedly removed and relisted as a threatened species. Most recently, protections were removed in 2017 and reinstated in 2018.

In the lawsuit, the conservation groups claim legal baiting of black bears also entices grizzlies into hunt areas. The groups cite eight instances in the last 24 years where black bear hunters have mistakenly killed grizzlies at bait sites.Rebekah Fitzgerald, communications director for Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the agency works hard to educate hunters on distinguishing the two species.

Additionally, Fitzgerald said, there are existing regulations in Wyoming regarding where bait can be used. Approved sites are outside of known grizzly bear range.

“If a grizzly is seen at a (bait) site, it will be closed for the season,” Fitzgerald said. “We continue to use black bear baiting because we believe it’s a tool to harvest black bears and do it selectively.”

Fitzgerald declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation.

According to Game and Fish Department research, the grizzly bear population continues to expand outside of the recovery zone in northwest Wyoming that was designated in a species recovery plan in 1993. 

In the lawsuit, baiting opponents claimed the Forest Service may not be able to accurately judge potential threats to grizzlies because it has not conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment of the species since the mid-1990s. The Forest Service maintains nothing has occurred to trigger the National Environmental Policy Act which would require an updated assessment.

“Grizzly bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are tenuous at best,” Molvar, the Western Watersheds leader, told Cowboy State Daily. “Certainly a better understanding of grizzly bear ecology and human/grizzly interaction is beneficial to everyone.”

Outfitter Gilliland can agree on that — sort of. He believes the population could be double the estimated 600 or so bears in Wyoming, second only to Montana’s estimated 800 bears.

“I would really love to see the truth come out about grizzly numbers,” Gilliland said. “The available grizzly habitat in Wyoming is full to the point of overflowing. We’re doing these bears a huge disservice by not managing them.”

Managing grizzlies — and all other wildlife — falls to the states. If the lawsuit against the federal agencies is dismissed, Molvar said he doesn’t feel a similar lawsuit against Wyoming and Idaho’s state agencies would be effective.

“We don’t think the states have the same requirement to protect the wildlife that the feds do,” he said.

And while Gilliland said he believes the suit is a veiled attempt to end all bear hunting in Wyoming, Molvar said Western Watersheds “has no stance, pro or con, on hunting.”

But he said he does feel it would behoove hunters to discontinue baiting on their own.

“I think it’s to the hunting community’s advantage to get rid of practices like bear baiting that are objectionable to the general public,” Molvar said.

Gilliland doesn’t plan to do that anytime soon. He echoed Wyoming Game and Fish’s stance on baiting.

“There’s a misunderstanding that you drop a bucket of jelly donuts (in the woods) and the bears start running in and you pick ‘em off,” Gilliland said. “Black bears are stealthy, and it would be very difficult to manage them by any means other than baiting.”

State, national park work to limit mountain goat population

in News/wildlife
Mountain goats
2405

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

Doug McWhirter wants people to understand several things about Wyoming’s iconic mountain goat populations.

They’re cool. And they don’t belong everywhere.

“Mountain goats are fascinating, cool, and there are places we want to manage for thriving mountain goat populations,” said McWhirter, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife management coordinator in the Jackson region. “We want thriving mountain goat populations in the Snake River, Palisades and Beartooths areas.”

“We want to manage for hunting and viewing opportunities in these areas. In other places, we want to favor the core-native bighorn sheep herds in our management,” McWhirter continued. “Bottom line, we don’t hate mountain goats.”

Wyoming game managers share a concern with the National Park Service concerning a relatively new, expanding, non-native mountain goat population in Grand Teton National Park. 

The Teton Range is home to a small herd of native bighorn sheep, one of the smallest and most isolated populations in Wyoming.

The Teton Range bighorn sheep population is about 100 strong, while this new non-native mountain goat population has eclipsed 100 animals and is still growing.

The new mountain goat population is believed to have expanded from the Palisades area and into the Teton Range. The first documented reproduction of mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park was recorded in 2008. 

Now there are concerns that the mountain goat population threatens the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd through increased risk of disease transmission, which the Palisades goats are documented to harbor, and the potential for competition for limited resources.

“The Teton Range herd of native bighorn sheep is of high conservation value to the park, adjacent land and wildlife managers, and visitors,” said Denise Germann, Grand Teton National Park public affairs officer. “Our intent is to remove the non-native population of mountain goats and to maintain and improve viability of the native Teton bighorn sheep herd.”

The Game and Fish Department, assisted by hunters, is doing its part to manage the park’s mountain goat population in 2019. Liberalized hunting seasons were implemented outside of the park, in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s Jedediah Smith Wilderness.

“We’re doing what we can to address the situation in goat hunt area 4,” McWhirter said.

In the hunt area, the once-in-a-lifetime draw for mountain goat licenses was set aside. Instead, to help manage the mountain goat population, the department set a quota of 48 licenses for the 2019 season.

McWhirter checked a harvested mountain goat last week from area 4, and it marked the 21st harvested goat of the season. 

“Without exception, the hunters I have encountered have been very supportive,” McWhirter said. “They have appreciated the opportunity  to harvest a mountain goat, and to try to conserve bighorn sheep populations in the Tetons.”

The Teton bighorn sheep herd, “during the times we’ve been monitoring numbers, has never been huge. There’s about 100 to 125 sheep there,” McWhirter said. “They don’t migrate. They live at high populations all year, and they are subject to harsh conditions. These new non-native mountain goats are bringing additional mouths to the landscape, and we believe this peer competition could adversely affect the sheep.

“The bighorn sheep are doing OK in the Tetons,” McWhirter continued. “They’ve always been living on the edge, and besides the non-native goats, there are issues, too, with expanding backcountry winter skiing. The pressures on those sheep are making it tougher for their survival.”

Details aren’t certain yet, but Grand Teton National Park is considering removing the non-native mountain goats from within its boundaries — specifically, between Cascade and Snowshoe canyons — by lethal and non-lethal methods this winter.

“Without swift and active management, the mountain goat population is expected to continue to grow and expand its distribution within the park,” Germann said. “The mountain goat population is at a size where complete removal is achievable in a short time, however, the growth rate of this population suggests that complete removal in the near future may become unattainable after a period of about three years.”

Mountain goat hunting inside the park itself, or what the National Park Service refers to as the “use of skilled volunteers,” is the newest idea for mountain goat removal in the Tetons. 

“Qualified volunteers is a tool that may be used, but we have not developed this program,” Germann said.

Where Grand Teton National Park currently authorizes hunting, park officials refer to the practice as a “reduction program.” 

Rules are generally more restrictive for hunters in Grand Teton National Park, but the hunting is done by hunters licensed by the state Game and Fish Department.

The concept of using “skilled volunteers,” or hunters, is new since the national park issued an environmental assessment on the issue last December. Plans then called for National Park Service staff or contractors to kill goats from the ground with rifles, and from helicopters with shotguns. These early plans called for leaving the carcasses where the animals fell.

In March, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act passed Congress. Part of the bill addressed wildlife management in national parks.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stated, “if the (Interior) Secretary determines it is necessary to reduce the size of a wildlife population … the Secretary may use qualified volunteers to assist in carrying out wildlife management on [park] system land.”

Grand Teton National Park officials cited the Dingell act in their “finding of no significant impact” decision, which was signed by Acting Park Service Regional Director Palmer Jenkins in September.”

The desire is to quickly and efficiently remove non-native mountain goats from the park,” Germann said.

“Our big things, in our comments, are that we would like to see all efforts exhausted before ‘agency lethal removal’ is the answer,” McWhirter said. “We really appreciate the Park Service addressing our concerns, and allowing skilled volunteers to participate and help with the conservation of these goats. It’s all about trying to make a bad situation more tolerable.”

In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Recreation/Column/wildlife/Bill Sniffin
hunting
2376

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

The Fallacy of Gold-Standard Predator Research

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/wildlife/Agriculture
sheep
2311

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As a frequent reader of new research on livestock production and carnivore conflicts, I am often reminded of the divide between researchers and practitioners. Papers will explain that research was conducted on sheep, without necessary information about those sheep, which practitioners (livestock producers) know will influence outcomes. For instance, we need to know not just the number of sheep involved, but breed, sex, age, breeding status, etc. because these cohorts may react differently in a given scenario.

Last fall, a new paper was published that cited the need for livestock protection to be more evidence-based, calling for more scientific papers to be based on “gold standards” for scientific research. A previous paper by some of the same co-authors went so far as to call for a halt to lethal control until such gold standards are achieved. Most of the only gold-standard studies cited by these authors are for non-lethal techniques, which are easier to study.

It would seem easy to support the call for “gold standards” but too often scientists fail to recognize the realities and complexities of field situations makes that unattainable, and the policy implications are significant. For example:

• Lethal versus non-lethal: 

Most studies assessing lethal versus non-lethal control of predators only acknowledge non-lethal control when undertaken or funded by government or NGOs. Rarely is there an acknowledgment or assessment of the various non-lethal measures already used by producers prior to lethal control, so it’s not really an accurate or fair assessment.

• Feasibility & Affordability: 

When livestock producers make management decisions, the feasibility and affordability of an action are foremost considerations, yet scientists expend little effort in this sort of assessment for field conditions. Having a great predator deterrent is of little use if it’s not affordable, or is only applicable in limited conditions.

• Gold means controlled:

Gold standard research usually takes place under captive-animal scenarios, where variables can be limited by researchers. This is in contrast to field conditions, where researchers would have little or no control of variables that influence outcomes. Researchers need to understand that difference, and that just because “gold” standards aren’t achieved doesn’t mean field research isn’t valid and useful. Researchers shouldn’t stretch to such broad condemnation as did those calling for a halt to lethal control because “gold” standards weren’t used in the studies they reviewed. That recommendation was simply the reflection of researcher bias.

• Motivations Differ:

Acknowledge the motivations and goals of researcher and livestock producers are not the same thing. Much research is being conducted to reduce conflicts between domestic livestock and wild predators, yet livestock producers are rarely included in study design, and livestock producers readily find flaws in implementing recommendations resulting from the research. Perhaps if livestock producers were more involved in study design, the results could be more readily adopted.

• Partnerships: 

The new paper refers to “livestock owners” only twice; once was to discredit the use of the livestock owner’s “perceived effectiveness” of an intervention, noting “widespread placebo effects, whereby patients feel better simply because they have participated.”

Although in an opening paragraph the authors stated, “Livestock owners, natural resource managers, and decision-makers each have an important role to play in research partnerships to collaboratively guide the testing of predator control interventions,” the paper substantially ignored the livestock owner value and role in such research.

• Animal husbandry ethics:

To achieve gold standard research in this field requires experiments that are ethically questionable. A true test of effectiveness of no-control, non-lethal control, and lethal-control would result in the deaths of domestic animals without intervention to protect them during the research. I, as a livestock producer, find that intolerable and would refuse to participate in such research that would result in pain, suffering and death for the animals I am responsible to tend.

Until researchers bridge the divide between the needs of scientists and the needs of practitioners, I see little room for progress. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Grizzly bears visit Wyoming corn maze, family business works around “reality of recovery”

in News/wildlife
2285

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As Wyoming’s grizzly bear population continues to grow, the animals are increasingly moving into situations that put them in conflict with humans, according to a state Game and Fish Department official.

Dan Thompson, director of the department’s Large Carnivore Section, said his department is facing new challenges as it attempts to manage the bears to prevent conflicts with humans as the grizzlies spread into new areas.

“It’s a term I use: ‘The reality of recovery,’” he said. “We don’t want people to be punished for a recovered grizzly population. So those are the things we deal with now. We’re trying to do what’s right for bears and for people, obviously.”

Last year, some grizzly bears made themselves at home in a corn maze in Clark run every October by the Gallagher family.

Bridget Gallagher said a sow and her cubs entered the maze 2018, forcing the family to close the operation while the Game and Fish Department worked to remove the bears. The family then put an electric fence around the maze and Gallagher said it was roughly one week before the business could open again.

“The actually made a lot of sacrifices,” Thompson said. “Shutting down their money-making efforts to make sure people were safe and we had a lot of management work to try to get the bears out of there.”

This year, the fence went up before the maze opened, Gallagher said, and no bears have been seen.

“We decided we were going to be proactive and we were going to put up the fence before we even started,” she said.

Such experiences are growing more common as the area grizzly population increases and expands, Thompson said.

“We’ve seen the grizzly bear population increase in distribution more than 50 percent since the early 2000s,” he said. “As they move into newer areas … we’re having bears move into these situations where we don’t expect the public to make the sacrifices that people did within the core (recovery area).”

Grizzly Recovery Reflected in Upper Green Conflict

in Cat Urbigkit/News/Column/wildlife/Agriculture
Upper Green River Wyoming
2233

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The Bridger-Teton National Forest’s announcement of its decision to reauthorize cattle grazing in the Upper Green River region 30 miles north of Pinedale was met with the predictable hysteria of anti-grazing activists who claim the plan “institutionalizes overgrazing” and “negligent livestock management” on national forest lands. These activists are pushing to rid public lands of livestock and cite conflicts between grizzly bears and cattle in the Upper Green to justify their position. It’s no matter that the truth undermines their outrageous claims.

For perspective, the Upper Green is the largest cattle grazing allotment in the National Forest system, used annually by area cattle ranchers for well over a century. With more than 80 percent of Sublette County in federal or state land, public lands livestock grazing is a vital component of the area’s character and ag economy. The county’s pastoral landscapes with majestic mountain views showcase the glorious mixture of land uses, from primitive recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, to tourism and energy development. As the Forest Service notes: “In places where agriculture increasingly operates alongside a larger, non-agricultural economy and greater range of adjacent land uses, farms and ranches continue to be important. They contribute to local economic diversity, the scenery they provide can be part of the mix of amenities that attract and retain people and businesses across a range of industries, and they are often an important part of local culture and community vitality.”

The Bridger-Teton decision authorizes a maximum of 8,819 head of livestock annually (or 8,772 cow/calf pairs or yearlings, and 47 horses), from mid-June to mid-October. The agency found that there is more than enough forage for both livestock and wildlife, noting that even when overestimating forage utilization, the “combined elk and livestock forage use on lands suitable and capable for grazing was less than the amount of forage available.”

This is not a prescription for overgrazing, and the grazing association have been active land stewards. “The Upper Green River Cattle Association is proactive in the management of the Upper Green River allotment,” according to the Forest Service record of decision reauthorizing grazing, which noted that this is demonstrated by the “voluntary permittee monitoring and adjustments to grazing practices that have occurred on the allotments for over 30 years. The permittees regularly seek information and assistance from experts in research when a problem confronts them and have a documented willingness to try new management concepts and options or take on additional responsibility if it is to the benefit of the natural resources.”

One of the biggest problems has been grizzly bear depredation on cattle, and the Upper Green has been a hotspot for these conflicts – even though it is located more than 25 miles outside the original grizzly bear recovery zone. From 2010-2018, there were 527 confirmed conflicts, and 35 grizzly bears were removed from the allotments in response. 

Noting that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population has exceeded recovery goals and continues to expand into new areas, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) reports: “This means historical activities, which are comparable to the proposed action, have had little to no discernable effect on the population’s trend toward recovery, and we do not expect continuation of these activities to reverse the trend.”

Conflicts in the Upper Green have increased an average of 9% per year as the grizzly population density has increased, and FWS noted, “The conflict and management data indicate an expanding grizzly bear population with the action area concurrent with increasing occupancy and distribution of grizzly bears throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because more bears are moving into areas with more human and livestock use, we expect even more conflicts and management actions will occur in the future.”

FWS issued a biological opinion for cattle grazing in the area, determining that it “will not jeopardize the continued existence of the grizzly bear.” The agency estimated that 72 grizzly bears could be removed from the Upper Green over the next 10 years, primarily due to management removal within the allotments, and that “will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of grizzly bears.”

FWS also noted that the cattle permittees have tried a variety of practices over the years to reduce conflicts “with varying degrees of success,” including conducting several conflict reduction workshops, changing grazing rotations and systems, hiring 5-6 range riders and utilizing five rider camps on the allotments in addition to day help, and experimenting with herding techniques in attempt to deter predation.

The top human causes of grizzly bear deaths in the Yellowstone ecosystem are defense of life and property (20.2% of all mortalities 1997-2017), followed by hunting-related defense of life and property (18.2%). The grizzly bear mortalities in the Upper Green due to livestock depredations accounted for 7.28% of all grizzly mortalities in the ecosystem from 2010-2018. Despite daily human presence in an area with a high grizzly bear density, there have been no self-defense actions taken by range riders, although FWS notes that this will always be a potential.

FWS notes that although in the last two years the number of problem grizzlies removed from the Upper Green has increased, “these bears were chronic depredators over the last few years, removal of these bears may reduce the number of conflicts and removals in the next year or two.”

 “The number of removals has been cyclical: as the depredating individuals have been removed, the number of conflicts in the following years has temporarily decreased until other bears learn depredating behaviors and the scenario repeats itself,” FWS wrote. “We believe the increasing trend in conflicts and removals and the cyclical nature of these occurrences is due to an expanding grizzly bear population, which we expect will continue in and around the action area. As a result of an expanding bear population, we believe the action area will continue to experience a regular increase in the number of conflicts and management removals over the next 10 years of the grazing permit.”

Grizzly bear mortalities in the Upper Green due to conflicts with livestock are not the result of a failure to manage grizzlies or cattle. It’s a reality of the success of grizzly bear recovery. Those who advocate the non-lethal management of conflict bears are more interested in removing livestock grazing from public lands than providing for a landscape in which traditional uses can continue.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Get real: Dumping Disneyland for nature

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Writing elk in traffic
National Park visitors oblivious to the danger posed by a bull elk among them. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
2201

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

When instances of human-wildlife conflicts make the news, wildlife and land managers should feed reporters “thematic information or contextual data,” including information about the low likelihood of such conflict, as in “only the nth time in x-years,” in attempt to “help counteract the intense emotions” media consumers may feel that after learning of these conflicts, which “can lead to unfavorable opinions about the risks associated with spending time in nature and national parks.”

That’s the point of a paper published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin last year by three researchers at Colorado State University (CSU), which also noted that when a grizzly bear killed a person in Yellowstone National Park in 2015, the National Park Service failed to mention that there were only 38 reported cases of humans injured by bears in 36 years, while 104 million people visited the park, “and only 8 known fatalities in the park’s 145-year history.”

This kind of media framing  – especially those noting that “only” X number of people have been killed by a particular species – sets my teeth on edge. When journalists are reporting breaking news about a severe conflict (such as that involving the death of a human being by a wild animal), thematic reporting be damned. Each death is a loss of human life, a human’s story, and it is entirely appropriate to report in an episodic manner.

I would hate to be a family member reading an article about the attack on my loved one only to see that loss of life minimized by taking the thematic approach, which seems to be advanced in order to minimize the negative aspects of such human-wildlife encounters. It’s like when I have a dozen dead sheep in my field due to a wolf attack, and wolf advocates respond that livestock losses to wolves are less than one-half of one percent of the nation’s livestock inventory.

The CSU researchers wrote: “We conclude that it is reasonable to assume that if a reader with minimal experience in nature reacts with emotion to these episodic stories, those emotions are likely to be of the sort that has a negative effect on attitudes about spending time in nature, such as fear.”

Perhaps it’s past time for the public to learn that wild animals are not the Disneyesque characters they’ve been portrayed for decades. Perhaps scaring people into the reality that human-wildlife conflicts do exist across the nation is what’s needed. Perhaps people should once again learn some fear and respect for the wild animals that share the planet. Perhaps then we won’t have people trying to put wild bison calves into their cars so they don’t get cold, etc.

Besides, every year we hear news stories of “rare” attacks on humans by large carnivores. Since it’s every year, and multiple times every year, perhaps it’s not so rare in the modern age. 

I generally try to keep up with scientific literature involving human-wildlife conflicts, and a new paper in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions by Michael Conover examined the number of human fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the United States due to wildlife, conservatively finding that more than 174,000 people were injured and 700 killed by conflicts with wild animals every year in the United States. This includes everything from wildlife-vehicle collisions, snakebites,  and zoonotic diseases, to attacks on humans by large predators. Conover said large predator attacks were “rare,” while also noting that “attacks by alligators, cougars, polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, and coyotes have been increasing in recent decades in North America.”

According to the Conover paper, the “best estimate” of the annual number of people injured by grizzly bears in the United States is 0.8. But I contend that this number is grossly understated, and based on outdated information (plus the source cited in the paper referred only to grizzly bear attacks on humans in Alaska).

According to other current research, there were 62 attacks by grizzly bears on humans in the tri-state area of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, from 2000-2015, and seven fatalities during that time. There were an additional 51 attacks in Alaska, with another seven fatalities. This totals to 7.53 attacks annually for the United States – substantially higher than Conover’s estimate.

But back to the fear issue, Conover noted that rebounding populations of animals “which currently enjoy either complete or partial legal protection, certainly have less reason to fear humans than they did previously. Fear of humans have deterred predator attacks in the past but less so today.”

And the fear needs to flow both directions, according to Conover. “Today, many people no longer have a healthy fear of dangerous animals and engage in activities that put them in harm’s way. This naivety also contributes to the increasing frequency of people being injured by wildlife.”

Conover recommends: “Biologists can teach dangerous animals to fear humans and educate humans to recognize and avoid dangerous situations involving wildlife.”

With more than 80 percent of the American public residing in urban areas, I understand the importance of connecting people to nature. But rather than have the American public remain ignorant about the natural world and its wild animals, we need to work to educate the public of the reality of human-wildlife conflicts so that we can seek to minimize these conflicts.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Outdoor recreation major contributor to Wyoming’s economy

in News/Recreation/Tourism/wildlife
2188

By Cowboy State Daily

Outdoor activity in Wyoming contributes a larger share to the state’s economic activity than the majority of states, according to a federal report.

The report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that in 2017, outdoor recreation in Wyoming generated $1.6 billion, about 4.4 percent of the state’s economic activity, well above the national average of 2.2 percent.

And the industry in Wyoming shows no signs of slowing, said Dave Glenn, of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, a division of the Parks and Cultural Resources Department.

“The RV industry’s continuing to grow, the mountain bike industry’s continuing to grow, the (off-highway vehicles), the snow machines, the fly fishing, hunting, all those thing are growing in the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming is behind only Hawaii, Montana, Maine and Vermont in terms of how much outdoor recreation contributes to the state’s economy. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s jobs are also in outdoor recreation, the highest figure in the nation.

Glenn said he believes the state is poised to see tremendous growth in outdoor recreation, thanks to its plentiful resources.

“I think we have the ability to double or triple that number,” he said. “Wyoming has the access to public lands, we’ve got our big three national parks, we have all kinds of national forests, (Bureau of Land Management land), Red Desert, all kinds of great country. We need to work on our infrastructure so when people come here, they have something to do and to stay longer as well.”

The Parks and Cultural Resources Department, along with the state Game and Fish Department, recently joined forces to promote activities on state lands by helping commemorate National Public Lands Day.

The observation on Sept. 28 was designed to encourage people to get out and enjoy their public lands.

“Whether it’s recreation, hunting, hiking, fishing, the Game and Fish (Department) properties are open to all that,” said Ray Bredehoft, with the department.

Bredehoft said his department is working to minimize conflicts between recreational users of the land and wildlife as the number of people using public lands grows.

“We’re trying to balance that, there’s always going to be some sort of conflict,” he said. “We’re here for the wildlife, to make sure they’re here for generations to come.”

The World’s Gone Crazy Cotillion

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Pack livestock guardian dogs
Some legislative proposals ignore the reality of working dogs like these livestock guardian dogs on the range in western Wyoming. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
2134

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Every now and then, my brain hits playback on the Waylon Jennings’ song “The World’s Gone Crazy (Cotillion)” written by Jennings and Shel Silverstein. Last week the song was stuck in my head, as the lyrics are apropos to much current news.

“The villains have turned into heroes
The heroes have turned into heels.”
Outdoor Dogs

For those of us who use dogs for outdoor work, pleasure, or sport, a bill making its way through the Massachusetts legislature is viewed as the next troubling trend in animal ownership, as our canine friends become “fur babies” instead of respected beings with unique ecological histories.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (an animal rights organization) named Massachusetts Senator Mark Montigny as one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders of 2019 for his work to protect animals, including his successful effort to allow civilians to break into vehicles to rescue animals, as well as enacting a state prohibition on leaving a dog outside at night or during extreme weather.

Now Montigny proposes to outlaw outdoor dogs. Although his new proposal, Senate File No. 990, claims to be “improving enforcement for tethering violations,” in reality the bill states: “No person owning or keeping a dog shall chain, confine, or tether a dog outside and unattended for longer than five hours, or outside from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

According to the bill, “outside and unattended” means “any dog who is exposed to the elements for a duration of longer than 15 minutes and not in visual range and physical presence of the owner. This expressly includes, but is not limited to, a dog in a securely fenced-in yard, a dog in a kennel, or a dog tethered. For purposes of this section a dog shall be considered ‘outside’ regardless of access to an outdoor doghouse or similar structure.”

Yup, that would be a ban on outdoor dogs. 

As others have pointed out, Montigny’s bill provides more stringent requirements of dog owners than it does on parents of children. Massachusetts doesn’t have a prohibition on leaving children outside for more than 15 minutes without an adult present and in visual range.

“The meek they ain’t inheriting nothing
The leaders are falling behind”
Spotted Owls, Again

Earlier this month, WildEarth Guardians celebrated its successful lawsuit to shut down all timber management on 12 million acres of six national forests to protect the Mexican spotted owl, a threatened species.

Although federal officials have determined that range-wide population monitoring of this elusive little raptor is “logistically and financially impossible,” the court ruled that “claims that the range-wide monitoring is not feasible because of budgetary concerns do not relieve Defendants from finding a solution” and “Budget complications are no excuse.”

So federal agencies are not allowed to issue biological opinions that determine that specific timber management actions will not jeopardize the species, and without those “no jeopardy” opinions, no timber activity is allowed – effectively halting all timber management in six national forests in Arizona and New Mexico. 

Last week the U.S. Forest Service issued a public notice that in light of the Sept. 11 court ruling, all “timber management actions in Region 3 national forests must cease pending formal consultation,” and that it had immediately “suspended issuance of active and new commercial and personal-use forest product permits.”

It’s not just commercial timber sales that are impacted. Residents of New Mexico and Arizona are no longer able to get fuel wood permits, and agency use of prescribed burning to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires is banned. Restoration-focused activities including thinning operations and hazardous-fuels reduction projects designed to benefit wildlife and protect communities from fire danger are also prohibited by the court order, as is the elimination of diseased trees. The order includes all national forests in New Mexico and the Tonto National Forest in Arizona (the fifth largest forest in the nation).

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Forest Service has asked the federal court to clarify if the order includes activities such as the cutting of already dead or downed trees, and is awaiting court direction on that issue. 

After the huge public backlash caused by the order, WildEarth Guardians has also asked the court to allow firewood permits for personal use, but it is not known when the court will rule on the group’s motion. The Albuquerque Journal reports that there are about 9,000 active fuel wood permits that can no longer be used by people who traditionally visit the national forests to collect firewood for winter heating of their residences.

WildEarth Guardians got exactly what it had requested from the court, and human beings are set to suffer from the court order. This is the group that made news earlier this year when one of its staffers and an outside contractor were reportedly caught embezzling from federal and state grants for restoration work. In May, WildEarth Guardians turned in one of its staffers in the felony fraud kickback scheme. 

“The dealers all want to be lovers
And the lovers all want to make deals”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Wyoming Native in Charge of BLM: Can He Transfer Federal Lands to States?

in News/wildlife/Agriculture
Wyoming public lands transfer
2084

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The transfer of federal lands to Western states, once championed by President Donald Trump’s Bureau of Land Management acting director, would be a challenge as tall as Gannett Peak, say natural resource experts who have looked at the issue. 

Cheyenne native William Perry Pendley, who earned his law degree from the University of Wyoming and once worked for U.S. Sen. Cliff Hansen, has represented ranchers and others in lawsuits against the federal government’s land and water policies. He’s argued that the federal government needs to transfer its lands to the states — a position he’s recently walked back as he serves the Trump as the helm of the BLM. 

Regardless of where he stands, an act of Congress or a lawsuit would precipitate a land transfer, experts say. 

Act of Congress

Drumming up support in Congress for a land transfer law would be difficult, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming group that opposes transfer.

Roughly half the revenue from federal mineral production goes to the U.S. Treasury. Saying goodbye to the revenue would be a tough sell for many members of Congress. 

“Look at the Midwest – Michigan and Minnesota,” she said. “They say to come to Wyoming to go hunting…. There would be constituent backlash to that kind of idea. People see these lands as a shared national treasure.”

Anderson believes the end goal for the land transfer movement is selling the lands the private landowners, but people who support the movement dispute that conclusion.

Derek Monson, vice president of policy at the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t agree that members of Congress from outside the West want the federal government to hold onto the public lands. They’d be interested in disposing the lands if they studied the cost of fighting wildfires and other projects, he said. 

The group considers the transfer of public lands just one option to solving perceived problems with public land management.

However, during the first two years of the Trump administration, both the U.S. House and Senate were under Republican control, and no privatization bill passed, he noted. 

Lawsuits

If Congress fails to act, states or individuals could always try litigation. The problem with a state-initiated lawsuit – at least with Trump as president – is the risk of alienating the administration, Monson said. 

“If a court rules it has to be done, what does it mean?” Monson asked. “Does the federal government dump it on the states, all at once?”

Utah has spent over $1 million in legal analysis and public relations associated with a potential lawsuit, but the state’s attorney general hasn’t yet filed a complaint. 

State Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, a proponent of land transfer, is watching Wyoming’s westerly neighbor. 

“Utah is the lead on this,” he said. “If they get traction, maybe other states will join.”

Has the movement died down?

During the President Barack Obama years, the Wyoming Legislature discussed federal land transfer, and even paid a consulting company $75,000 to look at the issue.

Since then, there’s been less talk. Anderson believes it’s because environmental regulations have relaxed.

“They have the Trump administration in their corner, rewriting the rules,” she said. 

Miller, however, said that proponents of land transfer lost the public relations battle in Wyoming, since sportsmen groups and their mostly Republican members were among the most vocal against it. 

“The outdoor people got into the hands of keeping the lands in the swamp,” Miller said. “It makes no sense to me but the PR people did a good job.”

The Nature of Conflict: Managing Wildlife Damage

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
2080

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I spent last week in our nation’s capital, one of 20 citizens from around the country gathered to serve on the national advisory committee for USDA Wildlife Services. The committee’s job isto provide recommendations to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, on policies and program issues necessary to manage damage caused by depredating wildlife to safeguard our nation’s resources and safeguard public health and safety. Since Wildlife Services is tasked with resolving wildlife conflicts, much of what we discussed was about conflict.

From fellow committee members, we learned about the millions of dollars of bait fish and food fish lost annually to depredation by cormorants, and the inability to utilize measures to combat those losses due to a federal court ruling and the bird’s protect status under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act despite its abundance. That prompted discussion of similar conflicts involving other wildlife species protected under federal laws, from eagle and black vulture depredations on livestock, to conflicts involving large carnivores.

We learned about feral swine issues that plague most of the country, with an annual cost of more than $1 billion for damage and control efforts. Some states seek to eradicate this invasive species, while others use feral swine as an economic engine that funds wildlife agencies through license sales and wild pig hunting enterprises.

Wildlife Services personnel led the committee through thenational program to combat rabies in the United States, and its current focus on controlling the disease in raccoons. Although the canine rabies variant has been eliminated in the United States, wildlife populations continue to harbor the disease, with raccoons responsible for spillover infections into dogs, cats, and other wildlife species. Last year Wildlife Services distributed more than 10 million vaccination baits in 17 states to reduce rabies in wildlife. Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any known disease on the planet, and still kills one person every nine minutes globally, so the importance of this program to publichealth can’t be overstated.

Although our discussions moved from one conflict to another, our recommendations targeted methods to minimize or reduce conflict.

We talked about chronic wasting disease in ungulate populations, and how to position Wildlife Services and its National Wildlife Research Center to assist state and tribal governments in advancing scientific understanding of this disease to help combat its spread in ungulate populations.

We advanced recommendations on providing for emergency response to natural disasters, animal disease outbreaks, and other national emergencies, as well as emerging wildlife conflict issues and techniques to minimize these conflicts.

We expressed support for the development and registration of wildlife toxicants for lethal control of depredating animals, and to continue the use of existing toxicants, including M-44 devicesfor coyotes and sodium nitrite for feral swine. As animal activists work to eliminate each method of lethal control of problem animals (either through litigation or the ballot box), it’s important that Wildlife Services continue to be innovative in method development.

The use of lethal methods to resolve wildlife conflicts will remain a hot-button issue for some members of the public, and we recommended that Wildlife Services become more proactive in communicating the positive impacts of protecting resources through integrated wildlife damage management, and the relevancy and value of Wildlife Services activities to the public’s quality of life.

And no surprise to those who know me, I worked with biologists on the committee to advance a recommendation addressing scientific research, urging publication of objective science-based reviews that incorporate economic and ecological effects of wildlife damage management and the value of wildlife management for the promotion of healthy ecosystems.

Wildlife Services employs a fleet of about three dozen aircraft for conducting wildlife damage management and emergency response nationwide. From dropping rabies vaccine baits in eastern states, to capturing and tagging various species, and aerial gunning of targeted predators in the West, the aviation program involves high-risk flying, often at low altitudes and relatively slow speeds. Aviation safety has to be a top priority within the agency, and the committee’s recommendation was that the Secretary of Agriculture create and sustain the Wildlife Services Aviation Center of Excellence in Cedar City, Utah to focus on providing unmatched training services to personnel, to modernize and standardize the agency’s aerial fleet, and to encourage pilot recruitment and retention.

Although Wildlife Services may make headlines for killing millions of animals each year, those headlines never reflect that half of those animals were invasive species, and that 80 percent of the millions killed were starlings or blackbirds actively causing damage. The headlines should have read that the agency protected more than 8 million head of livestock last year, andprotected 185 threatened or endangered species, and protected the flying public at more than 800 airports.

Contrary to the slant adopted by animal activists, this agency isn’t rogue or secretive. Want to know how many animals the agency has killed in each state, for any species, any given year?It’s all available on the agency’s website.

Wildlife conflict management isn’t an easy or pleasant task, but it is necessary. The issues addressed by this federal agency have far-ranging impacts to human and animal health, public safety, and food security. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Elk hunting outlook good, deer hunting ‘mixed bag,’ says G&F report

in News/Recreation/wildlife
2021

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Fall is in the air and it’s the time of year when hunters around Wyoming are finalizing their plans for a successful hunting season. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department  has prepared a fall forecast of its eight regions to make planning much easier. 

The WGFD uses a map to define the eight regions identified as Cody, Sheridan, Jackson, Pinedale, Lander, Casper, Green River, and Laramie. 

The hunting season outlook in each region for the big three game animals — pronghorn antelope, deer and elk — is covered in the forecast, along with information on other species. 

Antelope

According to the report, pronghorn populations are up in the Casper, Green River, and Laramie regions, while in Sheridan and Cody, the populations remain stable. Although lower populations have been recorded in Pinedale, the limited number of licenses issued should mean success rates will be high, the report said. In Casper, populations are average. A GPS collar tracking program is set for the winter of 2019-20 to provide better information to Pronghorn Managers.   

Deer

The outlook for deer hunting is a “mixed bag,” according to the WGFD forecast. Although a successful hunting season is expected for the Big Horn Basin, most deer populations in Wyoming are down due to the severe winter of 2016-17. However, the Pinedale and Cody regions are seeing large populations and high quality hunting opportunities, with Cody herds expanding into new areas and habitats.

Elk

Elk hunting should be good, the report said. Populations increased in Casper, Cody, Green River, Laramie and Sheridan, with Sheridan’s populations being high due to limited hunter access to private land. The Lander and Pinedale populations remain steady in almost all areas.

The WGFD Fall 2019 Forecast also has information on moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison, upland game birds and small game, including turkey and migratory game birds. 

For complete information you can read the full forecast at the WGFD website.

Range Writing: Meet the Sugar Ray Leonard of raptors

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Kestrel
1913

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

In all my half-century of life, I’ve never encountered a kestrel without being happy about it. Just seeing a kestrel perched on a wire gives me a thrill – it always has, and I suppose it always will.

What is it about this little bird that causes such a reaction? A kestrel is the size of a mourning dove, and is striking in its beauty, but its level of intense fierceness is all out of proportion. A kestrel’s strength, agility, and fancy footwork allows this smallest of North American falcons to take on opponents far outside its six-ounce weight class – it’s the Sugar Ray Leonard of raptors (and Lordy, I loved watching that boxing master).

My Louisiana friend Matthew Mullenix (who literally wrote the book on the use of kestrels in falconry: American Kestrels in Modern Falconry) described them this way: “Kestrels’ speed over extended distances is not great, but they are aggressive, nimble and determined in close quarters.”

Kestrel

The American kestrel is North America’s most abundant bird of prey, often seen perched on fence posts or wires with a seemingly intense scowl aimed at those who dare disturb their hunt. The subject of the hunt? Kestrels often prey on grasshoppers, dragonflies, spiders, moths, voles, mice, snakes, small songbirds, and sometimes even kill prey as large as red squirrels and Northern Flickers. Kestrels pounce on their prey, seizing with their feet, and often carrying victims back to a nearby perch to feast.

Farmers and ranchers have long understood that kestrels can help to control pest damage, but researchers recently took a pen to paper and tallied the dollar value of kestrel services to Wisconsin’s fruit growers.

Kestrels are cavity nesters, using old woodpecker holes, tree hollows, or rock crevices to nest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the male kestrel will search for potentially suitable nesting locations, and “when he’s found suitable candidates, he shows them to the female, who makes the final choice.” (Not to anthropomorphize, but this seems familiar.)

Kestrel on a branch in Wyoming

Since we know that kestrels need cozy nooks for nesting, humans can welcome more kestrels into their neighborhoods by erecting nesting boxes. That’s what Michigan State University and USDA Wildlife Services officials did in eastern Leelanau County, Michigan, installing 25 nesting boxes within or next to cherry orchards.

I can’t see a downside to increasing kestrel presence in neighborhoods, whether urban or rural. With American kestrel populations on the decline for decades (for reasons still unclear), it makes sense to install kestrel nesting boxes, both to curb this decline, and to increase the presence of this species that offers such valuable ecosystem services. For information about how to build nesting boxes, check out The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership.

The researchers discovered significantly less fruit-eating birds at orchards with active kestrel boxes than those without nesting kestrels, and for every dollar spent on nest boxes, $84 to $357 of sweet cherries would be saved from fruit-eating birds. Not only did kestrels kill and consume birds that damage fruit (including robins, starlings and blue jays), but their presence acted to increase the perceived predation risk to the extent of decreasing the abundance of fruit-eating birds in orchards with kestrel nest boxes. Kestrels didn’t kill a large number of birds but did so on such a regular basis that it elicited a strong antipredator behavior in other birds, or as the researchers phrased it, the predation risk was “reinforced by actual predation events.”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Bear Attacks Increasing Worldwide

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
1874

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A French composer on a trip to Canada’s Northwest Territories to record the sounds of nature was attacked in his tent in the middle of the night and killed by a grizzly bear earlier this month. Such an unprovoked attack is rare, according to wildlife officials, although large carnivore attacks on humans are on the increase worldwide. Grizzly bear attacks on humans in Wyoming are part of that worldwide trend.

A new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports examines brown bear attacks on humans worldwide between 2000 and 2015. The report reinforces what we already suspected: attacks have increased significantly and are more frequent at high bear and low human population densities.

Researchers tallied 664 attacks on humans during the 15-year study period, including 183 in North America, 291 in Europe, and 190 in Russia, Iran and Turkey. There were more than 60 other attacks in Japan, Nepal, and southeastern Europe in which not enough information was available for their inclusion in the analysis.

The attack rate is about 40 attacks per year globally, with 11 attacks per year in North America, 18 per year in Europe, and 19 per year in the East (Russia, Iran and Turkey). About 14 percent of the attacks resulted in human fatalities, including 24 deaths in North America, 19 deaths in Europe, and 52 in the East (Russia, Iran, and Turkey). Of the brown bear attacks causing human injury in North America, 51 occurred in Alaska, 42 in British Columbia, 29 in Wyoming, 25 in Montana, and 18 in Alberta.

Globally, attack victims were almost exclusively adults, and most attacks occurred while the person was alone, during the summer, and in daylight hours. About half the attacks were categorized as encounters with females with cubs, while 20% were surprise or sudden encounters.

Bear awareness reminder against Palisades (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Interestingly, there were 15 attacks classified as “predatory” in which a predator attacks a human as prey: 9 in Russia, and 6 in North America. The bear attacks at the Soda Butte Campground just outside Yellowstone National Park in 2010 involved a sow grizzly killing a man camped alone in his tent, and injuring two other people in other campsites the same night, in what was deemed predatory attacks. The next summer, a female grizzly with cubs killed a man in Yellowstone National Park in what was then viewed as a defensive attack, but the same sow was linked to the death of a second man a month later in which the man’s body had been partially consumed.

Romania

Some Greater Yellowstone bear advocates point to Romania as an example of bear-human coexistence, noting that Romania is roughly the same size as the Yellowstone region, but hosts a bear population 10 times more numerous. Not surprisingly then, when it comes to brown bear attacks on humans, that almost half of Europe’s total number of attacks happen in one country: Romania. It’s worth a quick history lesson.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu worked to rid the Romanian countryside of its human residents by “collectivizing” farms and razing entire villages, forcing residents into “state-controlled urban hives,” as David Quammen wrote in The Atlantic more than a decade ago.

Under Ceausescu’s leadership, brown bears thrived. For decades, Romanian gamekeepers tended to hundreds (if not thousands) of feeding stations for bears, keeping bears numerous and fat so that the dictator and his party elite could have trophies to shoot from the comfort of nearby blinds – all the while the few remaining rural residents were prohibited from having guns.

After Ceausescu was deposed and executed in 1989, hunting of brown bears was opened to rich foreigners willing to pay tens of thousands for a trophy, but that lasted only a few years. The hunting of any large carnivores in Romania was halted in 2016, with few exceptions. More than 40 bear attacks on humans were recorded in Romania in 2017, and three people have already died this year due to bear attacks. Half of the Romanian attacks in the 15-year study involved bears attacking adults who were working outside; shepherds tending flocks, drovers with their cattle, and farmers working the landscape.

Self-defense tools are rather limited since gun ownership is extremely restricted in Romania, and although it’s legal to carry bear spray, it is not a common practice. In many European countries, pepper spray is illegal or its use is tightly regulated.

The researchers found at a global scale, bear attacks are more frequent in regions where the human density is lower and bear densities higher, and that attacks are also more frequent where recreational activities in bear areas are more common. In Europe, that might be people hiking or gathering berries, but in Wyoming, it tends to be hunters seeking large game.

Legal protection has resulted in recovery and expansion of brown bear populations worldwide, with more than 200,000 brown bears now in existence. As grizzly populations continue to expand their range, it’s important for recreationalists in shared territory to be ever-mindful of grizzly presence.

Bear Attack Sign

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that if you surprise a grizzly bear at close range, drop a nonfood item (like a hat or bandanna) on the ground and slowly back away. Speak softly, but avoid eye contact, and never run from a bear. If the bear charges, remain standing. Carry bear spray and be ready to use it. If a bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and play dead.

That’s what we’ve been trained to do in grizzly country when it comes to surprise or defensive encounters.

But a predatory bear is a different beast, and requires the opposite tactic. If a grizzly bear approaches a human in a persistent manner, with head up and ears erect, behaving in a curious or predatory manner, you need to be aggressive and fight back.

Predatory bears do not give warning signals or use threat displays or bluff charges to attempt to scare you away, as a defensive bear will, according to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. A predatory bear will demonstrate keen interest in a person, often quietly and intently approaching, eyes locked on its target. Predatory attacks end only when the bear is overpowered, scared away, injured, killed, or kills you. If a bear attacks a person at night in a tent, fight as hard and loudly as you possibly can. 

Remember the general rule: Play dead for a defensive attack, but fight for your life in a predatory attack. The fact that predatory attacks on humans are rare is of little comfort when confronted with a predatory animal.

For more in what to do in a bear encounter, read this from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s recommendations.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Yellowstone Visitors Need to Give Wildlife More Space

in News/Tourism/wildlife
Bison in Yellowstone
1809

By Seneca Flowers, Cowboy State Daily

A bison chucked a 9-year-old Florida girl visiting Yellowstone National Park into the air like a rag doll in late July. The incident was shared via social media and was soon followed by an unrelated video of a man reaching over a fence to pet a bison. 

Time and time again, videos surface of park visitors, often branded “tourons” by social media, violating rules that many people in the area see as common sense. 

But officials say knowledge of safe wildlife interactions isn’t always common.

“Sometimes they [tourists] don’t really know what they can or can’t do,” said Linda Veress, a spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park. 

Veress said tourists will often watch what other people do and assume that those actions are acceptable because they have never been in those situations before.

Yellowstone provides a different environment than those in which people usually see wildlife, such as in zoos that have barriers and other forms of dividers. So tourists may not completely understand how to safely view and appreciate wildlife, Veress said.

Yellowstone and Wyoming have a variety of wildlife for viewing, but Sara DiRienzo, a public information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, reminded Wyomingites and visitors to give the large animals plenty of space.

“Keeping a safe distance from wildlife is important for the individual’s safety as well as the wildlife’s,” DiRienzo said. 

She recommended people stay a respectful distance from wildlife and remember to observe the animal’s behavior. She added that if the animal begins making eye contact or acting nervous, it is time to back away. DiRienzo recommended people understand how to handle various wildlife situations before setting out to view animals.

The National Park Service website states that 67 mammals, including bison, wolves and bears, call Yellowstone their home. Bison cause more injuries than any other animal in the park, Veress said.

Bison are agile and sometimes aggressive creatures with the ability to charge at 30 mph, and bulls can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. This means people should stand at least 25 to 100 yards away from the animals, according to Yellowstonepark.com.

Veress noted when people visit Yellowstone, large numbers of animals are often visible in public areas. This is an unusual experience for many people. But she added that people can forget the animals are still unpredictable and wild.

The park attempts to educate tourists with the widespread use of illustrated signs with warnings written in several languages at key locations. But she also recommended visitors take the “Yellowstone Pledge” for wildlife education prior to visiting the park. 

The Yellowstone Pledge is part of a National Park Service public education initiative found here. It offers 10 tips designed to educate visitors about proper park etiquette in several of the most common tourist languages, such as Chinese and Spanish.

As recordings of Yellowstone wildlife conflicts become more widely available, officials are using social media to pursue individuals acting inappropriately within the park. Veress said it was hard to tell what kind of effect videos and other social media sharing are having on tourist behavior because the posting of videos is a new phenomenon. There is no way to correlate a reduction or increase of incidents to the videos. Videos are mainly used for identifying individuals.

“Some of these incidents were taken on video and passed onto us,” Veress said. “From there, the videos can result in court (action).”

The videos enable park rangers to deduce locations and identify people involved. As federal law enforcement officers, rangers are able to issue citations to help reduce incidents, Veress added.

Many people are more worried about the dangers of bears than bison, but bears are often less accessible than bison in the park, she said. In addition, there are fewer bears than bison, and they tend to remain further away from people. 

The National Park Service website states that eight people have died from bear attacks since the park opened in 1872. But deaths caused by bears are less common than other causes of death in the park, such as drowning, which has claimed 121 lives in the park’s history.

The Wyoming Game and Fish currently offers “bear wise” education on its website along with other wildlife information. The key to viewing any wildlife is to stay back and stay safe, according to the department.

“The onus is people to be safe around all types of wildlife,” DiRienzo said. “Wyoming [and Yellowstone] offers an incredible opportunity, anywhere you go, to view and enjoy wildlife. It can give people some of the most incredible experiences outdoors.”

Conflict Prevention Takes A Genius

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Be bear aware
1715

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and presidential hopeful known for his animal advocacy and veganism.

John Barrasso, a conservative Republican from Wyoming who serves in a top leadership position for Senate Republicans, is known for his support of animal agriculture and our nation’s energy industry.

What do they have in common? Both have an interest in reducing human-predator conflicts. Barrasso is the primary sponsor of the bill, but Booker joined together with Tom Carper (D-Delaware), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), to cosponsor Senate Bill 2194, Promoting Resourceful and Effective Deterrents Against Threats Or Risks involving Species (PREDATORS) Act. If enacted, the bill will amend the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act to establish the Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize for reducing human-predator conflict.

Last week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard testimony about the possibility of providing a financial incentive for the development of non-lethal, innovative technologies that reduce conflict between human and wildlife predators.

While human fatalities caused by grizzly bears are a concern to Barrasso’s constituents, the committee also heard testimony about shark attacks, as well as conflicts involving mountain lions and alligators. Brad Hovinga of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department provided testimony, as did Animal Planet’s Extinct or Alive host Forrest Galante, and Dr. Nick Whitney of the New England Aquarium.

Hovinga told the committee: “Wildlife agencies use a variety of innovative, non-lethal technologies to aid in reducing conflicts. These technologies include the use of chalk and pepper balls, weapon-fired beanbags, a variety of pyrotechnics and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Wyoming recently trained personnel in the use of conducted electrical weapons, commonly known as tasers, for use as an aversion tool for wildlife.”

Hovinga talked about the both the importance and limitations of pepper spray, and the need for innovation in improving conducting electrical devices for use as both an aversive conditioning tool and a temporary immobilization tool.

“Improvements in unmanned aerial vehicles, or drone technology, that allow for the deployment of aversive conditioning tools would greatly improve our ability to keep people safe and influence the behavior of habituated or aggressive wildlife. Developments in FLIR and thermal camera technology for the use with UAVs would significantly increase human safety when assessing dangerous situations.” Hovinga said. “Lastly, long-range acoustic sound devices, or sound cannons, are devices that directionally deliver sound over long distances. The potential for development of long-range acoustic deterrents for wildlife management exists. Work to develop an appropriate aversive conditioning tool for addressing wildlife conflicts would be greatly beneficial.”

One difference I noted between both the senators speaking during the hearing, and the witnesses giving testimony, was perspectives on encroachment – whether humans are encroaching on animals, or animals are encroaching on humans. While some conflicts occur when predators in Wyoming come into urban areas seeking prey (such as mountain lions pursuing deer in urban developments), Delaware Senator Carper noted that human-predator interactions are increasingly common as more people recreate “in wildlife habitat.” Carper said “as humans continue to encroach upon wildlife habitat and compete with predators for the same space and the same natural resources, our relationships with these animals can become, in some cases, adversarial.”

Some committee members emphasized the need to address habitat loss and protect predators, while others expressed the need for more scientific research to understand changes in animal behavior due to climate change, and pressed for public education about wildlife species.

Near the close of the hearing, Barrasso pointedly asked Hovinga: “since the goal of the Genius Prize we are considering is to protect both predators and humans, regarding predators, the key to protecting their lives involves preventing conflicts with humans in the first place. Can you explain why, from your years and history and knowledge, after a conflict with humans occurs, it may be necessary to euthanize some of these predators?”

Hovinga’s reply reflected the reality involved when large predators come into conflict with humans. He said: “That is an unfortunate reality sometimes with wildlife management and wildlife behavior, that we have to realize. With a lot of wildlife, bears specifically and other large carnivores, those behaviors that end up becoming a part of an animal’s everyday behavior, that becomes dangerous toward humans, those are learned behaviors. Those are typically learned through successes over time. It usually revolves around those successes in obtaining food.”

Hovinga gave an example of a black bear that learned when it approached people, the people would drop their backpacks and run away, allowing the bear to receive a food reward from the backpacks. Over time, the bear repeated the action, and the more aggressive the bear became, the higher the probability the person would drop the backpack and run away. He added, “Fortunately, we were able to intervene in that situation, prior to that becoming dangerous and actually somebody becoming injured.”

He continued: “Those learned behaviors are very, very difficult for animals to unlearn. They typically don’t unlearn them. It is irresponsible for us as a wildlife management agency to allow animals to remain on the landscape that engage in behavior that is dangerous toward people. Unfortunately, sometimes those animals need to be removed from the population. The populations are nearly always doing well enough that those removals are not significant in the scheme of the population management, but certainly, a requirement to keep people safe.”

This is an issue all state wildlife managers have to deal with and must justify to the public when wild predators are killed to protect human safety. Listening to the testimony before the committee, it became evident that to some, living with wild predators is more of an idea than a reality. It’s a reality for wildlife manager Hovinga, and to a majority of Barrasso’s constituents. 

As it should, the committee hearing provided a forum for a variety of views on a diversity of predator-human interaction issues. That Democrats from densely populated areas would have differing views than Republicans from sparsely populated areas is to be expected. That they are talking and sharing their experiences for a wider audience is important.

Both Barrasso and Hovinga represented Wyoming well.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Why a Federal Agency Kills Millions of Animals

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife/Agriculture
USDA Wildlife Services
1570

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Within the last week Wyoming Wildlife Advocates has been busily posting on social media about USDA Wildlife Services, including this statement: “Wildlife Services kills millions of animals in the U.S. each year for no purpose.”

That is a lie – a deliberate falsehood.

With WWA spreading fabrications about this federal agency and its activities, it should have come as no surprise to see that a WWA supporter responded to one such post with “Kill those who allow this senseless slaughter of innocent animals.” When questioned whether the poster was advocating the murder of humans, the poster replied, “let me just say I am for preserving wolves over humans.”

WWA left the post advocating murder of human beings in place without comment, but when someone posted in support of wolf hunting, WWA had repeated responses about why wolves shouldn’t be killed. WWA’s lack of response to the murder advocate is a rather revealing tell, as they say in poker.

Groups like WWA love to hate USDA Wildlife Services, the federal agency specializing in wildlife damage management. They call Wildlife Services a “rogue agency” and cite the millions of animals killed by agency personnel each year in order to generate outrage.

Let’s take a look at what Wildlife Services actually did last year:

  • Worked at 843 airports to reduce aviation strikes with wildlife, and trained nearly 5,000 airport personnel in wildlife identification and control methods.
  • Collected more than 46,000 samples from wild animals to test for 37 different wildlife diseases and conditions in wild mammals, birds, and reptiles. One-third of these were for surveillance of avian influenza, and another third were for rabies testing.
  • Killed 2.6 million animals – half of which were invasive species. Eighty percent of the animals lethally removed (killed) were either European starlings or blackbirds removed under a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service depredation order because of damage to food crops, other commodities, property, and livestock. The agency used nonlethal methods to move another 41 million starlings and blackbirds from areas where they were causing damage.
  • Protected 185 threatened or endangered wildlife and plant species from the impacts of disease, invasive species, and predators, including removing more than 55,000 non-native Northern pike minnow in the Pacific Northwest to protect federally threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
  • Of the 42.9 million animals encountered in damage management activities, 94 percent were dispersed unharmed.
  • Removed more than 73,000 feral swine, a 12-percent increase in removal of this invasive and destructive species.
  • Coyotes were the native mammal most often killed, with 68,000 killed in 48 states (for comparison, hunters and trappers in 39 states took 440,000 coyotes in 2014-2015).
  • At the request of other agencies, killed a total of 357 wolves in five states in response to repeated livestock depredations, or to protect localized wildlife populations.

Half of Wildlife Services’ funding last year was spent to reduce or prevent wildlife hazards to human health and safety, while 25 percent of funding was spent protecting agriculture, and the remaining quarter went toward property and natural resources protection, including threatened and endangered species. The agency provided technical assistance to more than a quarter-million customers nationwide in 2018.

Wildlife Services does not attempt to eradicate any native wild animal population. The agency is charged with managing problems caused by wildlife, and does so in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies. To pretend that Wildlife Services is out to kill millions of wild animals with no purpose is as illogical as pretending that human/wildlife conflicts don’t exist. It’s simply not true.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

The Bloody Sire Inhabits the Sagebrush Sea

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Pronghorn nursery
1516

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine

The fleet limbs of the antelope?

What but fear winged the birds, and hunger

Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?

Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.

From: The Bloody Sire by Robinson Jeffers (1940s)

It’s been an interesting week on the ranch, which is located amid the sagebrush sea of western Wyoming. We had our first confirmed depredation of a 20-pound lamb by a pair of adult bald eagles. This was somewhat of a surprise since our livestock guardian dogs tend to harass big birds that come near the flock, and because most confirmed eagle depredations on livestock are inflicted by golden eagles – not bald eagles. I had watched a pair of golden eagles hunting over the sheep flock the week prior and was relieved when a spring snow squall pushed the eagles away from the flock.

While we were on watch to keep eagles away from the lambing flock, our game cameras revealed the presence of a radio-collared wolf making numerous forays onto the ranch, even coming within a short distance from the house. The cameras revealed our livestock guardian dogs tracking the wolf but returning to their sheep a few hours later. This male wolf was new to the neighborhood but is in addition to an adult female wolf we helped collar last December after numerous livestock depredations and removal of several members of her pack. That at least two collared wolves were roaming our lambing grounds along the Wind River Front is a concern akin to a ticking time bomb. There will be violence – the only uncertainty is when.

With everyone on high alert in trying to avert an animal catastrophe, the sheep are bedded on high ground each night about a half-mile from the house. I’m out as the sun starts rising to feed the guardian dogs and see the sheep off to their day’s grazing. We can generally tell by the behavior of the livestock guardian dogs whether there are wolves in the area. When the wolves are making their forays onto the ranch, the dogs are hyped up, driven by adrenaline, and looking for a fight. When the wolves aren’t around, the dogs are much more relaxed.

Pronghorn triplets
A pronghorn antelope doe with her triplet fawns.

Spring seems to have come late to western Wyoming this year, but by the second week of June the pronghorn antelope that shares our range were dropping their fawns in all directions. It seemed nearly every predator we saw in the last few days had a fawn carcass in the grip of its jaws. Worried about the survival rate of these fawns, an event I witnessed gave me hope and reminded me of the Robinson Jeffers poem quoted above.

As I drove down the county road which splits our pastures, I watched a coyote cross from one pasture to another. A mixed group of pronghorn antelope does and bucks were in that pasture, and a doe immediately took to chasing the coyote. It wasn’t enough to chase it out of her immediate vicinity – the doe performed like a good cow horse, meeting every dodge and turn of the coyote with her own maneuvers, and coming so close to stomping the coyote into the dirt.

The doe chased the coyote over half a mile before it fled under the far boundary fence to safety. According to scientific literature, the doe’s anti-predatory defense isn’t unusual, and this aggression exhibited by a prey species toward a predator is nearly always undertaken by adult females. (I also found a great account of a pronghorn doe teaming up with a short-eared owl to harass a coyote away from an active owl nest.)

Pronghorn chases coyote
A pronghorn doe aggressively pursues a coyote.

Generally as wolf densities increase, coyote densities decrease, but we have both species on the ranch, and know that both species prey on pronghorn antelope here. But many predators – from coyotes and wolves to eagles and bears – are successful at searching out newborn prey species that hide.

A study of grizzly bear depredation on elk calves in Yellowstone National Park found the most common hunting technique used by grizzlies was searching for bedded calves, with one bear catching five calves in 15 minutes. Like our pronghorn doe, cow elk will attack predacious bears, as do cow bison.

Research on white-tailed deer fawns in Minnesota found that all radio-tagged fawns in the study were killed by predators, with a near-even split between wolves and black bears.

The first two weeks of life are the most dangerous for newborn fawns and calves, but as each day passes, they grow and gain strength. By the time pronghorn fawns are two months old, they are outrunning predators nearly as ably as their protective mothers.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

The Decline of the Whiskey Mountain Bighorns

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Big Horn Sheep
1458

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd has made Dubois, Wyoming an international stop for people interested in this species of mountain royalty, with many residents keep spotting scopes trained on the hillsides above town for constant sheep viewing. This rustic western community also hosts the National Bighorn Sheep Center.

Whiskey Mountain once held the largest concentration of wintering bighorn sheep in the country, but the herd began to decline in the 1970s. In 1975, researchers found the sheep herd was consuming more than 90 percent of the annual vegetative growth on its wintering grounds, and herd members were afflicted with poor health, indications that there was inadequate forage and the herd had overpopulated its range.

Those researchers (led by the late and sorely missed wildlife veterinarian Dr. Tom Thorne of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department) predicted that any added environmental stress could result in a catastrophic disease outbreak, which came true in the early 1990s. The population has continued to struggle since that time, with the herd currently numbering about 400 animals.

Although the herd is now only utilizing less than half the annual forage growth on its winter range, there continue to be indications that the herd is subject to some unknown nutritional stress on its summer range.

According to the draft management plan for this herd, “Underpinning the nutritional issued identified in this herd is now the persistence of bacteria and other pathogens believed to have serious health repercussions for the population.”

The herd has multiple species of bacteria related to pneumonia in bighorn sheep, as well as sinus tumors, and other diseases and parasites.

“At this point managers do not know if poor sheep health in the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd is strictly due to pathogens and parasites or if the persistence of pathogens and parasites is the result of nutritional stress,” according to the draft plan.

Domestic sheep and goats have traditionally been blamed for bighorn sheep die-offs, regardless of whether there was any documented contact between wild and domestic sheep.

In this case, “when and how bacterial pathogens were introduced to the bighorn sheep population is unknown, but it is likely environmental stress associated with severe winter conditions resulted in the disease outbreak and die-off event.”

The last known record of domestic sheep use in the Whiskey Mountain area was in the early 1960s, and all domestic sheep and goat grazing has been banned on the area of the Shoshone National Forest used by this herd – even the use of pack goats. Despite there being no domestic sheep in the herd area for decades, the draft plan calls for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) to work with the National Bighorn Sheep Center to “develop a strategy to provide educational materials to domestic sheep or goat owners” and to coordinate with federal agencies on the need to maintain separation between wild sheep and domestic sheep and goats.

In my view, that’s pretty much a waste of time and money: As if there is a domestic sheep producer in the West that hasn’t heard this refrain before. It would be far more suitable to invite wool growers to the table rather than having bighorn sheep advocates trying to tell domestic sheep producers how to manage their flocks. Sheep producers know that there are a variety of ways of keeping bighorns and domestic flocks separated, but some bighorn advocates view ridding the range of domestic sheep as the only way to ensure separation, setting the two up for conflict rather than working together.

In addition, new research on a pathogen known to cause pneumonia in bighorn sheep has been recently been documented to occur in moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, antelope, and caribou. But WG&F maintains that these other species are not a component of the bighorn problem.

The presence of a new wolf pack on Whiskey Mountain has added a new pressure to the mix for the bighorn herd. The increased wolf activity has changed the behavior and distribution of the bighorn herd on its winter range, with the herd shifting up the mountain, into higher-elevation, less accessible, and more rugged terrain as the wolves have moved onto the lower-range winter habitat for the sheep, and the area elk population has also moved down onto traditional sheep winter range. The draft plan notes that while direct predation on sheep hasn’t been observed to be an issue, “the displacement being caused by wolves adds another potential stressor to an already nutritionally and conditionally stressed population.”

WG&F has started a three-year research project aimed at understanding lamb mortality and assessing summer habitat conditions, with the WG&F Commission kicking in $350,000 for the first year. Since much of the herd’s summer range is within the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service has agreed to approve the study components, including backcountry camps, experimental habitat treatments, and the use of a helicopter to capture bighorns in the wilderness area.

WG&F will hold two workshops this week to discuss the draft plan, which can be found at this link. The first workshop will be held June 5, at 6 p.m. at the Dubois Headwaters Arts and Conference Center, and the second will be June 6, at 6 p.m. in the WG&F’s Pinedale office.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Range Writing: The Push to Build a Predator Disneyland

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Rocky Mountain Wolf Coalition
1428

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

If one were to believe the spiel, wolf advocates are benevolent custodians of the public interest, and ranchers suffer from “the myth of the wolf” and “a fear deeply ingrained” that can be cured with education. A few recent examples of this custodial role show that the advocates propose “a wolves for thee, not for me” landscape – one in which decisions are made by unaffected residents of population centers on behalf of uneducated rural serfs (serfs whose work feeds the nation and are most impacted by ever-expanding wolf populations).

For example, soon after the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife issued a letter supporting the Trump administration’s proposal to remove gray wolves in the Lower 48 States from the list of federally protected species, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a letter “to clarify and correct” the state position, noting that “the State of Oregon and its agencies do not support the delisting of wolves ….”

Citing the statewide wolf population count of 137 animals, Brown noted that the success of wolf recovery in Oregon “is unquestioned,” but added: “Our collaborative work and its success cannot protect imperiled wildlife beyond our borders in other states. Our commitment to the Oregon way gives me great confidence that wolves are on the path to recovery and do not warrant a listing within Oregon, but their listing under the federal Endangered Species Act affords them some protection across their range.”

Thanks Governor Brown, for trying to mandate wolf protection outside your state’s jurisdiction. I’m sure your neighbors to the south – northern California sheep and cattle producers – appreciate your benevolence.

Colorado’s example is even worse. Failing to gain support from state wildlife officials, national park officials, or residents who stand to be impacted by a proposal to reintroduce wolves to Colorado, wolf advocates – led by Mike Phillips of the Turner Endangered Species Fund – now plan to take the proposal to the ballot box.

Rocky Mountain Wolf email pushing a ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves in Colorado.

Phillips headed the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program for the National Park Service, and currently serves in the Montana legislature. Phillips’s Rocky Mountain Wolf Project includes a “science advisory team” that will seem familiar to those involved in the wolf reintroduction program to Yellowstone National Park. Joining Phillips is Ed Bangs, Carter Niemeyer, and Rick McIntrye. Of course, none of these men reside within the area of impact, but the serfs are to accept their superior wisdom.

The Colorado ballot initiative will allow the heavily populated Front Range metropolitan areas east of the Continental Divide in the state to vote to require state wildlife officials to reintroduce gray wolves to Colorado – but further requiring “such reintroductions being restricted to the public lands west of the Continental Divide” by the close of 2023.

It’s a classic case of “wolves for thee, but not for me” by the benevolent custodians of the public interest.

This isn’t the first time for Colorado residents: In 2016, Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice proposed that Mexican wolves should be released in Colorado, to which Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) responded that not only was Colorado not within the historic range of the species, “the cost of living with predators are not borne  by most of our citizens. Agricultural producers and sportsmen will bear the brunt of the cost. Conversely, the benefits will largely accrue to those who advocate for introducing wolves.”

That benefit is the pleasure of knowing that wolves are there, to maintain Colorado’s healthy ecosystems. But as CPW notes, “We are unaware of any scientific studies that indicate Colorado needs another large predator in order to restore balance to our natural systems.”

Since the Mexican wolf proposal didn’t fly, and Rocky Mountain National Park rejected the idea of wolf reintroduction there, those proposals have been replaced with the ballot box proposition to release gray wolves into western Colorado. That gray wolves from the north would be placed closer to the Mexican wolf population to the south, perhaps promoting interbreeding between the two and diluting the Mexican wolf genetic pool, isn’t a concern to wolf advocates.

It’s worth taking a look at the “science advisory team” for the Colorado wolf project. In addition to the old guard from the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction, there are numerous others, with their professional affiliations listed. Is this to imply that their agencies support the Colorado wolf project? They don’t.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project claims to be a “grassroots organization dependent on small-dollar contributions from concerned individuals like you,” yet notes at the bottom of its webpage that it is a “fiscally sponsored project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) organization and the nation’s largest fiscal sponsor.”  The Capital Research Center describes the sponsorship as “using its nonprofit status as a legal umbrella for left-wing groups that have not or cannot apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS. The Tides Center does not directly fund these infant groups; instead, it operates as a feeder, accepting outside donations and redirecting them towards its numerous ‘projects’ with the goal of developing them into standalone organizations.”

CRC notes that Tides is a left-leaning enterprise: “Using a sophisticated funding model, Tides has grown into the leading platform for laundering away ties between wealthy donors and the radical causes they fund—while generating hundreds of new organizations along the way.”

With smug satisfaction, these wolf promoters can be confident their decisions on behalf of the uneducated pastoral populace are justified, never doubting that the negative impacts of wolves on rural residents will be greatly overshadowed by their benefits.

Presenting a Disneyesque worldview while courteously accusing ranchers of being uneducated hicks is modus operandi, rather than facing the reality that when it comes to wolves, things aren’t as rosy when viewed with open eyes.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Cooperation, or Coercion? Navigating the minefield of stewarding rare animals

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Western Wyoming burrowing owls
A pair of burrowing owls at their nesting burrow on a western Wyoming ranch.
1401

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Monitoring comes naturally to ranchers, even though we may not consider much of our daily habits as such. We monitor a variety of natural resources or resource components on a regular basis, from irrigation levels, weather, grazing distribution and utilization, and plant diversity, to breeding dates, conception rates, and desirable herd characteristics.

Many ranchers participate in structured rangeland monitoring in conjunction with federal land managers – a program that began as a cooperative venture for some, but expanded due to threats from anti-grazing activists. Instead of volunteering to work together toward a shared goal of sustainable use of vegetative resources, grazing permittees and agencies were effectively coerced into participation.

But ranchers monitor many other resources independent of agency support or oversight. The popularity of camera traps (trail cameras, game cameras) has opened up new realms for monitoring. Cameras are now used to monitor vehicles accessing ranch-owned gravel pits, and to document trespassers ignoring posted property boundaries. 

With increased public concern about rare species in Wyoming, some ranchers have developed their own monitoring programs to inventory for species occurrence, seasonal use, and habits of these species on their properties. It’s good to know and understand the wild species that share your range, but sadly, ranchers have little incentive to share that data with wildlife managers. That’s because rather than celebrating the occurrence of previously undocumented sage grouse leks, breeding pairs of short-eared and flammulated owls, nesting long-billed curlews, small populations of pygmy rabbits, or any of a long list of federally listed, proposed, or candidate species of concern, private landowners fear that acknowledging the presence of these species only opens the door to more coercion.

That’s a shame, because the detection of rare species on private property should be celebrated – these landowners should be proud that their stewardship includes sustaining these species. Instead, property owners keep quiet, fearful that detection of these rare species only brings restrictions on their property rights and use.

I’m part of a small group of ranchers who work together in an informal wildlife monitoring program for our neighboring parcels, using camera traps as its main component. Our program aims to help in protecting our livestock herds by knowing and understanding the movement and frequency of large carnivores in our neighborhood.

Every year ranchers get requests from wildlife managers or researchers requesting permission to access private property to observe wild animal numbers, survey for rare species, document migration routes, etc. Although we may be inclined to want to cooperate, often we need to say no, and that’s because what is being requested isn’t actual cooperation. Sometimes the data collected is later used to impose restrictions on private property.

I’m a member of an international network focused on human-wildlife conflict research. Last week one network participant explained in a group email that a non-governmental organization (NGO) had installed an electric fence to prevent black bears from preying on goats held in the pen. One of the cameras installed on the fence captured a video of a mountain lion jumping the fence and killing a goat. Not surprisingly, the farmer wants a copy of the video. Also not surprisingly, the NGO is now questioning how it should handle such a request.

I suspect that the NGO wouldn’t be asking such questions had the fence succeeded in deterring predators, and would instead be happily sharing video footage of a predator getting zapped by the fence and running from the scene. 

Instead, the NGO wants to learn if there are protocols or guidelines for the sharing of such information with the public. While none of the researchers who responded offered such a guideline, one Canadian-based researcher noted, “I can see potential ethical issues (e.g. would sharing induce some sort of conflict or misuse of the data by the landowner, could it be used as evidence to illicit intensified predator control, etc.).”

This researcher’s response provides a prime example of why some ranchers won’t cooperate in wildlife research and monitoring programs. The notion that data should be controlled or censored because it had an undesirable outcome to the researcher is appalling. That the livestock owner could use the data to seek intensified control shouldn’t be viewed as a negative – the negative is that despite increased efforts at protecting his livestock, predators continued to succeed at killing his goats.

I also noticed the researcher’s Freudian slip in the use of “illicit” (as in forbidden), when the proper verbiage is “solicit” (as in to ask for or try to obtain) when suggesting predator control.

Cooperation is the process of working together to the same end. It’s not cooperation if it’s one-sided.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

More than 1,500 students in Cheyenne for “Agriculture in the Classroom” event

in News/wildlife/Education/Agriculture
1398

More than 1,500 grade school students from around Wyoming gathered in Cheyenne on Friday to learn more about the state’s agriculture industry.

The students were in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom program’s 25th annual “Bookmark and Beyond” celebration, where student showed off their designs for agriculture-themed bookmarks and learned about different aspects of the industry.

Among the activities for students was a hands-on session with a mapping system that allows users to locate a pasture and count and track the cows in it.

Ala Telck, president of Sheridan’s AgTerra Technologies, said his company donated the money for the software used at the celebration because of the growing importance of technology in agriculture.

“Technology is not going to go away, it’s only going to become more important,” he said. “We want to help our youth embrace and become very good at this technology.”

Many of the students attending the event live on farms and ranches in Wyoming and Doug Miyamoto, the director of the state Department of Agriculture, said such a background instills those children with a sense of responsibility.

“Those kids start working at a very early age and there’s a lot expected and demanded of them and I think they understand that,” he said. “A lot of the kids that come from agricultural backgrounds know what their expectations are and they perform to that level.”

Matt Micheli, an Agriculture in the Classroom board member who grew up on a ranch near Fort Bridger, agreed.

“I think it creates a real work ethic, but also an understanding of responsibility, that when something’s entrusted to you, that you have to follow through,” he said.

The winning bookmark design unveiled during the event came from Dawson George of Cody, whose illustration showed cows, pheasants and oil wells.