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Judge Blocks Development of 400,000 Acres of Oil/Gas Leases Due to Sage Grouse

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A federal judge is blocking the development of more than 400,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming and Montana, ruling the U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not adequately consider the impact of development on the region’s sage grouse.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Bush, in an order from his Idaho court issued Wednesday, ruled that the Western Watersheds Project was correct in its assertion that the BLM did not fulfill its obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act in approving development of the leases.

“BLM … failed to consider the reasonable alternative of deferring priority sage grouse habitat … failed to take a hard look at the direct and indirect impacts to greater sage grouse, and … failed to take a hard look at the cumulative impacts on greater sage grouse,” he wrote.

However, Bush also declined to vacate the leases themselves, as requested by Western Watersheds, because he found the BLM could solve the problems identified without nullifying the leases.

The ruling stems from oil and gas leases covering 334,000 acres in Wyoming offered in February, June and September of 2017 in Wyoming and covering about 69,000 acres in Montana offered in June of 2017.

Some of the parcels of land offered for sale included sage grouse habitat and as a result, some parcels were removed from the sale offering.

When preparing an environmental assessment to judge the impact of development of the lands, the BLM examined two options — one for full development of all the remaining land and one for no development. It found the development could proceed.

But Western Watersheds sued, saying the BLM violated the NEPA by failing to examine an option that would have removed more sage grouse habitat from development and failed to examine the direct and indirect effects of development on sage grouse habitat.

Western Watersheds offered alternatives to the BLM’s two options that proposed removing parcels from lease sales that contained priority sage grouse habitat, the decision said, but they were rejected.

Bush wrote that the BLM did not adequately explain why it rejected Western Watersheds’ proposed alternative.

“BLM violated NEPA by failing to provide an adequate explanation of why it failed to consider the reasonable alternative of deferring priority greater sage grouse habitat,” he wrote.

Bush blocked development of any of the lease parcels until the BLM can resolve the issues identified in the ruling.

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Wyo Female Wolf Previously Identified As a Male Wolf Has First Litter of Pups Since 1940s

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A wolf from Wyoming has given birth to Colorado’s first litter of pups since the 1940s.

The female wolf, F1084, was originally part of Wyoming’s Snake River wolf pack, but traveled to Jackson County, Colorado, (which sits close to Laramie) in 2019. She was originally thought to be male, but has actually been identified as a female and has been spotted traveling with a male in recent months.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist and CPW district wildlife manager each reported visual sightings of multiple pups with the female and male, M2101, wolves.

“Colorado is now home to our first wolf litter since the 1940s. We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said. “With voter passage last year of the initiative to require re-introduction of the wolf by the end of 2023, these pups will have plenty of potential mates when they grow up to start their own families.”

In the last week, CPW staff conducted three separate observations of the den site from a safe distance approximately two miles away. Each of the three sightings included both M2101 “John” and F1084 “Jane”, collared wolves known to reside in the state, along with their three pups. While three pups have been observed over the past week, it is not yet confirmed that these are the only pups in the litter.

A typical wolf litter consists of four to six pups. 

“We are continuing to actively monitor this den site while exercising extreme caution so as not to inadvertently jeopardize the potential survival of these pups,” said Libbie Miller, CPW wildlife biologist. “Our hope is that we will eventually have photos to document this momentous occasion in Colorado’s incredible and diverse wildlife history, but not bothering them remains a paramount concern.”

All three observations of pups have been made at dawn or dusk in low-light conditions and featured quite a bit of movement of M2101 and F1084 with the small pups during brief observation windows.

As the pups grow larger and spend more time outside of the den, biologists and area staff will have additional opportunities to observe the animals. Staff are working with landowners in the area to implement practices to minimize the potential for conflict. 

“It’s incredible that these two adult animals have traveled the distance and overcome the challenges they have to get here, and to now have pups in Colorado,” said Kris Middledorf, area wildlife manager for CPW. “It’s our priority to ensure that they have the chance to thrive, so even as we have exciting news, we want to remind everyone that these animals remain endangered in Colorado.”

As an endangered species, killing a gray wolf in Colorado results in a fine of $100,000, jail time and a loss of hunting privileges. Harassment of wildlife is also illegal in the state. 

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Shoshone National Forest Officials Warn of Aggressive Moose

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Shoshone National Forest officials are warning visitors of an aggressive cow moose in the Sinks Canyon area after it charged at people and animals on a trail Monday.

The moose charged at people and dogs on the riverside trail near the Sinks Canyon Campground sometime Monday, forest officials said. No one was injured in the incident

Officials warned visitors to stay alert for moose and to not approach the animals. Officials also recommended that dogs in the forest be kept on a leash and under immediate control.

The warning is similar to those issued by Yellowstone National Park and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials in recent weeks, as it is calving season for both moose and elk.

On May 29 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, an 85-year-old man was knocked onto his back and stomped by a cow moose with two calves.

The victim stated that his small dog was outside unleashed when he heard it start barking and realized there was a moose nearby. He stepped forward to grab the dog, which is when the moose charged him.

“Cows will be exhibiting normal protective behavior of their young,” said CPW Wildlife Officer Tim Woodward. “Give wildlife extra space this time of year. Be sure to keep dogs on leashes. Dogs can trigger aggressive behavior and both moose and elk will chase a dog right back to their owner, presenting a dangerous situation.”

A second incident occurred last week in Evergreen, Colorado, when witnesses reported a cow elk charging people. A 90-year-old man injured his hip in the incident, although there appeared to be no contact between the man and the elk.

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90-Year-Old Man Charged By Elk, 85-Year-Old Stomped By Moose

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife department has issued its annual warning to residents and visitors to be wary of wildlife after two elderly men were injured in encounters with a moose and elk over the last week.

The warning is similar to one Yellowstone National Park officials released last month, reminding visitors that elk are more aggressive than normal this time of year.

The CPW’s warning comes in reaction to two incidents in the last week involving elderly men and wildlife, both of which resulted in injuries: one occurred in Steamboat Springs, while another took place in Evergreen.

Although neither incident was believed to be the result of irresponsible behavior, both serve as examples that wildlife are wild, and can act in unpredictable ways, according to the CPW.

“Cows will be exhibiting normal protective behavior of their young,” said Wildlife Officer Tim Woodward. “Give wildlife extra space this time of year. Be sure to keep dogs on leashes. Dogs can trigger aggressive behavior and both moose and elk will chase a dog right back to their owner, presenting a dangerous situation.”

On May 29 in Steamboat Springs, an 85-year-old man was knocked onto his back and stomped by a cow moose with two calves.

The victim stated that his small dog was outside unleashed when he heard it start barking and realized there was a moose in the area. He stepped forward to grab the dog, which is when the moose charged him.

The man was examined for minor injuries on site.

The second incident occurred Thursday in Evergreen, when witnesses reported a cow elk charging people. A 90-year-old man injured his hip in the incident, although there appeared to be no contact between the man and the elk.

The man was sent to the hospital to evaluate his injury.

Other aggressive behavior by moose in Steamboat Springs and elk in Evergreen and Estes Park has been reported within the last week.

Similar scenarios with moose, elk and deer may take place across Colorado and other western states, including Wyoming.

With the weather turning warm and more people heading outside for recreation, Colorado wildlife officials are urging everyone in wildlife areas to be careful.

“As people are recreating for the next three or four weeks, they should be keeping their dogs on a leash or leaving them at home,” said Kristin Cannon, Deputy Regional Manager for CPW’s Northeast region. “They should be aware of their surroundings and should give all wildlife plenty of space.”

One way to avoid an unnecessary run-in with a moose is to steer clear of thick willow habitat in riparian areas where they are likely to be found eating or resting.

Elk calves are typically born in locations where cover, forage and water are in juxtaposition in late May or early June.

As Cowboy State Daily has warned before, if a person sees an elk calf by itself, they should leave it alone. Really. Do not put the cuddly baby animal in your car because it looks cold or you want to befriend it.

Selfies with animals are also not recommended, nor is sneaking up on animals.

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Bureau Of Land Management Offers $1,000 to Adopt Wild Horses

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By staff reports

To encourage more people to adopt a wild horse, the Bureau of Land Management is offering an incentive of up to $1,000.

The goal of the program is to reduce the BLM’s recurring costs to care for unadopted and untrained wild horses and burros while helping the BLM to confront a growing overpopulation of wild horses and burros on public rangelands, according to the BLM. Wild horses available for adoption have been removed from overpopulated herds roaming western public lands.

The Adoption Incentive Program allows qualified adopters to receive up to $1,000 when adopting an eligible wild horse. Under this program, adopters are eligible to receive $500 within 60 days of adoption of an untrained wild horse and $500 within 60 days of titling the animal. A $25 fee applies at the time of adoption.

The incentive is available for all untrained animals that are eligible for adoption, including animals at BLM facilities, off-site events and on the online corral at blm.gov.

The Rock Springs Wild Horse Holding Facility offers untrained horses for adoption by appointment only. Those interested can contact the facility at 307-352-0292.

The BLM will also be hosting four wild horse adoption events throughout Wyoming in June. Adoption events include:

— June 4–5 at Wheatland Corrals: approximately 50 wild horses will be available at the new off-range corral’s first public adoption. View the horses from from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 4. The adoption begins at 8 a.m. on June 5.

— June 5 at Wind River Wild Horse Ranch: approximately 20 wild horses will be available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the public off-range pasture near Lander. Take a free wagon tour to view the wild horses until 2 p.m.

— June 12 at Deerwood Ranch: approximately 20 horses and five burros will be available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the public off-range pasture near Centennial. Free tours and tractor-pulled wagon rides to view the wild horses will be offered every half hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nicki Creasey, a Training Incentive Program trainer, will be available for questions about handling and training burros.

— June 24–26 at Lovell: horses and burros will be available at both the Pryor Mountain Mustang Center and the Britton Springs Facility near Lovell. The adoption begins at 8 a.m. all three days.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law on Dec. 15, 1971. To mark this anniversary, the BLM is hosting a series of events around the country highlighting the value of wild horses and burros as enduring symbols of our national heritage. Learn more at https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/50th-anniversary.

For more information about the events and locations, visit blm.gov/whb or contact the national information center at 866-468-7826 or wildhorse@blm.gov.

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

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Game and Fish Unveils New Habitat Mapping Project

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A harder sell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interactive data

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

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

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

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

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Dead Coyotes Found Near Afton Were Shot, Not Poisoned

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grand Teton National Park Euthanizes Fox After Reports of Human Feeding

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Elk Refuge Begins Feeding 7,000 Elk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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