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Sweetwater County Hunters Banned From Hunting After Multiple Counts Of Poaching

in News/wildlife
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The president of a hunting advocacy group on Wednesday welcomed the news that two Sweetwater County hunters have been convicted of multiple wildlife violations and barred from hunting.

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Justin Chewning and Steven Macy were convicted of a series of charges filed in connection with numerous hunting violations committed in 2019 and 2020 and fined a combined amount of nearly $15,000. In addition, Chewning lost his hunting and fishing privileges for 15 years, while Macy lost his for two years.

Muley Fanatics president and CEO Josh Coursey told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he was glad to see both men convicted of charges including hunting elk out of season, but expressed concern that if they were willing to break the law before, they could be willing to do so again.

“We have law and order for a reason and we have rules and those that violate the rules are held accountable,” Coursey said. “It’s unfortunate, because wildlife is a public trust.”

Coursey said that Chewning and Macy were cheating the state’s hunting system by illegally tagging wildlife they also illegally killed, taking something of value from the Wyoming residents who own the wildlife.

He added that people do not have to be hunters in order to appreciate the wildlife in Wyoming.

“Yellowstone has beautiful landscapes, but I’ve said several times that if you remove the wildlife from the park, I imagine that the number of visitors would plummet to next to nothing,” Coursey said. “You don’t have to be a hunter to appreciate the beauty and seeing free ranging wild animals that are plentiful on our landscape.”

According to the Game and Fish Department, during an investigation into game bird violations, its wardens learned that between Oct. 1 and Oct. 6, 2019, both Chewning and Macy illegally killed mature bull elk during the closed season, which they then tagged with general elk licenses. 

Game wardens were able to determine the locations of where the elk were killed. They also found the carcass of a bull elk illegally killed by Chewning on Oct. 1, 2019.

Using DNA analysis, the Game and Fish Department a skull and antlers Chewning had in his possession were from the bull elk.

Investigators also determined that on Oct. 4, 2020, Chewning and Macy were hunting deer in Sublette County when Macy illegally killed a buck mule deer and Chewning illegally tagged it. 

Later that same day, while returning from the Pinedale area to Rock Springs, the two men hunted in an area using the wrong license and before the area had officially opened for hunting.

Macy shot and killed two mature bull elk, and Chewning tagged one of the two illegally killed bull elk with his general elk license. 

Chewning was charged with violations including five counts of intentionally taking antlered big game without a license or during a closed season; two of transferring a license and two of intentionally wasting edible portions of game bird and big game back straps.

Chewning pleaded guilty to three counts of intentionally taking antlered bull elk without a proper license, one count of taking a buck mule deer without a license and one count of transferring a license.

Chewning’s hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for 15 years and he was ordered to pay fines of $1,585 and restitution of $7,000. All wildlife seized was forfeited to the state of Wyoming. All other charges were dismissed.

Macy was charged with five counts of intentionally taking antlered big game without a license or during a closed season and two counts of transferring a license.

He pleaded no contest to one count of taking a buck mule deer without a license and two counts of intentionally taking a bull elk without the proper license.

Macy’s hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for two years and he was ordered to pay $5,640 in fines, restitution of $1,500 and to forfeit the Browning .338-caliber rifle used in the commission of these crimes to the state of Wyoming. All other charges were dismissed. 

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Yellowstone Officials: It’s Elk Calving Season, Don’t Put One In Car

in Yellowstone/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park officials are reminding visitors that elk calving season will soon begin and to be aware of the animals while in the park.

As Cowboy State Daily has noted before, animals do not want to be hugged or be our friends (as disappointing as this might be). And being more than usually aware of that fact, the National Park Service is offering up a few helpful tips about how to be not quite as friendly with the park’s natural residents.

Cow elk are much more aggressive towards people during calving season, and may charge or kick. Visitors are advised to look around corners before exiting buildings or walking around blind spots, since cow elk may bed their calves near buildings and cars.

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. Because mama elk is probably nearby and will not be amused.

Selfies with animals are not recommended, and neither is sneaking up on animals.

People should stay at least 25 yards away from elk at all times. If an elk charges, find shelter in a vehicle or behind a tall, sturdy barrier as quickly as possible.

Calving season runs from May to late June and calves usually weigh around 30 pounds at birth. Full grown bull elk are around 700 pounds and stand 5 feet high at the shoulder, while cow elk weigh around 500 pounds and are shorter.

There are usually around 10,000 to 20,000 elk in Yellowstone during the summer season. Elk are the most abundant large mammal found in the park.

This is an annual warning by the park, but as we have seen before, there is always some tourist that ignores the rules and attempts to pet an animal. It usually doesn’t end well.

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National Elk Refuge Begins Feeding 7,000 Elk

in News/wildlife
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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Game and Fish drafts plan to manage Chronic Wasting Disease

in News/wildlife
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

Incurable and spreading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diminished herds

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

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

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

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

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

Options on the table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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