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

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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.

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

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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.”

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

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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.

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

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Bison in Yellowstone

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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.”

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Woman Violently Attacked By Bison; Pants Ripped Off During Encounter

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Posted by Jo Reed on Thursday, 13 August 2020

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.

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Yellowstone Biologists To Poison Fish For Restoration Work

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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.

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Wyoming Game And Fish Investigation Into Poaching Uncovers Bobcat Suspect

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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.

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Wyoming Game And Fish On Alert For Deadly Rabbit Disease

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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.

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Yellowstone Tourist Trips And Falls When Charging Bison Takes After Her

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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.

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Wyoming Grizzly Bear Donated to Natural History Museum

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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.

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