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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 Agriculture/Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
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 Agriculture/Education/News/wildlife
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.

Elk antlers on the block at Jackson’s annual ElkFest

in Tourism/Travel/wildlife
Elk antlers on the block at Jackson’s annual ElkFest
Potential buyers look over the antlers up for sale during the BSA’s annual Elk Antler Auction on the Jackson Town Square. The 52nd annual auction will be held on Saturday as the highlight of Jackson’s ElkFest. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
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The sounds of spirited bidding will fill the air around Jackson’s Town Square this weekend as buyers vie for antlers shed by elk on the National Elk Refuge in the town’s annual ElkFest.

The BSA Elk Antler Auction will highlight ElkFest, but many other activities are scheduled for the weekend, including live music, a chili cook-off and a mountain man rendezvous.

The auction itself, now in its 52nd year, is the culmination of months of work by the Elk Refuge, assisted by Boy Scouts, said Lori Iverson, a spokeswoman for the refuge.

“It’s very dependent on scout help,” she said. “There’s so much behind-the-scenes work and that’s the part the scouts never get credit for.”

Elk Refuge personnel begin picking up antlers as soon as they are shed, generally beginning in March, Iverson said, to prevent damage to machinery used on the refuge.

“There’s one day … where the scouts go out and collect any remaining antlers,” she said.

In the week before the auction, held each year on the weekend before Memorial Day, the scouts sort and bundle the thousands of pounds of antlers, which are offered for sale in small lots. Those lots then must be weighed and in the early morning hours of Saturday, the scouts will put them out for buyers to preview.

The buyers, who come to Jackson from across the country, will bid by the pound for the antlers. Last year, the average bid of $18.36 per pound brought in more than $173,000. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds go to the Boy Scouts, while the remaining 75 percent goes to the Elk Refuge.

All told, it is estimated that the scouts and their leaders contribute 2,000 hours to the sale, which also includes time spent collecting payments and walking lots of antlers to the auction block.

The auction begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, but antlers are available for preview beginning at 7 a.m.

Antlers can also be found at a private antler sale sponsored by Jackson’s Rotary Club, which is also held on the Town Square. In that sale, antlers collected from areas other than the Elk Refuge or national parks will be available.

On Saturday night, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will hold a fundraising “casino night” and banquet.

On Sunday, the ElkFest continues with the opening of a mountain man rendezvous and trader’s row and a chili cook-off.

For more information on ElkFest, visit www.ElkFest.org.

In Brief: Wyoming native Wallace to be nominated to Interior Department post

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Rob Wallace
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A Wyoming native who served as chief of staff to a former Wyoming governor and U.S. senator will be nominated to serve as an assistant secretary within the U.S. Department of Interior, President Donald Trump announced Friday.

Trump, in a news release, announced his intent to nominate Rob Wallace as assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Wallace, now a Jackson resident, served as chief of staff for both former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and the late U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop.

He has also served as assistant director of Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the National Park Service, Republican staff director of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and managed U.S. government relations for GE Energy for 17 years.

Wallace currently serves as president of the Upper Green River Conservancy, a group created to restore and manage healthy sage grouse landscapes while allowing for energy development and ranching.

Trump’s announcement was welcomed by members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation, who said Wallace’s experience has made him particularly well suited for the job.

“Throughout his long and distinguished career, Rob has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to striking the proper balance between wildlife conservation, habitat management and use of our public lands,” said U.S. Sen. John Barrasso. “His experience and leadership in Wyoming and in our nation’s capital are ideally suited for this critically important job.”

“Rob is a Wyoming native and has extensive experience in public service and in working with the National Park Service,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. “It is important to fill positions like this with qualified people who understand the West.”

Trapping in Wyoming is aging out, wildlife management could suffer

in News/wildlife
Trapping in Wyoming is aging out, wildlife management could suffer
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Nothing quite embodies the American frontier like the image of a fur-clad trapper hauling his year’s take down a mountain trail on the back of his trusty mule.

After the West was won, however, trapping fell by the wayside, despite being a useful method of wildlife management.

Trapping is a great tool we use as an agency to remove damage animals or prevent urban wildlife conflicts or even conflicts between humans and wildlife,” said Jason Sherwood, a Wyoming Game and Fish senior game warden. “The wildlife of Wyoming belong to all the people in the state, and we’re the caretaker of that. We manage the wildlife as a trust.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Wyoming Untrapped is a non-profit organization based in Jackson, and it operates on the idea trapping practices in Wyoming should be reformed.

“There are non-lethal ways to mitigate beaver damage,” said Aska Langman, the executive director for Wyoming Untrapped. “Trapping is a very short-minded solution to destructive wildlife behavior.”

For Jim Pearce, the Wyoming State Trappers Association southeastern director, trapping provides a connection with the outdoors.

“It gets me out,” Pearce said. “I’m always learning when I’m out there, and isn’t that the point of life? I love to watch the wildlife. You always see something new.”

The L.A. Times reported California trappers are calling it quits, in part because of social pressure and regulation changes.

But in Wyoming, Pearce said the biggest threat to the sport is disinterested youth.

“Our numbers have decreased substantially,” he explained. “We just don’t have the young people coming around that we used to.”

A cruel trade?

The primary argument against trapping for groups like Wyoming Untrapped is a perception of cruelty.

“One of the focuses of our reform is changing the regulation of checking traps every 72 hours to (checking) every 24 hours,” Langman said. “There’s generally less suffering if they check them more often.”

Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado require trappers to check traps every 24 hours, according to The Humane Society of the United States.  If the goal of trapping is to harvest animals, Langman said she believes there are more ethical methods.

“We hunt in my family, to fill the freezer and whatnot,” she said. “But we don’t aim to maim an elk and let it go wander off and never claim the carcass. With trapping, we’d just like it to be a little bit more of a humane situation.”

Founded in 2014, Wyoming Untrapped operates primarily on private donations. 

“We’re a small, grassroots operation — I’m the only paid employee,” Langman said. “We started out mainly because of people’s dogs getting caught in traps.” 

The organization’s website states at least 52 dogs have been caught in traps in Wyoming since 2000, or approximately 3 dogs a year. Langman said those numbers are not complete, however.

“There’s no mandatory reporting for trapping,” she said. “That’s another thing the organization would like reformed, mandatory reporting for trapping numbers.”

Sherwood said the Game and Fish Department does enforce reporting requirements for non-target animals caught in traps, but pets are outside the agency’s jurisdiction.

For now, Langman said Wyoming Untrapped would like to see traps checked more frequently, the adoption of stricter reporting requirements and mandatory signage for trapping areas.

“Putting up signs around areas where traps might be could really help reduce the public safety risk,” she said. “I think there will always be trapping in Wyoming — I mean it’s a constitutional right. So short of changing the constitution of Wyoming, I don’t think it’s going away.” 

Wildlife management

A lifelong trapper, Pearce said he’s dealt with anti-trapping sentiments for decades.

“Cruelty is their biggest platform,” he said. “That’s what they like to perpetuate.”

Wildlife agencies and the National Trappers Association listened. In 1996, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies began a $40 million research project to develop best management practices for regulated trapping.

Created by a team of wildlife biologists, the practices outline trapping techniques, preferred styles of traps and trap placement. 

“Best management practices can be both recommendations and built into regulations,” Sherwood said. “A lot of trappers understand that if they don’t use these practices, then something horrible could happen, which will likely attract media attention and be detrimental to the trade.”

With the practices in place, Pearce said trappers try to work in harmony with the non-trapping public, which shares the same public spaces.

Pearce said he regularly hosts seminars about how to remove pets from traps when accidents occur. He also works as a liaison for the Game and Fish Department, advising the agency and its partners about using both live and lethal trapping to mitigate wildlife damage.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you do it, Jim?’” Pearce said. “Half the people I talk to have never seen a beaver. They don’t have an inkling the amount of damage a colony can wreak on an irrigation system.”

Years ago, Pearce would visit elementary schools and give wildlife biology seminars to children.

“Now, the schools won’t even talk to you,” he said.

Reading Jack London and other outdoor adventure stories as a kid inspired Pearce to become a trapper, but in today’s society, he said he doesn’t see anything driving young people toward the outdoors.

“Every year, our numbers dwindle,” he said. “The convention/rendezvous circuit has done a bit to rejuvenate our ranks, but I don’t think it will be enough.”

Without trappers, Sherwood said wildlife management agencies could be hard pressed to find financially viable replacement methods.

“The regulated capture and removal of those animals, which are often members of the rodent family or similarly reproduce very rapidly, helps us maintain those populations without major peaks and swings,” he explained. “With trapping, it’s more of a subtle change — ebb and flow of populations — preventing the massive buildups and die offs that can be detrimental to an area’s ecology.”

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