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Carbon County Prepares For Onslaught Of 10,000 “Rainbow Family” Members This Weekend

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Carbon County officials are working with the U.S. Forest Service to prepare Wyoming and Colorado for the arrival of thousands of Rainbow Family of Light members attending the group’s 50th annual gathering.

“We found out two weeks ago they were going to be on the Routt National Forest,” said Aaron Voos, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson. “We’d known they wanted to be somewhere in Colorado, but due to the loose leadership of the group, we didn’t have a lot of lead time to prepare.”

More than 10,000 Rainbow Family attendees are expected to visit the Adams Park area of the Routt National Forest, about 13 miles south of the Wyoming border, during the Independence Day weekend.  

“We went down to Craig, Colorado, with the Carbon County fire warden and a sheriff’s deputy,” Carbon County Emergency Manager Lenny Layman said. “I wanted to see a general layout of Adams Park and get a feel for where they would be coming through.”

The Rainbow Family is “the largest non-organization of non-members in the world,” according to one of its websites, www.welcomehome.org. The group declares it has no leaders and no organization and it promotes intentional community building, non-violence and alternative lifestyles.

The group has been gathering on National Forest land since 1972, when it hosted its first gathering near Strawberry Lake on the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado, the Forest Service reported. 

Because of the group’s lack of leadership, the Rainbow Family does not apply for a special permit the Forest Service would typically require of a gathering this large. 

“This is an unlawful, unauthorized gathering on public land,” said Hilary Markin, a spokesperson for the Forest Service’s National Rainbow Incident Management Team (NRIMT).

Regardless of the gathering’s legality, Layman said it’s incumbent on Wyoming to be prepared in the case of an emergency.

“If a fire started southwest of the event, the egress routes south might be blocked, making an evacuation only viable north into Wyoming,” he said. “If we don’t think of these things before they happen, then we are caught on our heels.”

Unlawful Gathering

As of Monday, more than 2,000 attendees were already on site in the Adams Park area, the NRIMT reported. 

Much like wildfires and other natural disasters, the Rainbow Family gathering is assigned its own incident management team, said Markin, who’s been with the team since 2019. 

“We have about 60 people in the management team,” she said. “We’re here to engage the public, field questions, deal with health and safety risks and reduce the amount of actions that could impact the land.”

Voos said one of those impacts is caused by the number of vehicles that can accompany 10,000 people. Rainbow Family gatherings are typically hosted in vehicle-accessible areas and while the forest has some parking available, the sheer number of vehicles could damage the resource.

“When you start talking about thousands of people, there’s potential for serious impacts,” Voos explained. 

For the family’s part, Markin said group members will try to negate the impact of their vehicles by carpooling in busses and RVs. 

While working with the NRIMT in 2021, Markin said she saw one gathering attract about 7,000 people who traveled to the area in about 2,000 vehicles. 

“Even with the carpooling, it’s still a significant impact,” Markin said. 

The Forest Service has periodically cited Rainbow Family members for failing to obtain a permit, according to NRIMT documents. However, the agency also works with the family to adhere to a resource protection plan in lieu of a special use permit to protect the health and safety of individuals at the incident and in the surrounding community, to ensure sensitive resources are protected, to minimize any environmental damage and to coordinate post-event cleanup and rehabilitation of the event site, the documents state.

“Members of the group typically start showing up at gathering site a week or two in advance,” Markin said. “Then, after the event, the Rainbow Family will have a group come in and rehab the area, which can take weeks.” 

Ever Ready

Officials from Routt County and Colorado are the gathering’s lead responders should anything go awry, but Layman said Carbon County’s communication center stands ready if the need arises. 

The Carbon County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) could dispatch Carbon County resources, such as medical or law enforcement personnel, if requested, he said.

“What I’m asking for from Colorado partners is that all non-911 resource requests go through our EOC,” Layman said. “That way, rather than someone calling up to every firehouse or police department in Carbon County to locate a needed resource, all the calls come into one place, and we can find them the resources they need.” 

County officials are also working with partner agencies to create an evacuation plan. While the most likely evacuation route would take family members further south into Colorado, Layman said he wants Wyoming to be prepared should it prove the only viable means of escape. 

While the gathering is no longer than a few weeks, Voos said the Forest Service’s primary goal is to ensure it does negatively affect the landscape for years to come. 

“Where there are lots of people, there are lots of feet, wheels and infrastructure,” he said. “So there are impacts to the land, wildlife and natural resources.” 

Go to https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbr/landmanagement/?cid=FSEPRD1033996 for daily NRIMT reports about the gathering. 

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Woman Attacked By Bison At Same Location Where Tourist Was Depantsed Two Years Ago

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

When it comes to bison attacks, South Dakota’s Custer State Park is hallowed ground.

After all, it was here where a woman made international news for not only getting flipped by a bison but getting de-pantsed at the same time.

This is the Wimbledon for bison incidents.

So to make news on this surface is an achievement.

A woman did it last week but her bison incident was eclipsed by the historic floods of Yellowstone National Park, coincidentally another top venue for bison attacks.

Sadly, little is known. No photos have surfaced. No videos. Online chatter is minimal.

Custer State Park officials report that a woman was hospitalized after a bison charged her after being surprised by the woman’s dog.

She was then taken to a hospital, a spokesperson said.

The woman was hiking near the Wildlife Loop Road when her dog crested a hill which spooked a small herd of bison.

“One of the bulls charged the dog and hit the female visitor,” said park spokeswoman Lydia Austin.

Austin went on to use all the cautionary language that is so often ignored by visitors to parks whose attractions include ill-tempered animals who often weigh in at around 2,000 pounds.

“We hope this serves as a good reminder to always be aware of your surroundings, and give animals their space when possible,” she said.

The extent of the woman’s injuries is unknown. 

Nor is it known if this was the same bison which was involved in the infamous depantsing incident of two years ago.

It’s unlikely as there are an estimated 1,400 free roaming bison in the park. 

But perhaps like bears that tend to gravitate toward human food once they taste it, perhaps bison who flip people could be more prone to repeating that process.

It’s a fabulous theory but an unlikely one, said noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich.

“Although I suspect it’s simply the age-old mistake of getting too close to a bison, I truly hope that it is the same bison,” UIrich said. “Perhaps the bison has developed a kind of spidey-sense.”

Calls to Custer State Park to discuss the bison incident or the likelihood of the offender being the same bison were not returned.

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Yellowstone Biologist: Animals Will Survive Flooding, Don’t Worry

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The historic flooding in Yellowstone National Park has destroyed roads, bridges and multiples pieces of infrastructure, but one concern some people have is about one of the park’s most popular attractions: the animals.

Many comments on social media this week have popped up, with people inquiring about the safety of the bears, bison, elk, moose and the many more creatures that inhabit the Yellowstone ecosystem.

And for those concerned about the fate of the millions of animals that call Yellowstone home, wildlife biologists and game officials have reassuring words — they’re doing just fine.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that although the department does not manage the Yellowstone wildlife, the permanent inhabitants of the 2.2 million-acre park are very resilient.

“They continually contend with and survive Wyoming’s extreme weather,” DiRienzo said. “A large flood would certainly temporarily displace them to other areas. But, like we’ve seen with fires in the southeast, they do return quickly when conditions stabilize.”

Wildlife Care

But many people who aren’t familiar with the outdoors don’t seem to understand that animals can adapt.

Case in point, Preston Ferguson who wrote on a popular Yellowstone Facebook page that he saw a lot of empty cattle trucks heading to Yellowstone. “I hope they’re saving all the wildlife,” he posted.

Ever the helpful group, other Facebook posters jumped right in to respond.

“Yes, the cowboys will be along to lasso all of the animals,” Linda Faber wrote. “You can sleep tonight, rest assured, they’ll all be transported to Chicago.”

“Didn’t you know that when the ‘zoo’ has an emergency, all the wildlife are picked up and placed in foster care?” Christine Edwards said.

One person couldn’t handle the question.

“6:45 in the morning and I’ve already lost hope in society for the day,” Caleb Mertz said.

No Evacuation For Animals

The park has been closed since Monday morning, when flooding caused by torrential rains and melting snow washed out roads and made the northern part of the park completely inaccessible. More than 10,000 visitors were removed from the park.

But National Park Service wildlife biologist Doug Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that no such drastic action was needed for the park’s biggest predators, such as wolves and bears.

Smith said the large animals can tolerate major flooding since they don’t tend to stay in dens or travel near rivers.

“These areas will be easy for them to avoid, and most are mature enough to move away,” Smith said. “There will be some accidents for an animal trying to cross a swollen stream, but this will be like any other year when waterways are in flood stage.”

Smith said that the predators’ offspring are at least a few months old by this time of year, so they are also less vulnerable to the flooding.

Ungulates such as bison will likely experience some accidents, but Smith said high water is a challenge for those animals every year.

Smith also said some of the animals that wolves and bears eat, like elk, moose and deer, are also probably doing fine and that they could even benefit from the flood because the influx of water gives the plants they eat a boost.

Waterbirds have strategies to withstand floods, such as adding material to their nests to build them up and keep eggs dry.

“Waterbirds may have trouble with reproduction due to nest flooding,” he said Friday. “We are monitoring trumpeter swans, which have begun nesting, and common loons, which are starting or have started, and nesting pelicans and cormorants as the one colony in the park is likely underwater. We check it aerially and have not done so yet, but it could be complete reproductive failure.

“Ospreys may be severely impacted as they depend almost entirely on fish,” he continued. “They may have difficulty finding fish with such high-water levels and murky, muddy water. Fish researchers have said many trout may get blown out.”

Bald eagles will likely not be impacted as they have a broader diet than just fish. 

“Wet, cold weather can affect other nesting raptors like golden eagles and peregrine falcons. We plan to monitor their nesting activities once access is safe,” Smith said.

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Out-Of-State Hunter Pays $115k For Bighorn Sheep Hunting Tag At Lander Event

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An out-of-state hunter paid $115,000 at a charity event in Lander last weekend for the opportunity to hunt a bighorn sheep in Wyoming.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a bargain price according to the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation.

The foundation auctioned the tag at its 39th annual fundraiser on Saturday.

Foundation deputy director Dean DiJenno told Cowboy State Daily that the $115,000 raised from a single tag was actually not the largest number the group has ever seen. He said the tags usually go for around $120,000 when they are auctioned.

“We think the ‘lower’ number is related to the limited hunting opportunities that stemmed from COVID,” he said. “But those other four available sheep tags went for so high, in total, the five tags brought in about $980,000.”

Bill Brown, an avid hunter from Riverton who attended the event, said it’s never shocking to see tags like these go for six figures.

“The odds of you drawing a sheep tag in your lifetime in any given state are extremely low so those with no financial limitations will pay almost anything for the opportunity,” Brown told Cowboy State Daily.

“In this situation it’s great to see the money going to an organization that is devoted to keeping wild sheep populations healthy and thriving,” he said.

Governor’s Big Game License

The tags auctioned by the sheep foundation at its fundraiser were a part of the Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, which makes a number of big game licenses available to conservation organizations to be auctioned.

This coalition was created under Gov. Dave Freudenthal and has raised nearly $10 million in the years since.

The proceeds raised from the auctions are used to fund various wildlife/conservation projects across Wyoming, such as habitat improvements, research and migration.

There are a few reasons hunters will spend big dollars to obtain a particular big game license in Wyoming.

“Hunters are often conservationists and most of our conservation dollars come from hunters,” DiJenno said. “These guys care deeply about the species they’re pursuing and they want to make sure those animals remain up on the mountain for the next generation.”

Winning The Lottery

But getting a bighorn sheep hunting license is not unlike winning the lottery. For some hunters, it might be even more exciting than that. Drawing odds are typically less than 1%, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“We are so popular that it’s about a 25-year wait to draw a [bighorn sheep] tag through our lottery system” DiJenno said. “If they plunk down their money and they buy that license, they can go hunting without waiting 25 years.”

Wyoming is only one of about a dozen states that even offer bighorn sheep hunting to residents and non-residents. Most of these states have some type of lottery system for allocating tags.

Wyoming Game and Fish spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the Governor’s Big Game License Coalition licenses brought in thousands this year, with one bighorn sheep tag garnering $305,000 and one moose license bringing in $67,500.

DiRienzo echoed similar sentiments about why hunters spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to hunt in the state.

“These licenses are for some of the most highly sought-after species in Wyoming, like bighorn sheep and moose,” she said. “The hunters who invest in these licenses are passionate about hunting the species and also value their conservation deeply. Much of the revenue from these licenses go to support conservation organizations and on-the-ground projects for wildlife.”

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News Organizations Around The Country Wrongly Report Woman Killed By Bison In Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A national news outlet caused a landslide of false reporting across the globe on Wednesday when it erroneously reported that a woman was killed in Yellowstone on Monday by a bison goring.

NBC’s breaking news reporter, Tim Stelloh, proclaimed the death of the woman in his story entitled “Yellowstone Visitor Dies After Bison Gores Her, Tosses Her 10 Feet.” The report credited park officials when attributing information about her death.

Instead of independently confirming the death, dozens of news outlets also reported the false conclusion including The Associated Press, USA Today, The Guardian, The Today Show, and numerous other national organizations.

Here in the Cowboy State, Oil City News and Sweetwater Now republished the false story, crediting NBC News for the information.

An Ohio woman was, in fact, gored by a bison in Yellowstone National Park on Monday and while she was injured, she did not die from her wounds, an Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center spokeswoman told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

“Our hospital has had no recent patient death as a result of the injuries being described in the NBC report,” Coleen Niemann said.

Twelve hours after publishing the erroneous account, NBC corrected its original story.

“A previous version of this article misstated the severity of the woman’s injuries. She survived being gored by a bison at Yellowstone. She was not killed,” a correction on the NBC News article said as of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Cowboy State Daily editor Jimmy Orr said his staff expressed caution about reporting the death because it couldn’t confirm it.

“It was an odd story because the NBC reporter didn’t attribute the death to any organization,” Orr said. “That gave us a red light. We held back.”

Orr said he reached out to the NBC reporter at 3:32am to ask about his source for the story.

“Hey Tim, I noticed your story said the woman who was gored by a bison in Yellowstone has died,” Orr’s email read. “Can I ask you where you got that information? We never got it and we’re right here.”

Stelloh never responded to the email.

“This is a perfect example of what not to do in journalism,” Orr said. “The rush to be first can bite you. Frankly I’m surprised that this report was so quickly mimicked. It’s embarrassing to say the least.”

The 25-year-old woman from Grove City, Ohio, approached to within 10 feet of a bison on Monday morning, officials said. Two other people were also within 25 yards of the same bison.

As the bison walked near a boardwalk at Black Sand Basin, just north of Old Faithful, the woman approached the animal. The bison gored her and tossed her 10 feet into the air.

The woman sustained a puncture wound and other injuries that were not immediately specified.

This is the first bison goring of 2022 in the park, but park officials noted Yellowstone bison have injured more people in the park than any other animal.

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Wyo Wildlife Taskforce Recommends Splitting Hunting Licenses For Mule, White-Tailed Deer

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce has unanimously recommended that the Wyoming Legislature split hunting licenses for white-tailed and mule deer to allow for improved management of the separate species.

Currently, white-tailed and mule deer are just considered as “deer” when it comes to issuing Wyoming hunting licenses, but the task force believes this should change. When a hunter receives a deer license, the choice should be made whether the hunt will be for white-tailed or mule deer, the task force said.

Task force Co-Chair Josh Coursey told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the recommendation was “long overdue.”

“This is something that wasn’t needed at the onset, until our white-tailed deer population has grown as robust as it has statewide,” he said. “But mule deer and white-tailed deer are completely different species, two different ungulates on the landscape.”

By changing the current statute, Coursey noted that this would also allow the Game and Fish Department to manage the two deer populations separately and accordingly.

The Legislature’s joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committee will take this recommendation up as an interim topic, but Coursey was not sure when the committee would study the issue.

Committee chairs Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment by publication time.

Coursey said he did not see this topic being a “heavy lift” for the Legislature, either during the interim or legislative session next year.

“I really don’t think this is going to be a difficult statute change,” he said. “We were mindful of this when making the recommendation and the Game and Fish Department has assured us that this won’t be difficult to implement if it does pass.”

Rick King, chief of the Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Division, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that splitting the deer into two populations for management has been discussed in some form for decades.

“The concept has been discussed internally and with the Wyoming Legislature for a long time,” King said. “Game and Fish has taken a look at this internally several times, going back to the late 1980s. A bill was introduced during the 2015 legislative session, but died in the TRW committee.”

Neither King nor Coursey could say how much the state would benefit, financially, if the licenses were to be split. Resident hunting license fees for Wyoming residents is $42, while non-resident fees are $374.

King did note that the process to apply for and obtain a hunting license for either mule or white-tailed deer would be the same as it is now.

In 2020, 21,370 mule deer and 19,904 white-tailed deer were harvested, according to the Game and Fish Department.

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Sweetwater County Hunters Banned From Hunting After Multiple Counts Of Poaching

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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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Kinnear Couple Fined $60,000 For Deer Baiting; “Not Nearly Enough” Says Wyo Hunting Group

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Kinnear couple fined $60,000 for using bait to lure deer to hunters is being condemned by the head of the southwestern Wyoming chapter of the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

Josh Coursey, president of the chapter, welcomed the news Wednesday that Michael and Teresa Rinehart had reached a federal plea deal in a wildlife baiting case that has been going on for more than a decade.

The Rineharts have been ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for the value of illegally-killed wildlife. The Rineharts were also placed on one year of unsupervised probation and had their hunting privileges suspended worldwide for one year.

Coursey told Cowboy State Daily that he felt the couple should have their hunting privileges revoked for life, not just a year.

“They’re obviously criminals and knew what they were doing,” he said. “If we really want to make these types of situations go away, I believe that the deterrent is that these penalties should be as stiff as they can be.”

The couple pleaded guilty in federal court to violating a federal wildlife trafficking law last year.

More Than A Decade

This case has been going on for more than a decade, according to the Game and Fish Department.

In 2011, the Shosone and Arapaho Fish and Game Department seized a trail camera on tribal lands near the boundary of the Rineharts’ Wind River Whitetail Ranch. The Rineharts were non-native private landowners.

The camera photos showed the Rineharts putting out large piles of corn during the fall hunting season to lure deer into shooting lanes directly in front of large, elevated permanent hunting blinds located on the couple’s property.

The Shoshone and Arapaho Game Department asked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to assist with the case, as it appeared the Rineharts were illegally hunting deer using bait, both on the reservation and on private lands, as part of their outfitting business.

The Rineharts’ business catered to both resident and non-resident white-tailed deer hunters. Over the next year, the Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected evidence for the case.

The investigation confirmed the Rineharts placed bait so their clients could kill deer, a violation of Wyoming hunting regulations.

The Rinhearts charged hunters up to $3,000 for each deer hunt. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement contacted clients in 11 states.

The investigation led to the Rineharts being charged with violations of the with a federal Lacey Act, which bans the transport of illegally killed animals.

In addition to the baiting violations, some clients also took more deer than allowed under state law and harvested deer without a license, among other crimes.

More To Come

Following the settlement of the federal case against the Rineharts, the Fremont County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case and could charge up to 30 clients with various wildlife violations in Wyoming state court.

Coursey called the couple’s use of bait “cheating” and said that what they were allowing hunters to do was not actually hunting.

“The aspect of the hunt is never the reward of the kill,” Coursey said. “It’s the entire process, like the stalk, being in nature, following the animal’s tracks. It’s matching your natural wits against an animal’s and this case certainly undermines all of that.”

Coursey said that it is a hunter’s responsibility to know the laws in the spot being hunted and to make sure those rules are being followed.

“This just comes down to personal responsibility and accountability,” he said. “Everybody that was involved in this knew that it wasn’t upfront and honest. If you continue to engage in activity like that, you have to recognize that you will be held accountable.”

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Wildlife Advocates Argue Against Hunting Wyo Wolves After Game And Fish Releases Wolf Report

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s success in maintaining a healthy wolf population is due in part to hunting of the predators, according to a Wyoming Game and Fish Department report, but two wildlife advocacy groups disagree.

This week, the department released its annual wolf management and monitoring report, which showed that as of Dec. 31, there were at least 314 wolves in the state.

The department’s report noted that the hunting of wolves as an important management tool in managing the population. Thirty wolves were killed during the 2021 hunting season.

“Wyoming’s wolf hunting seasons and strategy has been an effective wolf management tool,” said Ken Mills, the department’s lead wolf biologist. “With hunting, the state has met our population objective for four consecutive years.”

Hunting also promotes disease control and helps reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock, according to department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo.

“We also monitor wolves for genetic diversity — and we know our population in Wyoming is genetically diverse,” she said.

But Wyoming Wildlife Advocates Executive Director Kristin Combs told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the state’s use of hunting in wolf management was heavy-handed and unnecessary.

“As we have now seen in Yellowstone, when a large percentage of wolves are killed by humans, pack sizes decrease and reproduction increases. Killing wolves leads to more wolves being born the next year,” she said. “Trying to maintain a status quo of around 160 wolves in the state with a total of about 300 wolves is manipulating their pack dynamics in ways that can lead to increases in conflicts with livestock.”

She added that the state was setting up a “wolf conveyor belt” and that more wolves would be killed in the future as the state tries to keep the animals sectioned off to only the northwestern corner of the state.

Combs said wolf hunting was not a long-term solution and questioned what data supported the claim of hunting promoting tolerance and co-existence between humans and wolves, as the Game and Fish Department has claimed.

“We should be aiming for nearly zero conflicts by allowing wolf packs to stabilize and using non-lethal techniques that have been proven to reduce conflicts,” she said. “Social science isn’t practiced by the WGFD and making broad sweeping statements that wolf killing leads to public tolerance without data to back it up is just providing assumptions, not facts.

“The WGFD states that wolf populations are kept steady by a hunting season, but do you know what else keeps wolf populations steady? No hunting of wolves,” she continued.

A spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization working to protect endangered animals, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that wolves were too valuable to Wyoming and the northern Rockies’ wild places “to be needlessly gunned down.”

“We’re hopeful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will restore federal protections to wolves in Wyoming and across the northern Rockies,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the center. “Predictably, the (department’s) annual report shows that wolf-livestock conflicts increased in the area with the highest wolf killing. The science shows that killing wolves weakens packs, harms their ability target native ungulates and makes them more likely to attack livestock.”

In its report, the Game and Fish Department said 2021 marked the 20th consecutive year Wyoming’s gray wolf population remained above recovery criteria.

The report also said that wolves were confirmed to have killed or injured 109 head of livestock last year, 50 cattle, 53 sheep, five dogs and one horse. Thirty-two wolves were killed by the department in an effort to decrease livestock losses.

Combs argued that the number of cattle and sheep killed by wolves was small compared to Wyoming’s total livestock numbers. She added that the sheep killed by wolves were on public land grazing allotments.

“There are only a few producers who are losing livestock to wolves, it’s not a statewide systemic issue,” she said. “Wolf management should focus on providing these producers with financial resources and teaching them techniques that will minimize their losses while keeping wolves alive. In order to graze on public lands, there should also be a requirement for use of non-lethal conflict reduction methods before lethal removal is authorized.” 

Earlier this year, a federal court restored endangered species protections for the gray wolf that were rolled back during former President Donald Trump’s administration, which included relisting the wolf as endangered, except in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Gov. Mark Gordon have argued against Wyoming’s gray wolves being relisted as endangered, noting the species is thriving in the state.

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Wyoming Wolf Killing Colorado Cattle Won’t Be Put-Down Or Relocated Due To Endangered Species Status

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A wolf which broke away from a Wyoming pack will not be put-down for preying on cattle in northern Colorado, wildlife officials told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) spokesman Travis Duncan told Cowboy State Daily that three cows believed to have been killed by wolf “F1084” near Walden in northern Colorado will not be destroyed because of its status under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

CPW rather will be working closely with ranchers in the community to implement approved hazing methods, such as fencing, carcass management, guard animals, scare tactics, and more.

“Gray wolves are also a state endangered species in Colorado, and wolves may not be taken for any reason other than self-defense,” Duncan said. “The gray wolf in Colorado is protected by the ESA and state law. Penalties can vary and can include fines up to $100,000, jail time and loss of hunting privileges.”

The most recent report of cow depredation was on March 15. Injuries to the cow were consistent with a wolf attack and wolf tracks were found on the scene. A necropsy was performed, and bite marks confirmed the animal was a wolf.

“Three cows have been killed by wolves in three separate depredation incidents in Colorado, the first on Dec. 19, 2021,” Duncan said. “CPW wildlife officers believe the three depredation incidents on livestock that have occured in Jackson County, Colorado were due to the known population of 8 wolves nearby, which includes F1084.”

Duncan said depredation events are relatively rare and wolves tend to prey on ungulates, such as deer and elk. However, if livestock and wolves share a landscape, conflicts may arise, as CPW has seen in recent months.

“It is worth pointing out that this depredation incident is not related to or a result of wolf reintroduction efforts in Colorado,” Duncan said. “It’s also worth noting that the state has an existing depredation reimbursement fund for predation by other species that can be used for wolf depredation, and depredation reimbursement options specifically related to wolf reintroduction are currently being evaluated to develop reintroduction plan recommendations.”

F1084 mated and is traveling with M2101, who was collared in 2021. The female wolf was collared when she was in Wyoming. The two wolves had six pups in 2021, making the pack a total of eight and the first wolf litter in Colorado since the 1940s.

F1084 was originally thought to be male.

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Evanston Rancher Concerned About Wolverine Threat After One Wolverine Killed 18 Sheep In Utah

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The discovery of a wolverine in Utah near the Wyoming border has an Evanston rancher worried about the potential threat the predators bring, he told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

Vance Broadbent, who has cattle, sheep and goats throughout Uinta, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties as well as in Utah, told Cowboy State Daily that even though the number of wolverines in Wyoming is believed to be low, after seeing the damage done by the one in Utah, he is concerned about the predators.

Earlier this month, a wolverine was captured and collared by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources after it was caught attacking sheep.

“Until this incident, I didn’t know the devastation they could wreak,” Broadbent said. “It killed or injured 18 sheep over a couple of days. Then it was relocated to the area that we use for our summer range.”

While Broadbent was glad the animal was collared, he still was concerned about having another predator near his animals.

He said that in the current livestock market, ewes can cost anywhere from $350 to $450, meaning that if he lost 18, he would be out thousands of dollars.

“The bottom line is that those ewes are also producing lambs, so this isn’t just a one-time problem,” Broadbent said.

He added that one of his biggest concerns is how he would be reimbursed if one of his animals were to be killed by a wolverine. In situations where bears or mountain lions have killed one of his animals, the state has reimbursed him for the livestock.

But since wolverines do not have the same protections, any livestock producer would be out the cost of the animal if a wolverine were to kill it.

“I saw there was a sportsman group in Utah who reached out to the producer who lost 18 sheep and are going to reimburse him for the loss,” Broadbent said. “I think that’s awesome, but I also know we would have the same issue in Wyoming as in Utah.”

During the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s most recent wolverine monitoring count, there were only eight recorded in the state, but biologist Zack Walker previously told Cowboy State Daily that there are likely more.

Earlier this month, the sighting of a wolverine in Yellowstone caused so much excitement it became national news.

“They’re still considered a species of great conservation need and they’re actually protected by law in Wyoming,” Walker said. “They fill kind of a middle predator role, where they will eat live prey, but they also do a lot of scavenging, too.”

The entire species nearly went extinct in the 1920s in the lower 48 states because of unregulated harvesting, habitat loss and broad-scale carnivore poisoning, according to the Game and Fish department.

Wolverines are generally not dangerous to humans, unless they are backed into a corner and are desperate.

They are the largest mammal in the weasel family, and while they are similar to badgers, they tend to scavenge more than their temperamental family members.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story said that the state would reimburse a livestock producer when a coyote killed an animal, but this was incorrect. The story has been updated to reflect this.

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Spring Is In The Air: Tourist Tries To Pet Moose, Gets Instantly Attacked

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s like hearing “Gentlemen, start your engines” at the Indianapolis 500.

It’s been said that the “season opener” for spring is the first time of the new year a tourist at a natural destination — such as Yellowstone National Park — does something that prompts a wild animal attack.

Even if the attack didn’t happen in Yellowstone, which appears to be the case in this event, it still marks an important time of year, when the much-anticipated mauling season is right around the corner.

By all accounts, the first event of the year occurred a few weeks ago in Canada, according to the Canadian website “Noovelles.”

The title of the video posted on the site tells the story: Never pet a wild moose.

And, of course, the video goes on to show why that’s a wise bit of advice.

The video shows a snowmobiler climbing off of his snow machine and walking over to cheerfully greet a moose like he’s meeting Bullwinkle at a carnival.

However, Bullwinkle is not happy to see him.

Instead of shaking the tourist’s hand, the moose gets up on his hind legs and knocks him down and then repeatedly kicks him.

No mercy. When the guy attempts to roll to safety, the moose follows him and continues to pummel him. In fighting parlance, it’s an absolute ass-whooping.

Then, in English, a voice announces that the moose broke the tourist’s leg. Seconds later, the video shows the kick that may have just done that.

In the meantime, the tourist’s friends appear to show some concern. But not enough to risk the wrath of the miffed moose. Mostly, the injured tourist’s pals — including the guy who kept the camera rolling the entire time — just have front row seats to the epic battle between a snowmobiler and a force of nature weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds

The condition of the tourist is unknown.

Many of the French-speaking commenters, however, mention that his snowmobile escaped serious injury.

The clock is now ticking for the first event in Yellowstone.

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Rare Sighting of Wolverine in Yellowstone; Biologist Says Only 8th Sighting in 15 Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Photographs Republished With Permission From Yellowstone Insight

A group of people on a tour in Yellowstone National Park over the weekend got the opportunity of a lifetime when they came across a rare sight: a wolverine in the wild.

In what is believed to be only the eighth such sighting in the last 15 years, the visitors riding through the park on a guided tour Saturday saw a wolverine walking through the area. A 2-minute video posted to YouTube by visitor Carl Kemp shows the wolverine moving through the area. The gasps of other visitors on the tour can be heard in the background.

“After an already amazing day in the park, filled with wolves, bears, mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, golden eagles and more, we turned around to make our way back, when I saw what I thought was a black bear running down the road,” Kemp wrote in the video description. “As soon as it turned, we realized we were in the middle of a once in a lifetime experience.”

The group’s tour guide stopped the vehicle, and allowed the group to take photos and video of the wolverine from a distance.

“The wolverine…appeared to be more curious than afraid,” Kemp said. “It looked at us several times before bounding up the hill. After giving us one more inquisitive look from the top of the hill…it disappeared into the Yellowstone’s deep evergreen forest, and left us all with a memory we will never forget.”

Very Rare Sight

Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Zack Walker told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the wolverine sighting was a very rare sight.

“We’re getting sightings, but it’s usually on a trail camera or something like that, but very few of them are seen in-person,” Walker said. “We usually hear about a handful of sightings every year.”

The Game and Fish department does not track the sightings in Yellowstone, but according to the park’s website, only seven have been documented in the park over the last 15 years.

Walker said the sightings the department hears about are usually in the western mountain area, though, around Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and Cody.

However, it is an exciting event any time a wolverine is spotted in Wyoming, Walker said. He added he hopes such sightings occur more often and noted that the wolverine population has been expanding in the region, although ever so slowly.

“They’re still considered a species of great conservation need and they’re actually protected by law in Wyoming,” he said. “They fill kind of a middle predator role, where they will eat live prey, but they also do a lot of scavenging, too.”

Photo republished with permission from Yellowstone Insight

Guiding Company

An employee of Yellowstone Insight, a guiding company located outside the park in Montana, took many photos of the wolverine.

They reported seeing the animal at 11:38am on Saturday and said they watched the wolverine for three minutes until an oncoming vehicle made it scamper off the road and back into the wild.

But for those three minutes, they said they were thrilled.

“My guest said out loud, exactly what I was thinking, ‘Is that a bear?’, they wrote on their Facebook page.

“For a hot second, we both thought that it might be a young black bear moving away from us, but as it turned and looked over its right shoulder towards us – there was no mistaking that the animal was indeed, a Wolverine!”

Editor’s note: The story and headline originally said this was the seventh sighting, but it is believed to be the eighth.

Photo republished with permission from Yellowstone Insight

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Wyoming Game And Fish, Landowners Save Moose Calf From Icy Pond

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department joined forces with a number of Jackson community members recently to save a moose calf from an icy pond and a tragic fate.

“This is not necessarily a unique situation, with moose calves falling through the ice, but it is also unique in the fact that we were able to get there in time to save the calf,” department spokesman Mark Gocke told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “We normally don’t get a call about this situation until after the calf has died and been found.”

The afternoon of Jan. 24, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department office in Jackson was contacted by a landowner in the South Park area, alerting them to a moose calf that had fallen through a hole in an icy pond and could not get out.

Three department staff arrived on the scene to find a large manmade pond with at least four aerators in it, with open water around each of them, surrounded by thicker shelf ice. The calf could not touch the bottom of the pond, but was also unable to climb out of the hole due to the thick ice surrounding it.

Gocke noted there were several hurdles to overcome to save the calf, the main one being a cow moose, which had previously been collared by the department, standing nearby.

“You have an adult cow that’s obviously stressed out about its calf and is likely going to be protective against people getting near it,” he said. “Then, you have the ice that could break while you’re trying to get an animal out of the water. Plus, this is happening during the winter and it’s cold, so you have to do this in a certain amount of time.”

He noted that the Game and Fish staff wore lifejackets while doing the rescue, in case anyone went into the water.

To solve at least one problem, the Game and Fish staff tranquilized the cow moose for her own safety and the safety of the humans in the area.

However, then another issue popped up: she laid down on the ice. While the ice might have been relatively thick, a 600- to 700-pound animal falling asleep on it was probably not going to end well for anyone. One of the biologists was with the cow when she heard the ice crack underneath them.

The decision was made to reverse the tranquilizer, which got the cow up and off the ice in about five to 10 minutes. Then, she just watched as her calf was rescued from the icy water.

“Interestingly, she just laid down and watched and allowed everybody to get the calf out,” Gocke said.

A moose calf watches as its calf is warmed up after being rescued from an icy pond.

A rope was tied around the calf, and it took at least four people to pull it out of the pond. By the time the young moose came out of the water, it had been in for at least 90 minutes and was hypothermic and exhausted.

By this time, two department wildlife veterinarians arrived on scene and went to work getting the calf warm by using blankets, towels and hot water bottles provided by all of the neighbors. It took about 45 minutes to get the calf warm and strong enough so it could stand on its own.

A moose calf is warmed with blankets, towels and hot water bottles after being saved from an icy pond.

The mother and calf were reunited and the next day, a Jackson resident sent over a picture of the two after he spotted them while driving.

Gocke noted the incident was a good lesson for landowners who are using aerators in their manmade ponds to stop using them during the winter months, as animals can easily fall through the ice and drown.

“It was an exhausting and stressful situation, but what a great story this was,” Gocke said. “We could not have done this without the help of the landowners and neighbors, though.”

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Man Attacked By Moose While Walking Dog Near Jackson

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man was injured Friday morning when he was attacked by a moose near Jackson while walking his dog, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The man was walking his dog on the bike path northeast of the Wilson Elementary School in Wilson around 7:15 a.m. on Friday when he noticed a bull moose approximately 50 yards away. His dog was at his side when the bull decided to charge him and knocked him down.

The man was admitted to the hospital for his injuries. Game and Fish officials received the report Saturday and promptly responded to the scene, but did not see the moose in the area.

While human injuries from moose are not common, Game and Fish officials are warning people that it is now the fall mating season for moose, elk and other ungulates and to give wildlife plenty of room.

Moose and elk are relatively common throughout the Jackson Hole valley, but especially along the Snake River corridor and slopes of the Teton Range, including residential areas associated with the towns of Wilson, Teton Village and Jackson.

The Jackson Game and Fish office commonly receives an increased number of calls this time of year regarding wildlife in residential areas, especially moose and bears.

Wildlife officials offer the following advice on how to avoid a conflict with these animals:

  • Do not feed wildlife.
  • Be especially watchful during times of low light. Moose and other animals can be difficult to see at night.
  • Look for fresh signs of wildlife, such as tracks or scat on trails, pathways, or around houses.
  • Never crowd or surround an animal and always allow the animal an escape route.
  • Always control pets while walking them and make sure there are no wildlife around before letting animals out of the house.
  • View and photograph animals from a distance.
  • Carry and know how to use bear pepper spray as a defense.

Moose attacks have been regularly reported over this summer. Incidents involving, moose, people and dogs have been a fairly common occurrence, happening multiple times in Colorado.

A Boulder, Colorado, woman was attacked by a moose in August after literally walking into it near Winter Park, Colorado. The moose reportedly attacked the woman twice. She said the second time, she played dead and the animal left.

An older New Mexico man was attacked in August by a bull moose while running with his two dogs on a trail in central Colorado.

An elderly woman was severely injured late in mid-August while dog-sitting when she was stomped by a cow moose in western Colorado.

In June, Shoshone National Forest officials warned of an aggressive cow moose seen around Sinks Canyon.

An elderly man was stomped by a moose in Colorado in late May. 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.

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Three Yellowstone Wolves Killed During First Week Of Montana Hunting Season

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three wolves that were members of Yellowstone National Park’s Junction Butte pack were killed during the first week of hunting season in Montana, park officials reported Monday.

The pack is one of the most-viewed wolf packs in the world and roams the lands in and around the park’s northern range. It has now been reduced from 27 to 24 wolves with the loss of two female pups and one female yearling.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed three wolves were killed outside of the park in the general vicinity of where the pack was traveling in mid-September.

Yellowstone wolves in the northern range spend an estimated 5% of their time outside the park, usually in late fall.

For over a decade, the state of Montana limited the number of wolves taken from state wolf management units which are immediately adjacent to the park’s northern boundary. Ninety-eight percent of wolves in Montana are outside those units.

Recent state changes to hunting and trapping have lifted restrictions within these units, making Yellowstone’s wolf population in the northern range vulnerable to hunting.

Montana has also authorized the use of bait on private property to lure wolves. Over 33% of the boundary Yellowstone shares with Montana is within one mile of private property where baiting is now permissible.

“Yellowstone plays a vital role in Montana’s wildlife conservation efforts and its economy. These wolves are part of our balanced ecosystem here and represent one of the special parts of the park that draw visitors from around the globe,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly“We will continue to work with the state of Montana to make the case for reinstating quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone as well as Montana’s direct economic interests derived from the hundreds of millions spent by park visitors each year.”

Visitor spending within communities that are 50 miles from Yellowstone exceeds $500 million per year, tens of millions of which is spent by visitors coming to watch wolves and supporting Montana businesses in gateway communities, the park said in a news release.

The Junction Butte Pack formed in 2012 in the northern section of the park. It is the most observed pack in Yellowstone because its members den within view of the Northeast Entrance Road and the road to Slough Creek Campground, providing thousands of visitor’s daily views.

The pack had eight pups in 2021.  

“Montana’s new laws are putting bullets not just into wolves but into the hearts of everyone who loves Yellowstone’s wolf families,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The puppies and yearling wolf were raised inside a national park where people are not a threat. To mercilessly gun them down when they step beyond Yellowstone’s borders is cruel beyond any measure. We’ll continue to fight to stop this senseless killing.” 

In May and July, a slew of organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians — filed two petitions with the Secretary of the Interior. The groups claim new laws in the states of Idaho and Montana will “drastically reduce their wolf populations.”

Wyoming has at least 327 gray wolves, according to the most recent count. At least 147 of those wolves reside within the wolf trophy game management area, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department focuses its management efforts.

The wolf population for Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 123 and the Wind River Reservation has around 21 wolves.

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Should The Wolf Be Relisted? Feds Considering The Question

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Responding to concerns from environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that it will study whether gray wolves in Wyoming and elsewhere in the West should be relisted as a threatened or endangered species.

In May and July, a slew of organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians — filed two petitions with the Secretary of the Interior. The groups claim new laws in the states of Idaho and Montana will “drastically reduce their wolf populations.”

On Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the petitions presented “substantial, credible information” that relisting the species may be warranted and that the agency will conduct a status review.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., immediately denounced the decision.

“Today’s actions are just more of the endless political antics from Washington bureaucrats and extreme environmentalists who have no interest in doing what’s right for Wyoming,” Barrasso said in a statement. “Wyoming, not Washington, continues to be in the best position to manage the state’s wolf population.”

In a Thursday statement, Gov. Mark Gordon said he’s confident in Wyoming’s wolf management program, saying it both meets wolf population targets while allowing producers to protect their livestock.

“Ours was a hard-fought and careful process that resulted in a unique plan that works. If it’s not broken we don’t need to fix it,” he said. “Wyoming will stand by our plan, which is supported with unassailable data.”

Gordon called Fish and Wildlife’s action was an attempt to usurrp state authority.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., similarly said that the wolf has recovered and called Fish and Wildlife’s announcement an example of why the Endangered Species Act must be reformed.

“Activists should not be able to take advantage of the ESA’s loopholes,” Cheney said Thursday. “We must update this law to prevent this from happening and ensure that local stakeholders and states, as opposed to the federal government, are calling the shots when it comes to these decisions.”

According to the May petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Humane Society of the United States, hunters, trappers and private contractors in Idaho can kill up to 90% of the state’s estimated 1,500 wolves, using new — and highly effective — methods of hunting previously unavailable. In Montana, new rules could pave the way for killing approximately 85% of the population, currently reported to be at 1,200 wolves, the groups charge.

“Unless the Service restores federal protections, the region’s wolves will soon lose decades of progress toward recovery,” the petition says.

Bonnie Rice, senior representative with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said the goal of Montana’s and Idaho’s “extreme” new laws is to decimate wolf populations in the northern Rockies.

“It makes no sense to allow wolves to be driven back to the brink of extinction and reverse over 40 years of wolf recovery efforts,” she said.

The groups asked the federal government to immediately protect gray wolves in the Northern Rockies with emergency listing authority, but the service did not grant that request.

“I’m hopeful that wolves will eventually get the protection they deserve, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should have stopped the wolf-killing now,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The service says it did find the petitions provided substantial information that potential increases in human-caused mortality may pose a threat to the gray wolf in the western U.S. The Service also said the new regulatory mechanisms in Idaho and Montana may be inadequate to address threats. “Therefore, the Service finds that gray wolves in the western U.S. may warrant listing,” the agency wrote.

Fish and Wildlife’s next steps will “include in-depth status reviews and analyses using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted.”

When the Trump administration removed all gray wolves in the contiguous United States from protections in 2020, several groups threatened legal action. Under one of President Joe Biden’s first executive orders, federal agencies were asked to review controversial actions taken by the Trump administration — including stripping federal protections from gray wolves.

In August, the Biden administration said it was sticking by the decision to lift protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. But federal wildlife officials said there was growing concern over aggressive wolf hunting seasons adopted for the predators.

In May, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said that the state’s gray wolf populations have remained stable and are at “healthy levels.” At the end of 2020, there were at least 327 wolves in Wyoming, marking the 19th straight year in which wolf numbers remained above minimum delisting criteria. The Game and Fish said the figures also showed “the way the presence of the animal has become integrated into the broader ecosystem.”

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Blood-Sucking Midges Lead To Disease In Wyoming White-Tail Deer And Antelope 

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The drought hitting Wyoming through the summer has not only wreaked havoc on the ag industry and fishermen, it’s also led to an outbreak of a wildlife disease caused by tiny, blood-sucking parasites that are attacking ungulates in at least three Wyoming counties. 

Currently, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has detected epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in several white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope in the Arvada area as well as in areas surrounding Douglas, Cheyenne and Laramie, according to WGFD Public Information Officer Sara DiRienzo. 

EHD is spread through the disease-carrying midge, which, much like a mosquito, feeds on “blood meals” and infects animals it feeds on.

EHD, which is not transmissible from animal-to-animal contact and has no impact on humans, can be fatal to white-tailed deer and pronghorn, DiRienzo said, but will not necessarily kill an impacted animal.

Instead, it can lead to symptoms like fever and lethargy. 

The disease typically cycles every seven to 10 years, she said, and is driven by hot weather and drought and conditions, usually in the fall, that lead to wildlife congregating around small water holes where the midges thrive.

While there have been outbreaks of EHD in the past, WGFD expects to see a greater impact this year than in years past.

“This year seems worse, but we are just at the beginning of the outbreak,” said Hank Edwards, WGFD wildlife health laboratory supervisor. 

Wildlife managers predict that white-tailed deer will be impacted the hardest with isolated outbreaks among pronghorns, DiRienzo added, noting that WGFD is carefully monitoring the spread of the disease on an online map

Humans and pets are not at risk of contracting the disease, DiRienzo said, though a significant outbreak may curtail hunting season as WGFD continues to monitor spread.

“Hunters shouldn’t have concerns about consuming animals,” she said, “and we are not asking hunters or the public to contribute samples or reports. Our goal is to let the public know we are aware of the disease and are monitoring its presence.”

The outbreak is expected to continue until the first hard frost that will wipe out large midge populations while some animals will develop natural immunity. 

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Boulder, Colorado Woman Hospitalized After Walking Into Moose

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A Boulder, Colorado, woman was attacked by a moose on Sunday after literally walking into it near Winter Park, Colorado.

The Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) department reported that the unnamed woman was walking in “complete darkness” at 4:30 a.m. on a forest road when she bumped into the animal.

The agency said that moose generally don’t like to be surprised and have a tendency to respond violently when bumped into in pitch-black surroundings.

The moose reportedly attacked the woman twice. She said the second time, she played dead and the animal left.

The woman received injuries to her back, legs, and wrist but was later released by the medical center in Granby, Colorado.

As a result of the accident, the wildlife agency put out an unusual reminder to the public that walking in complete darkness at 4:30 a.m. on forest roads where wildlife is present is not a good idea.

“Hikers should choose routes with good visibility and be extra cautious when walking in close proximity to willows and thick habitat,” CPW Area Wildlife Manager Jeromy Huntington said.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich said this was one of the “stupidest things” he had ever heard of.

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Bison Attacks Another Woman in South Dakota; Pants Stay On This Time.

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s August and it’s South Dakota. That means someone is going to get thrown by a bison.

Reminiscent of the spectacular bison de-pantsing of 2020, another woman in South Dakota got in the crosshairs of a bison — and lost.

This time, it’s not as dramatic. It could be but no video has surfaced.

Just a fuzzy picture and an eyewitness.

Kind of like a Saquatch sighting.

Angela Ohmer, from Rapid City, South Dakota, took a photo of downed person, a departing bison, and a man looking like he’s there to help.

Ohmer explained on her Facebook page that this occurred during a wedding in South Dakota on Saturday.

“Only in South Dakota can you go to a wedding and witness a bison tossing a woman that got too close!!!! Not even kidding!  This is not a petting zoo, homey!” Ohmer said.

Perhaps the bison was simply celebrating the event and was tossing the woman like the bride tosses her bouquet.

Ohmer went on to clarify that unlike the situation of a year ago where the dimwitted tourist did try to pet a bison, this couple was just walking past the bison “and it turned on them.”

Sheila Schielke-Ross concurred: “She was simply walking to her cabin from the wedding. It randomly turned direction and attacked her with no warning. Luckily, a ranger was there and was able to immediately intervene. She did nothing to provoke the animal, other than walk.”

Kobee Stalder, visitor services program manager for the Custer State Park, said the woman did not suffer any significant injuries.

“Other than some bumps and bruises, she was OK,” he told the Rapid City Journal. “We’re very fortunate in that aspect that no more severe injuries were sustained during that incident.”

Nathan Foote, who appears to be acting as the official scorekeeper of South Dakota, noted that bison are leading women by a 2-0 margin.

Another commenter posted a photo of Custer State Park’s new ambulance featuring a bison on it. 

And actually, that’s not a joke. That is on the side of the service’s ambulance.

In the meantime, commenters on the Yellowstone: Invasion of the Idiots Facebook page, did not seem to be too concerned.

“Thank God! I was afraid the tourist season would end without the annual bison toss the tourist game. The bison love it,” said Marie Morgan.

As for the woman who took the photo, she left a happy person.

“Best. Wedding. Ever. 😆,” Ohmer said.

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Moose Calf Rescued From Burned Out Basement, Reunited With Mother

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A moose calf was rescued from a burned out basement and reunited with its mother in northern Colorado late last week, officials announced Monday.

The calf was trapped in the foundation of a house in Grand Lake that burned during last year’s East Troublesome Fire. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers received a call on the morning of Aug. 19 from residents in the house’s neighborhood reporting that a moose calf had fallen into the 4-foot deep foundation that was left when the rest of the structure burned.

The neighbors tried to rescue the calf themselves by creating a ramp with boards that might have allowed the calf to climb out, but it was unable to get enough traction to make the steep climb.

CPW Officer Serena Rocksund responded to the calls for help and found the calf’s agitated mother nearby. 

“The calf’s mother would come up to the foundation, walk over to the calf and touch muzzles and walk away about 40 yards,” Rocksund said. “The residents saw the calf and mother were stressed and needed help so they called CPW.”

Rocksund tranquilized both the cow moose and calf and the calf was removed from the basement. Then both animals were placed inside a wildlife transport trailer to be relocated to more suitable habitat.

The two were released in near Craig, Colorado, later that afternoon.

“It’s a good reminder that folks need to fence off foundations and cover their window wells because animals can get trapped and die,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Jeromy Huntington. “We’ve had some increased reports of human-moose conflicts near Grand Lake since the East Troublesome Fire burn and we didn’t want to take the risk that this moose might get trapped again if we released it near the burn area.”

Huntington said CPW has been working to grow the moose population near Craig and Meeker, Colorado.

“So this relocation actually was a win-win for these moose and the CPW project,” Huntington said.

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Colorado Wildlife Officers Relocate Moose From Parking Garage

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A young bull moose that made itself at home in Vail, Colorado, was tranquilized in a parking garage and removed from the area Tuesday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife the department announced this week.

The moose is being relocated to a remote area about 120 miles north in a more appropriate moose habitat. Wildlife officers estimated it to be 2 to 3 years old.

The behavior of the moose indicated it was becoming accustomed to the area and was reluctant to leave on its own, so wildlife officers concluded relocation was the best move.

“Everything went smoothly this morning, no issues,” Wildlife Officer Devin Duval said. “We were definitely within that human health and safety realm where there could potentially be an injury to a human or the animal. That is the reason we decided to move it.”

Calls started trickling in a month ago related to the moose frequenting a few of Vail’s neighborhoods.

“Largely, most of these neighborhoods coincide with really optimal moose habitat, notwithstanding the fact there are a lot of pedestrians and human activity,” Duval said. “Moose are not fully concerned with that, they usually are unencumbered by the activity here in Vail.”

Wildlife officers kept an eye on on the moose for the better part of the month, but within the last 10 days, it started frequenting the ground level of the parking garages.

He was seen licking the walls structures, presumably for all the deicing agents that are used on the upper-story decks of the parking structure.

CPW worked closely with the Town of Vail to remove residual salts that may have served as an attractant, but the moose continued to remain in the area.  

“He was pretty regularly coming into the parking structure first thing in the morning and then would kind of clear out before it got too busy,” Duval said.

Wildlife officers did not feel the moose was acting aggressively, but it was agitated by the presence of dogs.

Wildlife officers decided to relocate the bull from the parking garage when it started spending the majority of the day in the area.

“This moose was not electing to spend time elsewhere, but now people can be at ease walking to work through that garage and the moose will be moved to more appropriate habitat,” Duval said.

The Vail Fire Department, Police Department and crews from the Vail Public Works Department all aided in moving the moose out of the garage. Wildlife officers estimated the bull to be 750 pounds.

“Coincidentally, it is kind of a serendipitous scenario in that our wildlife officials there were looking for some help with some translocation, so those folks are going to take this moose and find some more appropriate habitat for him,” Duval said.

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Motley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx Shares Video of Moose In His Yard, Didn’t Pet It

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rock star and Motley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx recently shared an Instagram post of a pretty incredible sight in his Jackson yard: a large moose.

Sixx posted the video late Wednesday evening of the moose in his yard in Jackson, where he has been living for more than a year at this point.

“It’s his yard, we just get to use it…sometimes,” Sixx wrote in text on the video of the moose, which was soundtracked by the late Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.”

The video was (likely) taken by Sixx as he is driven past the moose, so we can definitely say he didn’t stop and try to pet it or take a picture with it.

The post had racked up more than 30,000 likes by Thursday morning and hundreds of comments from people who were amazed by the incredible creature just feet away from the rock star. Basically, we’re saying to be like Nikki Sixx and stay away from amazing (and aggressive) wild animals.

Plenty of fans urged Sixx to be cautious of the animal.

“Just don’t get too close to him, Nikki.  They’re very territorial and don’t like having humans too close,” said John McBride

“These fellas are amazing but they can turn on you in a second,” cautioned Scootomen.

Some had other advice.

“I would have shot him in the head right then and there. And then I would have put him on my grill and have mooseburgers by lunchtime,” Rico Wabbler said.

Last year, Sixx and his family made the jump to Wyoming officially, selling their California home and taking up residence in Jackson. The bassist spent much of last year praising the state and its offerings.

“It’s cheaper, no B.S. type of people, everyone is … extremely outdoors-driven…so because of that, everyone is extremely healthy,” Sixx said in a Los Angeles radio interview in September. “There’s no entertainment business here, so you’re not dealing with that type of stuff. You’re just dealing with blue collar people.”

Wyoming has also been helpful for his creative process, allowing him to paint, write and apparently make knives.

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Wyoming, Colorado Wildlife Officials Warn of Livestock, Bighorn Sheep Mixing

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Big Horn Sheep

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming and Colorado officials are warning that the mixing of domestic livestock and bighorn sheep could lead to negative impacts for the region’s bighorn sheep populations.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials this week expressed concern about domestic goats that are used for weed and vegetation control mingling with the bighorn sheep population in Estes Park, due to concern of the potential spread of disease between the domestic animals and the sheep.

The problem is not limited to Estes Park, but could affect the entire state of Colorado and much of the Rocky Mountain West, including Wyoming. Since bighorn sheep are so closely related to the domesticated animal, it is easy for disease to pass between the two, according to Wyoming Wildlife Advocates.

This is a major concern for wildlife managers across the West because diseases such as pneumonia and conjunctivitis can wipe out up to 90% of a bighorn sheep herd, according WWA.

Colorado has around 7,000 bighorn sheep in the state, while Wyoming has around 6,500, according to a report from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep historically existed in tremendous numbers in the western United States.

After being reduced to near extinction in the region, bighorn sheep have made strong recoveries due to efforts by western wildlife management agencies and conservation groups. However, the sheep still face significant threats, especially from diseases transmitted by domestic sheep and goats. 

In the early 2000s, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department created a working group to develop recommendations for preventing the spread of disease between domestic animals and the wild game. The group recommended the introduction of effective vaccines for the animals and the relocation of bighorn sheep to safer areas where they would still be protected.

“It only takes one sheep that contracts a disease to hinder an entire herd,” said Chase Rylands, a wildlife officer in Estes Park.

Adult sheep survivors of such diseases can become chronic carriers and infect lambs every year.

The threat of disease introduction when domestic animals do co-mingle with wild herds is so severe that wildlife officials are sometimes forced to euthanize any wild bighorns that come into contact with the domestic animals and animals that appear to show signs of illness afterward.

Inaction may result in a cascading effect of disease outbreak, death and poor population performance, which could take decades to overcome, wildlife officials said.

“Disease transmission is nothing to be taken lightly with Colorado’s wildlife, especially with bighorns,” Ryands said. “Coexisting with wildlife isn’t always easy, but preventing the comingling of domestic animals with wildlife is most often preventable and essential to sustaining populations of all wildlife.” 

For those with domestic livestock that needs to be separated from bighorn sheep encounters, Colorado Parks and Wildlife suggested implementing sound fencing practices, such as using an electric outrigger fence (two feet from wire fencing) or double fencing (two wire fences with a minimum spacing of at least 10 feet in between and a height of eight feet).

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Fatal Disease Found In Devils Tower Bats

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Researchers have confirmed the presence of a deadly bat disease in bats at Devils Tower National Monument.

While this is the first time “white-nose syndrome” has been identified in the the state, the fungus that causes WNS was potentially detected in southeast Wyoming as early as 2018, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Biologists from the University of Wyoming discovered evidence of WNS during surveys in early May, when they captured bats and took samples to test for the fungus.
The samples were sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, where they detected the presence of the fungus on four of the 19 bats tested. Two species, a northern-long eared bat and a fringed myotis, showed visible signs of WNS.
The presence of WNS in Wyoming is not a surprise for wildlife managers, since the disease was confirmed in the Black Hills in South Dakota in 2018, and more recently in a dead bat found in Fallon County, Montana, in April. 
“The spread of white-nose syndrome into northeastern Wyoming is disheartening and frustrating,” said Devils Tower Chief of Resources Management Russ Cash. “The devastation that white-nose syndrome brings to bat populations is terrifying. Bats are such an important piece of our ecosystem and our well-being as humans. Bats devour unbelievable amounts of insects and pests that are a nuisance to humans.”
Detection of WNS at Devils Tower demonstrates the continued spread of this deadly disease, which has killed millions of bats in North America since the fungus first appeared in 2006 in New York.

Scientists believe humans may have unintentionally brought the fungus from Eurasia to the U.S.

Wyoming is the 37th state to confirm the disease, which has also been found in seven Canadian provinces.
The fungus that causes this disease is primarily spread through direct contact between bats. However, people can spread the fungus when using clothes, footwear and gear that has been used at infected bat roosts, such as caves or rock crevices. 
The best way to reduce the risk of spread is to stay out of closed caves and mines; use site-dedicated footwear, clothing and gear; and clean and disinfect these items before and after visiting caves and other places where bats live. 

If a person sees a sick or dead bat, they should report it to park rangers or Game and Fish biologists, but should not touch or pick up the bat.

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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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Last Day of National Elk Refuge Feeding Set For Monday

in News/wildfire

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By Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

The National Elk Refuge will end its supplemental feed program for elk on Monday, about four days earlier than average and about two weeks earlier than closure dates in years with similar snowpack depths.

Refuge Biologist Eric Cole explained the early closure is part of the refuge’s “Step-Down Plan” adopted in 2019. The plan is aimed at modifying elk distribution so fewer elk winter on the National Elk Refuge and reducing wildlife disease transmission.

A major part of the plan is reducing the feed season length on the refuge.

“Because we know the relationship between daily snowpack depth on the south end of the National Elk Refuge and when we ended feeding in the past, we can use that relationship to estimate a feeding end date that is two weeks early,” Cole said.

Cole explained that based on current snow conditions at Refuge Headquarters, feeding would have typically continued until April 12.

In recent days there have been approximately 8,500 elk and 300 bison on feed at The Refuge.

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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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Wyoming Conservation License Plate Sales Generate $300K

in News/Good news/wildlife

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming raised more than $300,000 in 2020 through the sale of state conservation license plates.

The money will be invested in projects that improve Wyoming’s roadways and reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife, Gov. Mark Gordon announced.

“Thank you to the thousands of people, businesses and organizations who purchased the Wyoming Conservation License Plate and helped fulfill this challenge,” Gordon said. “We share the roads in Wyoming with our abundant wildlife, and the funds generated from the sales of the plate serves as a basis for projects that can prevent crashes with over 6,000 big game annually.”

The Wyoming conservation license plate is a permanent specialty plate option for drivers and is available for $180 with an annual $50 retention fee, in addition to regular registration fees.

The funds, along with other donations, will be used to support wildlife crossing initiative projects throughout the state. Planning and research for these projects is led by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming Department of Transportation.

Currently, there is a list of 240 projects throughout the state aimed at improving roadway safety.

Gordon extended his appreciation to the 44 Wyoming businesses that helped with the sale of the plates by joining a challenge in which they would offer discounts to drivers of vehicles displaying the conservation plates. Other companies were honored for equipping their entire vehicle fleets with the conservation license plates.

“Many businesses and organizations took the extra step to outfit their vehicle fleets with this plate and show their dedication to this cause, and I am very appreciative of those efforts as well,” Gordon said.

In August, there had been 15 vehicle/wildlife collisions, resulting in 19 injuries but no fatalities.

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.

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.

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Chronic Wasting Disease Found In Grand Teton 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 Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An elk in Grand Teton National Park has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently announced.

The cow elk was harvested by a participant in the park’s elk reduction program and tissue samples were collected as part of the park’s mandatory testing program.

This is the first elk to test positive for CWD both in northwest Wyoming and in close proximity to elk feeding grounds.

There have been no cases of CWD in humans and no strong evidence that people can contract the disease. However, experimental studies raise the concern that CWD may pose a risk to humans and suggest as a result it is important to prevent human exposure.

Therefore, the Game and Fish Department and the National Park Service are adhering to the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization that hunters not consume any animal that is obviously ill or tests positive for CWD.   
Wildlife managers said that while the positive test in an elk raises concern, the positive test result doesn’t come as a surprise based on the steady progression of the disease westward across the state and the positive result of CWD in a mule deer in the park in the fall of 2018.

Mule deer have also tested positive for CWD in Star Valley in 2016, in the Pinedale area in 2017 and in the Wyoming Range in 2020.
Intensive CWD surveillance of the Jackson elk herd has been ongoing since 2009.

Over 4,500 CWD samples have been collected and tested for the entire Jackson elk herd with more than 1,400 samples collected through the park’s elk reduction program alone. This is the first elk to test positive.

The positive test result for an elk in northwest Wyoming came as Game and Fish and partnering federal agencies recently began a public collaborative effort to discuss the future management of elk feedgrounds in Wyoming.

While Game and Fish is actively accepting public comment on state-managed elk feedgrounds through this public process, there is no plan to close any feedgrounds.

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‘Threatened’ Status For Tree Concerning, Gordon Says

in News/Mark Gordon/wildlife

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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Tiny Dog Challenges Gigantic Moose In Pinedale; Ultimately Loses

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

While many wildlife encounters Wyoming can be considered “funny” or “terrifying,” this one could get the award for “most adorable,” at least for the day.

A clip posted to video sharing website Rumble is gaining momentum this week, since it shows the cutest guard dog in Wyoming defending some property from a significantly larger moose in Pinedale.

According to the description, the moose was nosing around the senior center, looking inside the doors and windows, but this wasn’t the moose’s first visit.

“A dog lives with there with a senior citizen,” the description said. “He is so brave, tries to protect his mom and doesn’t get hurt. The moose is walking away very friendly.”

It’s a wonder the moose can even see inside the windows, that’s how tall it is.

“He wants to get inside,” a person behind the camera commented.

Then, the mighty hunter comes charging in at the moose, who looks more confused at the tiny creature than anything else. The moose attempts to sniff the dog, who isn’t having any of this horned animal’s nonsense.

The moose gets the hint, walks away and the dog goes back to its owner, ready to protect another day.

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

in News/wildlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, Kirk. And happy birthday.

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

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

in News/wildlife

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We love wildlife stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in News/wildlife

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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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Herd of 125 Bison Escape From Nebraska Feedlot; Many Still At Large

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Some Buffalo got out this morning. Loomis, NE

Posted by Josh Chapin on Wednesday, August 26, 2020

If this were a true 2020 story, 125 grizzlies would have escaped at the same time while a Sharknado happened.

But if we can’t have that, we’ll still take this story.

A herd of 125 bison knocked down a gate and escaped from their feedlot on Wednesday morning near Overton, Nebraska and just like any jailbreak story, they kept running and trying to elude the authorities.

They were smart too. They broke up into smaller packs to throw their captors off.

And although it’s been nearly two full days since the escape, they’re not all captured yet.

So the feedlot people brought in the experts — some company from Kansas that “specializes in the handling of bison.”

But they showed up late on Thursday so many of the bison are still at large. Perhaps some are heading up to Custer State Park.

In the meantime, the local sheriff asked residents not to act like townspeople in a Frankenstein movie and take matters into their own hands.

He told the Omaha World-Herald that he understood farmers wanted to protect their crops but asked they “not grab firearms and take action.”

“Let this company do what they were hired to do,” the sheriff said. “They will not need any assistance, so please refrain from forming search parties and taking any action.”

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Laramie County Sheriff’s Deputy Catches Escaped Emu Without Getting a Roundhouse Kick to the Head

in News/Crazy animal stories

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The Rocky Mountain West is still the wild, wild west.  And in 2020, all bets are off. Anything can happen.

Earlier in the week, Idaho police were called to wrangle an alligator who had escaped from the Idaho Reptile Zoo and was hiding under someone’s trailer.

They successfully “wrangled” the gator and he made it back without incident.

Here in Wyoming, another exotic creature was on the loose. An emu, the second-largest living bird in the world (by height), escaped from its home somewhere in Laramie County.

Just like up in Idaho, law enforcement was called and the gigantic bird was “wrangled” as well and brought back home.

Explains the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office:  “Yesterday afternoon Deputy Herlihey was dispatched to 4300 block of Summit Dr. for an Emu on the loose call. She was able to successfully wrangle the critter and return it home. When you go into law enforcement there’s just no telling what you’ll get to see.”

It’s not light duty to capture one of these things. They can run up to 30mph and their legs are among the strongest of any animal. This is an animal Dwight Schrute would respect.

It’s hard to imagine anything more powerful than a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick but the emu would have to rank up there.

What’s most impressive are its toes, however.  According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (it still exists), under the right conditions, the toe claws of emus are capable of eviscerating animals.

Thankfully for Deputy Herlihey, the right conditions did not occur.

If you’d like to see an emu in attack mode, here’s a video from some idiot clearly antagonizing the bird. We are strongly on the side of the emu.

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Wildfire Closes Highway Between Cody And Yellowstone

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A wildfire burning west of Cody forced the temporary closure of the highway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park over the weekend.

The Lost Creek Fire, first reported Saturday afternoon about midway between Cody and Yellowstone, reduced visibility on U.S. Highway 14 to the point it had to be closed, said Kristie Salzmann, the fire’s public information officer.

“As the smoke was really impeding traffic,” she explains, “Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol just thought that would be the smartest thing to do to allow for safe firefighting access.”

The response by fire officials was swift – by Sunday morning, 89 people were already assigned to the incident.

“That includes two of our type 1 hand crews, also known as Hot Shot crews,” Salzmann details. “We have multiple fire engines from local units, as well as Forest Service, BLM and county. We have two heavy air tankers, three single engine air tankers, and then we also have two of our larger type one helicopters and then a smaller type three helicopter.”

Salzmann points out that the fire settled down some Saturday night after growing to about 591 acres, but conditions were expected to be a bit more favorable for battling the flames on Sunday.

InciWeb, a website that tracks wildfires around the nation, said minimal fire activity was seen Sunday.

“We know that the forecasted winds are less than yesterday and the forecasted temperature is less than yesterday, so while we do expect there to be some growth, we’re just uncertain how much that will be today.”

According to officials, at this time, no structures are threatened, although evacuations did take place at two nearby dude ranches on Saturday.  Fire managers are continuing to keep the public informed of any major developments. 

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Tracking Wild

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

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get real: Dumping Disneyland for nature

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

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Hunters

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
Wyoming mule deer
A mule deer buck stays in the shadows on Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Dear Hunters,

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I am happy that you’re out having adventures, and hopefully getting some tasty meat for the freezer. I know that you look forward to hunting season all year long, and it’s a big part of why you are in this great state, whether as a resident or a visitor.

And I appreciate that so far this year, all but one of you have honored our ranch gates by leaving them as you find them. (We’ve still got six more yearling heifers to move into the correct pasture because of the one who didn’t close the gate.) I really appreciate you hunters who stop and visit, so we can share where the livestock and wildlife are currently located as we attempt to avoid conflict and increase your chance of success.

So far it’s a better year for us than the past few when we’ve had a lock shot off a gate (and the game camera that captured the act stolen); other gates and fences were cut or left open; and traps set out for a critical animal damage control project were tampered with so they wouldn’t work. Last fall I was hollered at by a group of armed men that had climbed through a fence to kill an antelope on private ground and then tried to evade the game warden by racing out through the sagebrush.

But that was last year. We’ve tried to do better, to make things better for all of us. We repaired things that were broken, checked all the gates, posted more informative signs along property lines, and hoped for a better season this year. It was a real pleasure (and relief) to see some of the same great hunters this year as we have in the last few years, and once again we enjoyed visiting with them and their families as we helped pack their game back to their vehicles. They thoughtfully brought a box of dog treats for our working dogs, guaranteeing we’ll be happy to see them again next season.

What you probably don’t know is that after the hunters leave, we return to where the game carcasses have been dressed out to pick up the discarded remains – because we don’t want to have attractants bringing more predators to our livestock pastures. It’s something hunters don’t need to think about, but we do.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a few encounters with hunters this year that have left me fighting negative feelings. You asked me where to find some sage grouse, so I told you. You shot one right off the mud puddle where it had come for a morning drink. That bird didn’t even fly before you took the shot. Legal? Sure. Repulsive? That too. 

When you flushed that covey of grouse, you pulled the trigger even though my truck was approaching directly in your shot line. Since you missed both the grouse and my truck, I’m guessing you didn’t do a split-second calculation that the shot wouldn’t reach me, so that was a shot you shouldn’t have taken.

You watched me get out to open a barbed-wire gate, pull through and park out of the way before getting out to close the gate behind me. You pulled through that gate and didn’t even put down the window to thank me as you rolled through that cold morning. I was flabbergasted by such behavior out in the countryside, because that’s just not how we roll out here.

The same gate that two groups of hunters with permission to access private ranch lands for their own pleasure have passed through numerous times, but not stopping to lend a hand. 

I suppose I’m sensitive about these things because as I write, I’m overly tired. After starting the day yesterday with a flat tire on one ranch truck, that truck was abandoned while I was on the run all day, moving livestock and doing triage on a variety of issues that developed throughout the day, and feeding, managing, and doctoring animals, even putting one down. I didn’t get everything done before dark, and the truck with the flat tire is still sitting in the same spot next to the main ranch gate.

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

Parking a vehicle so that an access route is blocked is inconsiderate to other users of Wyoming’s outdoors. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

And I’m missing an Idaho bowhunter this year who we always enjoy watching: the man will hike for miles before taking his game. Perhaps other things got in the way of your slow stalks through Wyoming sagebrush this season, but I’m hopeful you’ll return to your annual ritual in our neighborhood.

But today is a new day, time to try again. This morning, a hunter given permission to access private ground came through before sunrise, parked his 4-wheeler in the middle of the two-track road above the river, pulled the key out and walked away. It took every bit of personal willpower for me to resist the urge to hook onto that obstacle and drag it out of the roadway, just as I would a downed tree.

Let’s all do better tomorrow. I’ll try if you will. I’ll try to be a better host, to not let little things become major irritants, and to be considerate of your needs as a hunter. I’m betting that you will be willing to give me equal consideration for my job as a livestock and land manager. Let’s all remember that we share Wyoming’s great outdoors and share some of the best of ourselves in the process. Good luck out there!

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

The Nature of Conflict: Managing Wildlife Damage

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone Visitors Need to Give Wildlife More Space

in News/Tourism/wildlife
Bison in Yellowstone

By Seneca Flowers, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment

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

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Snubbing out a disease that causes cattle, elk and bison to abort their calves may not be feasible, but Wyoming is working to ensure it remains contained.

Brucella Abortus, a bacteria and one of the causative agents of brucellosis, was discovered in two northwestern Wyoming cattle herds in October. The latest in a line of several outbreaks of the disease since 2003, the affected herds were quarantined. But Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan said the quarantine won’t prevent other herds in northwestern Wyoming from potentially contracting the disease from its primary vector — wildlife.

“In animals, (Brucellosis) is transmitted orally,” Logan explained. “If an (infected) aborted fetus or placenta or fluids get on the ground during the time the bacteria is active, cattle, bison and elk are pretty curious and will lick at stuff like that.”

Brucellosis is at its most dangerous February through June, when the affected species are calving, but he said the bacteria could be active for months if environmental conditions are right.

Humans who are exposed to direct contact with Brucella Abortus are also at risk, said Hank Edwards, supervisor for wildlife health at the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory.

“It goes to humans, but it doesn’t cause abortions,” Edwards explained. “It does cause undulant fever, which is not usually fatal, but that means it’s a fever that rises and falls, rises and falls. It is a nasty, nasty disease.”

Both Edwards and Logan said meat from infected animals is edible. “This is not a food safety issue as long as the food is properly prepared,” Logan said. “To my knowledge, brucellosis has never been transmitted in that way.”

It is most commonly transmitted to humans from unpasteurized milk, he added. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 100 people are infected in the U.S. with the disease annually.

Infected wildlife

Introduced to the Greater Yellowstone Area around the mid-1800s, Brucella Abortus spread unchecked through local fauna until the 1950s, Edwards said.

In 1954, congressional funding was allocated for a cooperative state-federal brucellosis eradication program, USDA documents state. At the time, Brucellosis was rampant across the country with about 124,000 affected cattle herds identified through testing across the U.S. in 1956. By 1992, only about 700 herds were affected and in recent years, affected herds nationwide are frequently in the single digits, the USDA reported.

All 50 states are now listed by the USDA as brucellosis-free, but Edwards said Wyoming is home to one of a few remaining Designated Surveillance Areas (DSA) for the disease.

The DSA in Wyoming consists of Park, Sublette and Teton counties in their entirety and parts of Fremont, Lincoln and Hot Springs counties.

Game and Fish Department personnel regularly test the elk and bison populations — the disease can infect other wildlife, but is primarily transmitted by elk, bison and cattle — in the DSA. Edwards said approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of elk and about 60 percent of bison in the area have been exposed to Brucella Abortus.

“This is an incredibly complex disease,” he said. “We now have that disease in our wildlife population and that spills back into our cattle population.”

In some cases, the disease spreads through wildlife herds at state-run feedgrounds, then the infected species move to feed lines on private property where it can spread to livestock.

“We’ve always figured that to control brucellosis, we could eliminate those feedgrounds,” Edwards said. “But, in another case, we found brucellosis in elk herd near Cody, which did not have access to feedgrounds. So, closing feedgrounds is not going to solve the issue.”

While vaccines exist for cattle and bison, one has not been successfully developed for elk. Even if one did exist, Edwards said administering it to the entire elk population of northwestern Wyoming would be extremely challenging. 

“All a vaccine does is limit the severity of the disease,” Edwards said. “It does not stop it from spreading.”

Livestock interaction

After decades of aggressively targeting the brucellosis in the U.S., the federal and state campaigns were successful and the disease disappeared from Wyoming’s log book for nearly 20 years.

One livestock case was recorded in 1988, then Brucellosis in cattle disappeared until 2003, Logan said. Since, about 12 cases have been recorded, occurring in ones and twos every couple of years, he recalled.

“If we get a positive result from a lab test … we immediately quarantine the herd from which the animal came,” Logan said. “That herd will be under quarantine until it has undergone three consecutive negative herd-wide tests.”

In the DSA, livestock producers are required to test their animals regularly. If an animal tests positive, producers are responsible for the quarantine. A positive test in the fall might not significantly affect their livelihood, because the herd would likely be on the home range during the winter months anyway, Logan said. But he explained a positive test in the summer could require the producer to keep the cows at home during prime range season, burning through valuable feed stores needed for the following winter.

There are several theories about the recent proliferation of Brucella Abortus, but Logan said he didn’t believe it could be attributed to a single reason. 

“I think there are lots of factors that come to play in this,” he said. “Some of it is urbanization, some of it is the elk population increase and an increase in large predators. If you look back in history, a lot of this has a lot to do with the reintroduction of wolves (in Wyoming).”

Wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996, and a few years later, ranchers started detecting brucellosis in their livestock again.

“What I have been told from various producers is wolves are moving elk where elk had not been before,” Logan said. “As a result, there is more likelihood of interaction with elk and cattle.”

Some ranchers believe using a different vaccine — the original vaccine — would eliminate Wyoming’s livestock brucellosis problem altogether.

In 1997, state veterinarians nationwide banned the old vaccine, Strain 19, because it left a residual trace or “titer” in some animals, creating a false positive for brucellosis in later tests. The vaccine was replaced with RB51, which Logan said is just as effective.

“It creates immunity a little different than the old one,” he said. “But it does not create the titer.” 

For now, constant testing and quarantines could be the best way to manage brucellosis in Wyoming, but Edwards said a solution might be needed soon.

“Brucellosis was introduced into the Greater Yellowstone Area around the Civil War, and for the most part, it stayed there — that’s something we can handle,” he explained. “But in the last six years, we’ve discovered it in the Big Horn Mountains. Here’s the scary part, because we have a disease we can’t really control, if it was to become established in a population like the Big Horn Mountains, there’s not a lot we can do to stop it outside of flying in a helicopter and culling all the elk.”

In Brief: Bill calling for grizzly bear hunting clears House committee

in News

By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would authorize the state Department of Game and Fish to set a grizzly hunting season cleared a House committee Wednesday.

The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee voted to send SF 93 to the full House for debate.

The bill is a response to a federal judge’s decision in September to block a grizzly bear hunt. The hunt was set by the Game and Fish Department after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the grizzly population in and around Yellowstone National Park to have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the Endangered Species List. The federal judge ruled that action was improper. The Fish and Wildlife Service, joined by Wyoming and other groups, is appealing that decision.

SF 93 would allow the Game and Fish Department to set up a grizzly hunt if it determines such a hunt to be beneficial to Wyoming’s wildlife and necessary to protect the safety of its citizens and workers.

The bill notes that federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act are to be administered by the federal government in cooperation with state agencies and adds that the judge’s ruling prevents that from happening.

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