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Wyoming Game and Fish

Wyo Game And Fish Considering Unlimited Trout Fishing At Saratoga Lake Before Killing All Fish

in Wyoming Game and Fish/Fishing/News
21084

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In the angling world, ‘catch-and-release’ is a common practice as it allows for the sport of fishing to occur while keeping fish populations at a sustainable level.

The opposite of ‘catch-and-release,’ call it ‘catch-and-keep-every-fish-possible,’ may happen at Saratoga Lake later this year if a proposed special regulation is approved by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Gov. Mark Gordon.

The Game and Fish Department recently announced it would kill all the fish in Saratoga Lake because of the illegal introduction of yellow perch. The decision forced the cancelation of Saratoga’s annual Ice Fishing Derby because there will be no more life fish in the lake.

However, a Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist suggested at a public meeting that the department first allow people to fish the lake — and keep as many fish as they want.

What this could mean for the public is unlimited fishing at the lake. An angling jackpot. A fishing fiesta. Yee-haw.

Not Allowed Yet

Currently, Wyoming regulations allow anglers at the lake to keep six trout per day.

Department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the emergency regulation has not yet been signed by Gordon, who must authorize this move, but once it is, unlimited fishing will be allowed.

The fish will be poisoned using “rotenone” at the lake in mid-September, so anglers would have at least two months to fish for trout and yellow perch to their stomach’s delight. There are rainbow, tiger and brown trout in the lake.

The perch are actually not native to the lake and are the reason the lake’s population must be wiped out.

“Last summer, we discovered [yellow] perch in the lake during routine university sampling,” Alan Osterland, Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s fisheries chief, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “We manage that as a trout fishery, so having perch so high up in the system could be a problem for many reasons.”

Osterland said the plan is to restock the lake with trout next summer.

The fish kill has caused the cancellation of the popular and long-running Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby, which was set to celebrate its 40th year in 2023. However, it is planned to return in 2024, without yellow perch in the water.

C.J. Box

The fishing derby was started in the 1980s by Wyoming author C.J. Box, who has since become a household name for his series of Joe Pickett and Cassie Dewell novels.

“The chamber of commerce didn’t have any money, so … C.J. started the fishing derby,” former legislator and fourth-generation Wyomingite Teense Willford told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Willford said that back in the early days of the derby, the organizers would do silly things such as give out prizes for the best “hard luck” story or send out official invitations to famous people, such as Prince Charles and Princess Diana or U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, to serve as the “king” or “queen” of the derby.

While none of the invited celebrities ever attended the derby, Willford believes if they had, the Saratoga community would have shown them a good time.

Osterland said the department is still investigating who was involved in stocking the lake with the illegal yellow perch, but he believes it is someone who enjoyed fishing for perch and wanted to do it locally.

“Stocking” could be a strong word, however, as Osterland said the person could have brought in as few as two yellow perch and the fish mate quickly and at a young age.

This is not the first time the department has had to treat Saratoga Lake for illegally stocked fish, but Osterland said it has been many years since this last occurred.

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Judge Allows Out-Of-State Hunters $4 Million “Emotional Pain And Suffering” Lawsuit To Continue

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20707

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Park County judge dismissed a claim of malicious prosecution two hunters brought against the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, but he allowed wrongful arrest and detention claims, recent court filings show. 

In mid-May, Judge Bill Simpson dismissed the malicious prosecution claim, citing a one-year statute of limitations that has since passed. But he allowed wrongful arrest and detention claims to move forward. 

Blendi Cumani of North Dakota and Roland Shehu of Pennsylvania filed the claims and are asking for damages in the amount of $2 million each for “past and future emotional pain and suffering and past and future loss of enjoyment of life.”

Cumani and Shehu allege that while hunting in Park County in October 2019, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Warden Chris Queen began an investigation into the killing and abandonment of three elk in the area. 

Wyoming state law forbids the “failure of any person to properly dress and care for any big game animal killed by that person, and if the carcass is reasonably accessible, within 48 hours to take or transport the carcass to the camp of that person, and there properly care for the carcass.”   

According to the lawsuit filed in state district court in Park County, the warden detained Cumani and Shehu, ordering them to remain in the county during his investigation and preventing them from returning to their homes. 

The men argued in the lawsuit that the warden’s investigation failed to show they shot the elk and evidence proved they did not, but Queen pursued criminal charges against the two.

After a September 2020 jury trial, Cumani and Shehu were found not guilty of killing the elk. 

The men argued that Queen did not have probable cause to detain or arrest them and that this violated their constitutional rights.  The $2 million each damage claims are for past and future emotional pain and suffering and past and future loss of enjoyment of life.

It was not clear if the person who shot the elk was ever identified or charged.

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Wyo Game and Fish Uses DNA Technology To Count Black Bears

in Wyoming Game and Fish/News
16177

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is employing crime-solving technology to count the black bears in the state.

Using DNA analysis of hair samples gathered from “snares” located in strategic spots in several Wyoming mountain ranges, Game and Fish researchers are  able to determine how many individual black bears inhabit each region, which allows the department to better manage the species.

Dan Bjornlie is a large carnivore biologist for the department and the full-time biologist in charge of bear population monitoring work. 

Bjornlie told Cowboy State Daily that researchers have been trying for over a decade to set up a project which will allow for baseline population monitoring for large carnivores of all kinds.

“We’ve already got a pretty robust grizzly bear and wolf monitoring program going on right now,” Bjornlie said. “But we didn’t really have much for black bears and mountain lions. So I’ve been pushing for trying to get some black bear monitoring going on since probably 2010.”

Bjornlie said that DNA “hair snare” population monitoring work for bears is widely used now, in part because the process is not very labor intensive compared to some other methods available.

“The hair snares are actually a little corral that we set up,” he said. “It’s a ring of barbed wire that we put around some trees, a circle or a square of 20 feet by 20 feet or so. We put the wire about knee high off the ground, and we put some scent in the middle. It’s not a bait or anything, a bear doesn’t get a reward for coming into it, but it’s a curious smell. 

“And then when bears come by, they smell it and they cross that barbed wire to go in and investigate that smell,” he continued. “And when they do, the bear’s hair gets snagged on the wires, then we go out and we collect the hair from those barbs once a week and put them in little sample envelopes. And at the end of the season, we send them into a lab.”

Bjornlie said the lab can distinguish between individual bears by the hair samples if enough of a root is left on the hairs.

“And then they can tell us how many individual bears … are detected from all those different hair samples that we collected through the summer,” he said. “And so with that, we can take the information on how many individuals we caught and the location and the time where they were detected. And that gives us some spatial information that can get us an idea of density and abundance for that population.”

Bjornlie said the department started the project in 2015 in the Greys River area of the Wyoming Range on the western side of the state – first doing radio collar work, then following up with hair snares. 

In 2018, the department set up collection sites in the Sierra Madres, and has been able to determine the health of the black bear populations in those two areas.

“The Grays River area was a little bit lower than we thought it was originally,” Bjornlie said, “and I think it was six or seven bears per 100 square kilometers.”

He reported that given the levels of precipitation in the area, the Game and Fish Department expected population densities to be higher than what they found – so researchers used that information to slightly reduce the harvest limit in the Grays River for a while, letting that population bounce back a little bit from some of the hunting pressure.

“But then the next one we did, in the Sierra Madres, we found that the densities and the abundance were actually a little bit higher than what we would expect,” Bjornlie said. “And so with that information, during the season setting process, we were able to increase the harvest limits in the Sierra Madres a little bit to allow more hunter opportunities, because the population was actually doing quite well and the density soared a little higher than we thought they’d be.”

Bjornlie said the department this summer set up collection sites in the Big Horn Mountains, but it hasn’t received results from the lab yet. When that happens, though, he said that the department will be able to directly apply their findings.

“We’re able to go in the next season setting cycle for black bear hunting seasons and say, based on our information, densities are about this, which means the abundance should be about this,” he explained. “And therefore, we’re taking whatever percentage of the population during the hunting season, and can adjust it to something that’s sustainable, but still allows good hunter opportunity.”

Bjornlie added that the project is relatively inexpensive, compared to other monitoring systems the department has used.

“We’re able to do most of the fieldwork itself with just a crew leader and then one technician, and a little bit of help from some of our other folks here and there,” he said. “And it was actually pretty easy for two technicians to cover the entire Sierra Madre area through the whole summer, and those people are people that we normally have on staff anyway.”

The only cost increase to speak of, according to Bjornlie, is the lab costs, and those – depending on the number of samples – can range from $15,000 to $30,000.

“When you compare that to the amount of money that’s spent on some of our big game monitoring, it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said.

Bjornlie noted that the next project will be in the Laramie Range this summer.

“This is one area that we’ve been getting a lot of interest in from the Casper and Laramie regional folks, because it’s a really tough area to get a handle on for black bears,” he said. “There’s actually a pretty robust black bear population in there, and we’ve really struggled with how to monitor this area in the past and what limits we should set for hunting seasons. It’s also got a lot of private lands, so it’s kind of hard for us to access to do some of our more traditional monitoring work.”

Bjornlie noted that this type of monitoring works well for black bears, but hasn’t been put into wide use for grizzlies.

“We already have an alternative monitoring protocol that has been established for decades,” he said. “That involves observations of females with cubs of the year, and expands that into an estimate for the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population. 

“But the other problem has always been, it’s just a really large area, and it’s a really remote area,” he continued. “And so the logistics of doing it would be substantially greater than any of these smaller black bear projects that we’re working on. We’d cover a huge area, some of it would require backcountry work that would involve people on horseback for weeks at a time, so it would require a much larger crew – multi state, multi-jurisdictional coordination, all that kind of thing. So we just haven’t quite got there yet.”

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Game & Fish Investigating Four Pronghorns Poached North of Gillette

in Wyoming Game and Fish/News
14520

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

An investigation into four pronghorn that were recently shot and left in the Weston Hills Recreation Area north of Gillette is underway, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said.

On Oct. 20, North Gillette Game Warden Becca Lutz responded to a report of two pronghorn does that were allegedly shot and left within 40 yards of each other on a section of Wyoming state land west of North Highway 59 mile marker 143, per WGFD.

A third pronghorn doe was found approximately 200 yards away from the others following an additional search of the immediate area.

While on the way to the scene, WGFD says, Lutz was approached by another hunter who reported finding a fourth pronghorn, a buck, that had been shot and left approximately 1 mile south of the doe carcasses.

No edible portions were removed from three of the animals, though the fourth may have had a small portion of meat removed, per WGFD, which adds that scavenging on the carcass made it difficult to say for sure.

Lutz estimates, based on the condition of the carcasses, that the animals were shot on or around the weekend of Oct. 15-16.

“Over that weekend, large herds of antelope could be seen in the Weston Hills Recreation Area off Highway 59,” Lutz said in a statement. “There were many hunters accessing the area that weekend and it is possible someone saw something that may help provide answers in these cases.”

The WGFD urges anyone with information regarding this incident to contact the department using the STOP POACHING hotline at 1-877-943-3847 or by submitting information online at the WGFD website.

Residents may also text information by texting the keyword WGFD and message to 847-411.

Anyone who reports a tip can remain anonymous and any information leading to a conviction can be eligible for a monetary reward of up to $5,000 from the Wyoming Wildlife Protector’s Association.

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Montana On High Alert For Invasion of Feral Swine From Canada; Wyoming Not Concerned Yet

in News/wildlife
11824

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

While Montana is facing the potential threat of feral swine invading the state, Wyoming doesn’t have that problem to worry about — at least not yet.

The Montana Department of Livestock asked state residents to be vigilant about reporting sightings of feral swine coming in from Canada. The invasive species that can damage crops, pastures and waterways and introduce diseases among livestock, people and wildlife.

Sara DiRienzo, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that although Wyoming has been tracking the feral swine’s movements from Canada, the animals haven’t made it this far south.

“Wyoming has been tracking the feral swine issue since they breached the Canadian border, but we don’t see it as a threat at this point,” she said. “Though, if someone did spot a feral pig in Wyoming, we would ask them to report it right away to Game and Fish.”

The Montana Department of Livestock noted that at least 39 states have reported the presence of feral swine, so there is some concern that some may be brought into Montana illegally to be hunted.

Wyoming one of the few states with no presence of feral swine, as of now.

“They would be considered an invasive species, so most states are trying to keep them out and from spreading further,” DiRienzo said.

There haven’t been any sightings in Montana yet, but the risk of the animals coming into the state is high because of the state’s proximity to the Canadian border.

But because of proper management in neighboring states and in Canada, the pigs have not made it to Wyoming.

Feral swine cause at least $1.5 billion in damages and control costs every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They can damage crops by eating them or by rooting, trampling or wallowing in fields. They tend to target crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, oats and rice, but will eat almost anything.

Feral swine are known to carry at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases and nearly 40 parasites that can be transmitted to humans, pets, livestock and other wildlife, according to the USDA. The animals can also be aggressive toward people and pets and have been known to attack humans, especially when food might be involved.

While Montana law does allow homeowners to kill feral swine on their property, this has been shown to be an ineffective form of management, according to the Livestock Department.

The USDA recommended installing fences around crops and vaccinating livestock as two ways to prevent further issues with feral swine.

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Wyoming Has More Than 300 Wolves, Exceeding Delisting Criteria For 19th Year In a Row

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10908

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming exceeded the delisting criteria for its gray wolf population for the 19th consecutive year in 2020, maintaining a steady population of more than 300.

According to the 2020 Wyoming gray wolf monitoring and management annual report from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the state is maintaining wolf numbers at healthy levels by using hunting, which also helps limit the number of conflicts between wolves and livestock.

The state 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.

The wolf population is considered “recovered” when 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs are found outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation. 

“After having management of wolves returned to Wyoming in April of 2017 we made a strong commitment to ensure we would be responsive and responsible managers in accordance with the plan,” said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish large carnivore section supervisor. “Part of that is providing an accurate population estimate. We are building a dataset that supports our management actions and helps target areas of livestock conflict and areas where there are concerns with how wolves are affecting certain big game populations.”

Reaching a steady wolf population is partially attributed to hunting in the northwest corner of the state. Wolf hunting seasons require hunters to have a license and adhere to set mortality limits and other regulations.

In 2020, hunters accounted for nearly 43% of the 71 wolves to die in the ecosystem. Another 38% of the wolves known to die during the year were killed after they preyed on livestock.

Ken Mills, the report author and the lead wolf biologist for Game and Fish, said seeing success with hunting as a tool to stabilize wolf populations is notable.

“That lends credence to our management approach and how we are going through the recovery process,” Mills said. “It is significant that today we are reaching a point where we have predictability in our management.”

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Wyoming Game and Fish Resuming Bear Capture, Collaring Operations

in News/Bears
10430

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has launched its annual grizzly bear capture operations in northwestern Wyoming.

Beginning this spring and continuing through early fall, department biologists will trap grizzly bears in both front and backcountry areas to collect data needed to assess the health of the area’s grizzly population.

All trap sites will be posted with area closure signs in the direct vicinity, the department said. Department officials added It is critical that all members of the public heed the signs.

When captured, the bears are collared, released on site and monitored in accordance with strict guidelines developed by the department and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

The annual monitoring of this population is vital to the ongoing management and conservation of grizzly bears in Wyoming. Information obtained through these efforts is used to assess the status and health of grizzly bears in the ecosystem and provides insight into population dynamics critical to demonstrate the continued recovery of the Greater Yellowstone population.

Last summer, the department managed to capture about 20 bears.

From July 27 to Aug. 21, six different grizzlies were captured southeast of Moran Junction, with five of them being collared. A sub-adult male bear was tagged and biological samples were taken, but he wasn’t radio-collared due to his small size.

Two black bears were captured in the Jackson region, but were released unhandled.

Information obtained through these efforts is used to assess the status and health of grizzly bears in the ecosystem and provides insight into population dynamics critical to demonstrate the continued recovery of the Greater Yellowstone population.

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Wyoming Hit By Drought: Reduction In Antelope License Quotas For 2021 Hunting Season Proposed

in Wyoming Game and Fish/News
10360

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By Mark Davis

Drought is affecting most western U.S. states, including Wyoming. The National Drought Mitigation Center says that’s resulting in multiple responses — from changes in regulations to preparations for an early and long fire season.

In Wyoming, the Game and Fish Department is already reacting to dry conditions, proposing to reduce antelope license quotas for the 2021 hunting season. In many hunt areas, the proposals cut the quota due to “impacts from persistent drought conditions in the state,” the department said in a Friday press release. Tough spring blizzards also compounded the problem.

“The license reductions should be short-term, according to wildlife managers who believe the conservative proposals for each herd will stabilize pronghorn populations and allow them to bounce back,” the department said.

Yet, drought conditions are expected to increase across the West this year, reports the National Drought Mitigation Center. Parts of most western states are currently listed in the most severe category of drought — more than at any time in the past 20 years, the center warns.

“Once again this week, much of the West remained dry. Where precipitation did fall — in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies — it either missed the drought-inflicted areas or wasn’t enough to overcome shortages,” it said. “The only exception was in north-central Wyoming and southern Montana, where last week’s snowfall lessened precipitation deficits and improved streamflow and soil moisture resulting in a one-category improvement to drought.”

The conditions have prompted states to call in firefighters early, expecting a bad fire season due to the hot, dry conditions. The center portion of Wyoming is considered to be in the worst shape. Park County is listed as “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought,” while the southeast corner of the county is listed as “severe drought.”

Further south, northern and western parts of Colorado are experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are forecast to be hit the hardest, but almost the entire western half of the nation is listed to be experiencing severe drought. Dry weather combined with gusty winds is expected to persist this month, leading to an elevated fire risk.

The 2020 fire season was devastating to many regions of the West, most notably in Colorado and California. Billions of dollars in property and dozens of lives were lost. Here in Wyoming, the Mullen Fire (38 miles west of Laramie) burned nearly 177,000 acres and the Pilgrim Creek 1 Fire (in the Bridger-Teton National Forest) burned about 500 acres. Earlier in the year, the Lone Star Fire in Yellowstone National Park burned 4,123 acres in an area not far from Old Faithful.

PVHC

According to the National Fire Information Center, 46,535 fires burned more than 8.4 million acres last year. The concern is that fire seasons are growing, said William Matthew Jolly, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

“The fire season in parts of the western United States is more than a month longer than it was 35 years ago,” he said in a recent report.

The authors attribute the longer seasons in the western United States to climate changes — including the timing of snowmelt, vapor pressure and the timing of spring rains.

Most basins have lower snow/water equivalents percentages from last year. The Yellowstone Basin is down 26% from 2020 and down 2% from last week. The Shoshone Basin is down 32% from last year and down 9% from last week. Only the Bighorn River Basin showed improvement from last week, increasing by 8%, but still down 17% from last year.

The Cheyenne Basin is currently the driest in the state. While it’s up 25% from last week, from 42% of the median to 67%, it’s down nearly 50% from this time last year. Statewide snowpack/SWE is at 95% of median, said Jim Fahey, Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist.

“Many basins in Wyoming generally had 5 to 15% increases in snowpack/SWEs from last week,” he said.

Intermittent light snow is expected this week across all mountain ranges in Wyoming.

“The Bighorn Mountains have the best chance for moderate snow amounts early this week,” Fahey said.

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Game & Fish Measure Fish Population, Migration to “Protect One Of Nation’s Greatest Natural Resources”

in Wyoming Game and Fish/News
10088

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

The further west the caravan of state-green trucks traveled Tuesday, the harder the snow fell. After starting the week in temperatures that were 30 to 40 degrees below normal, and facing a long day in the ice-cold river, most would entertain thoughts of waiting for warmer weather.

But there was no turning back for the team of Wyoming Game and Fish Department Cody Region fisheries biologists. By 8:30 a.m., the entire crew was in the fast-moving water in the North Fork of the Shoshone River near Wapiti ready to catch fish. 

As they prepared equipment needed to shock, capture and tag feisty trout, Jason Burckhardt was forced to use hot coffee from his thermos in an attempt to defrost a bottle of important medication used in the process. 

“It’s frozen solid,” he said while pouring the coffee over the small plastic bottle.

Shocking, netting and processing fish without injuring them isn’t easy. In population surveys in reservoirs, like the annual surveys in Deaver Reservoir, the job is challenging enough. When you add swift-moving water, cold weather and a different species to the equation, it makes for a tough day of work.

“We’re trying to use as little electricity as possible so as not to injure the fish in doing it,” Burckhardt said. “So most of the time, they’re still actively swimming when we’re netting them. You’re also in a less stable boat because we’ve got some major whitewater on this section of river.”

The task of tagging 2,000 trout will take about eight full days of work for three to four biologists and a couple seasonal technicians. For the most part they’ve grown used to the pain of cold water mixed with wind on their hands and exposed skin. They’re on a mission, approaching the middle of a four-year project designed to answer a great regional debate: how best to protect one of the the nation’s greatest natural resources.

The Game and Fish did a robust survey of anglers last year to gather their level of support for daily harvest limits on the bucket-list stretch of the river. Predictably, it came back with mixed results.

“Twenty-eight percent of fishermen believe that our regulations are too liberal and about 10% feel they’re way too conservative,” Sam Hochhalter, Cody Region fisheries supervisor, said while waiting for the rest of the team to arrive near the entrance to the Jim Creek public access area.

It’s a tough spot for the department. No matter what they decide will likely result in complaints, though about 51% of the survey respondents think the bag limit is “about right.” 

“When we’re in these situations where we’re never going to please both sides, we lean heavily on the biology,” Hochhalter said.

While there’s a lot of speculation about the population and migration between the river and the reservoir, there hasn’t been a scientific study. Last year the team started tagging 2,000 rainbows, cutthroats and cutbows (a hybrid of the two species) in an effort to quantify how many fish are in the river, how they move between the river and the reservoir and how they are affected by harvests and seasonal closures. 

As the fish are caught and anglers report their catches to biologists, the department will keep the data, looking for direction based on the study at the end of the multi-year project.

“We’ll get an idea of seasonal distribution and their timing of out migration back into Buffalo Bill,” Hochhalter said.

The study will help settle the debate on how much pressure from fishing harvests is too much. Portions of the North Fork are closed to fishing during the spring spawning season.

“It’s been that way for years,” Hochhalter said.

Currently anglers are allowed to keep three trout from the river, but only one over 18 inches. 

“A lot of them are over 18,” he said.

Further upstream, Yellowstone National Park changed to catch and release to protect native Yellowstone cutthroats in 1978. The Game and Fish has so far refused to do the same. Based on early results from the study, the majority of trout in the North Fork spend most of the year in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir where the limit is four fish.

“Because about two-thirds of the North Fork is closed [to fishing during the spawn], we’re protecting most of the fish population. … Harvest is not a bad thing,” he said. “We can either let fish die of old age and tumble downstream, or we can allow some anglers to harvest them knowing that in trout, anywhere from 20 to 35% of the population dies each year.”

The study hopes to determine the rate of harvest as well as the population during the different seasons. To date, data collected has concentrated only on harvest rates.

“The percent of fish that are caught and harvested tells you nothing at the population level,” Hochhalter said. 

Once the population level exploitations and seasonal movements are known, then limits can be more accurately set to conserve the fishery.

“This tagging project will be the key metric that we will use to evaluate our bag limits,” he said.

Regardless of the decision, Hochhalter is unlikely to escape critics. The debate between those who want to protect the wild fish and those who want to eat more of them is boiling over with passionate opinions. The Game and Fish doesn’t stock the North Fork and it’s one of the few reservoirs where the population naturally reproduces. 

Noted angler and area fly fishing guide Tim Wade said he has already caught and reported fish tagged last year. He and his clients practice catch and release in the river.

“It’s one of the few wild rivers left in the country,” he said, adding, “Wyoming is lucky to have native fish in their natural environment. In order to keep them, people need to respect the resource. If not, there’s not going to be fish to catch.”

While he doesn’t always agree with Game and Fish decisions, Wade is totally on board with attempts to better understand the habitat.

His opinion has always been that if a person wants to catch and eat a fish, they need to do so with respect for wild rivers full of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

“I know people think I want these fish to myself,” Wade said. “But what I want and have fought for most of my life is to protect one of the few wild native trout resources left in the country.”

The department will continue to tag fish through spring. But they need anglers’ help.

“We really need anglers to help us out,” Hochhalter said. “The more people that call in and report the capture of a tagged fish, the higher quality data we’ll get from this project.”

There is a toll-free number located on the tags along with a series of numbers identifying each individual fish. The team will head back to the river in June and July to attempt to recapture the fish post-spawn and then start again next year.

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Game and Fish Unveils New Habitat Mapping Project

in News/wildlife
9903

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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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Game & Fish: Zebra Mussels Could Cause Catastrophic Problems for Wyoming

in Wyoming Game and Fish/News
9121

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Although zebra mussels may sound like an exotic seafood dish from a romantic Michelin-rated restaurant, they are actually an invasive shellfish which could wreak havoc on the state of Wyoming.

It’s not because zebra mussels are 500-foot Godzilla-like monsters which breathe fire and stomp on cities, it’s because they can pose threats to waterways across the state.

Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department is warning citizens to be on the lookout for these aquatic terrorists, which have been found in pet stores across the state.

All of this leads to many questions. How can an oyster-like thing cause so much damage? And why would they be in pet stores? 

First, these mussels are dangerous because they remove nutrients from water, clog pipes and waterways, damage boats and out-compete native mussels. 

“Further, in many cases, zebra mussels are impossible to remove,” said Game and Fish Chief of Fisheries Alan Osterland.

As for their presence in pet stores, it’s not like they are being sold like puppies or anything. They’ve been spotted in “marimo balls” or “moss balls,” — which are products sold at many aquarium and pet supply stores. 

A marimo ball is a popular tank decoration made of a green filamentous algae used to oxygenate the water. 

Game and Fish is asking that anyone who has purchased a marimo ball to closely follow the recommended steps for disposal. 

  1. Remove any pets from the water and tank.
  2. Remove the marimo ball, other plants and any water from the aquarium and put them into a heat-safe pot. Do not dispose of any water down the drain or toilet.
  3. Inspect the marimo ball and tank for zebra mussels and if you find any contact your local Game and Fish regional office or local warden.
  4. Boil the marimo balls, plants and any water it’s been in contact with for at least five minutes
  5. Dispose of the marimo ball and other plants in trash. 
  6. Pour out the boiled water on a semi-permeable surface. That could be a houseplant or outside — like grass or soil — that is not located near standing water or a storm drain.

Do not flush the marimo ball or pour aquarium water down any drains, toilets or into nearby water sources like a local pond or creek, the department said. These actions could spread zebra mussels throughout the water system. 

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Mike Schmid Still Not Sure Why He Was Removed From G&F Commission

in News
8711

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Almost two weeks after being removed from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission by Gov. Mark Gordon, the owner of a LaBarge drilling company said he still is not exactly sure of the reason for the governor’s actions.

Mike Schmid, owner of SOS Well Services, said he has several ideas as to why he was removed from the commission, but still has not been given an exact reason.

“I wish I knew the answer,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I was totally blindsided by it.”

Schmid was removed from the commission on Jan. 26 after serving as a member since 2017.

The day Schmid received an email from Gordon telling him of his removal, Schmid posted on his Facebook page that he believed his opposition to new trapping regulations supported by the commission may have been partially responsible.

In his interview Monday, he said he believed a newspaper story about his involvement in effort to cull mountain goats from Grand Teton National Park and his attendance at a Washington, D.C. rally in support of former President Donald Trump may also have been contributing factors.

“Maybe it was a culmination of (the trapping issue) and these two other things,” he said.

Schmid testified before the Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee in December in opposition to trapping regulations supported by the commission.

The testimony generated a letter from a fellow commissioner, who Schmid said accused him of not being a team player.

Schmid said he also heard from the commission’s president criticizing the testimony.

“I told the commission president I joined the commission to make a difference,” he said. “I didn’t go down there to rubber stamp things.”

Schmid said he learned later that a newspaper story about his involvement as a volunteer to remove mountain goats from Grand Teton National Park may have played a role.

Schmid was part of a team of volunteers who hunted the goats to remove them from the park. The animals are considered an invasive species.

Initially, the federal government used aerial gunners to kill the goats, but then allowed teams of volunteers access to the park to eradicate the animals.

Schmid and his team shot seven goats and after the hunt, he suggested to a reporter that as the goats became harder to find or as volunteers dwindled, the aerial gunners might be used as a last resort to complete removal of the animals.

However, Schmid said he may not have made his point clear to the reporter and it may have sounded as if he said once he was successful in his hunting outing, he was ready to have aerial gunners resume.

The article was mentioned when Schmid talked to Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“Nobody said a thing about the mountain goat thing,” he said. “So it came totally out of the blue for me.”

Finally, Schmid said some Facebook postings about his attendance at a Washington, D.C., rally in support of former President Donald Trump may have been a factor.

Schmid said he, two brothers and a neighbor went to the rally in Jan. 6 that was followed by an attack on the U.S. Capitol by individuals identified as Trump supporters.

Schmid said he and the other three had returned to their hotel rooms before the invasion began and returned to see what was happening. He said he posted several messages about the incident on his Facebook page.

Schmid said he was visited by two FBI agents after returning to Wyoming.

“They said the reason they were there was because they got a tip I attended and they saw my Facebook page,” he said. “They told me ‘Whenever we hear somebody was there, we have to follow up.’”

However, Schmid’s brothers and neighbor were not questioned, he said.

“That tells me this has something to do with it as well,” he said.

Despite his removal from the commission, Schmid said he will remain active in wildlife conservation activities, such as last weekend’s efforts to tag burbot or “ling” for next weekend’s “Ding-the-Ling” fishing tournament on Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

“I’ll always stay involved,” he said. “This isn’t going to prevent me from helping.”

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Gordon Appoints Kenneth Roberts to Game & Fish Commission

in Wyoming Game and Fish/News
8533

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A state district court clerk from Kemmerer has been appointed to fill the vacancy on the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission left with the removal of former Commissioner Mike Schmid.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday that he had appointed Kenneth D. Roberts, a Republican, to finish out Schmid’s unexpired term on the commission representing Uinta, Lincoln, Sublette and Teton counties.

Schmid was removed from the commission by Gordon on Tuesday for what Schmid called his “outspoken thoughts and how I carried them out.”

“My outspoken thoughts and how I carried them out did not sit well with the commission and leadership,” Schmid said. “I wasn’t a good enough team player I was told by a fellow commissioner which evidently made it hard for the commission to carry a consistent message. It was also stated that my role as a commissioner and freedoms as an American were too conflicting.”

Gordon, in a separate statement, said Schmid “exhibited pattern of actions and statements that undermined the decisions and effectiveness” of the commission.

“Mike is a passionate advocate for the outdoors and wildlife,” Gordon said. “He brought all of that to the commission. However, over his term Mike unfortunately exhibited a pattern of actions and statements that undermined the decisions and effectiveness of the board.” 

Schmid was appointed to the Game and Fish Commission in 2017 for a six-year term.

Roberts will finish out the remaining two years of that term.

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Former Game & Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid Says Gordon Removed Him For “Opinions”

in Wyoming Game and Fish
8512

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The owner of a drilling company and an outfitting business in LaBarge has been removed from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, he said Tuesday.

Mike Schmid, in a posting on his Facebook page, said he was removed from the commission by Gov. Mark Gordon because of his opinions.

“My outspoken thoughts and how I carried them out did not sit well with the commission and leadership,” he wrote. “I wasn’t a good enough team player I was told by a fellow commissioner which evidently made it hard for the commission to carry a consistent message. It was also stated that my role as a commissioner and freedoms as an American were too conflicting.”

Schmid, the owner of Solitude Ranch and Outfitters and president and founder of Sos Well Services, did not specify what opinions led to his removal from the commission.

Gordon, in a statement, confirmed he had removed Schmid from the commission and thanked him for his years of service.

“Mike is a passionate advocate for the outdoors and wildlife,” Gordon said. “He brought all of that to the commission. However, over his term Mike unfortunately exhibited a pattern of actions and statements that undermined the decisions and effectiveness of the board.” 

Schmid said he was notified of his removal from the commission by an email from the governor.

“As for Gov. Gordon’s decision, I know he has his hands full with COVID, a huge budget shortfall and so much more, but an email terminating me was a total surprise,” he said.

Given his work on the commission and his company’s contributions to the department and wildlife causes in general, Schmid said he did not expect to be removed without a meeting with the governor.

“My company has donated countless hours of equipment and man hours to benefit the department and our wildlife,” he said. “I was a tireless and dedicated commissioner. I believe I deserved more than an email, possibly a meeting to explain my position, and/or give me a chance to make corrections without compromising my values and beliefs is what I would have expected.”

Schmid was appointed to the commission for a six-year term by former Gov. Matt Mead in 2017. 

As of Tuesday, his profile had been removed from the Game and Fish Department’s website.

In his post, Schmid thanked staff members of the Game and Fish Department for their assistance during his time on the commission.

“It does my heart good knowing the passion and dedication you all have for our wildlife resources,” he wrote. 

Schmid also thanked his constituents.

“For those of you that supported me I apologize for letting my mouth and actions cut y ter, short,” he wrote. “For those that disagreed, I appreciated the opportunity to debate you.”

He also thanked the hunters and anglers who fund the department’s work and urged them to continue to speak their minds.

“In this crazy world of stifling ideas, voices and thoughts no matter how crazy they may be it is now more important than ever to be heard, that is the American way,” he wrote. “I beg you all to get and stay involved. Change only happens when people in power are put in uncomfortable positions, you have the power to put them there.”

Gordon, in his statement, said he welcomes varied opinions on the commission.

“(H)owever, it is critical that the commission functions as effectively as possible,” his statement said. “The decision to remove Mr. Schmid was based solely on the duties and expectations related to a Commissioner’s position on the board and the overall functioning of the Commission.”

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Wyoming Game Wardens Report An Increased Number Of Deer Hit On The Highway

in News/wildlife
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Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens from Lander, Riverton, and Dubois report receiving an increased number of calls recently to assist with animals being hit by vehicles.

These areas have consistently seen large losses of big game animals and increased wildlife collisions in the fall.

Every fall, big game animals leave their higher elevation summer and fall ranges for traditional lower elevation wintering areas and their migration routes and winter ranges often put them into conflict with motorists.

Many migration routes for big game animals often lead them alongside and across highways.

In addition, big game animals are often drawn to areas along roadways to seek better forage that results from road runoff moisture, and areas recently seeded after construction.

Motorists are urged to be on the lookout at all times as animals may be on the move, but it is the dusk to dawn period when animals are most active.

“It is that time of year again when deer are moving around and bucks are in the rut. Big game animals are paying less attention to vehicle traffic and more attention to their biology,” Lander Game Warden Brady Frude said.

“They are most active at dawn and dusk and of course, with shorter daylight hours, this now coincides with high levels of commuting traffic. All these factors lead to significant increases in deer/vehicle collisions along our roads,” he said.

South Riverton Game Warden Mitch Renteria said with the deer rut in full swing, deer are less aware of their surrounds and more visible around roadways as they prepare for the long winter.

Please drive safely to and from your destinations, slow down, and as always, give wildlife a break,” Renteria said.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department advises people to be aware of roadside surroundings.

When motorists spot animals near highways, they should assume the animals will move onto the roadway. Following a few simple steps can prevent wildlife collisions:

Slow down.
Expect wildlife and scan the sides of the roads.
Use headlights and stay alert while driving at dusk, dawn and at night.
If you see one elk, deer, or antelope by the road, expect there to be more nearby.
If an animal is on the road, expect the unexpected. They do not instinctively know how to react to your car.
If you encounter an animal crossing the road, switch your headlights to low beam so that they are not blinded and can move out of your way.
Give the animal time and room to move off the road. Do not try to outrun it.
If you see a wildlife-crossing sign, pay attention. It is there for a reason.
Do not swerve to miss an animal. Steer toward the animal’s hindquarters, as they most often will move forward.

Nationwide, more than 150 people are killed and 29,000 injured each year in animal/vehicle collisions, and areas in Fremont County have some of the highest numbers of wildlife/vehicle collisions in the State.

If you see an injured deer, call the nearest Game and Fish Regional Office or the Stop Poaching Hotline 1-877-WGFD-TIP, after normal business hours, with specific information about the location (road, mile-marker, etc.).

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Out-of-State, Short-term Fishing License Sales Suspended

in News/Coronavirus
Photo: Courtesy Game & Fish
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The sale of non-resident, short-term fishing licenses was halted by the state Game and Fish Department on Wednesday in response to a request from Gov. Mark Gordon.

The department said it had adopted an emergency rule signed by Gordon to stop the sales. The emergency regulation is automatically in place for 120 days, but can be reversed at any time if the state’s situation changes.

Gordon last week asked the Game and Fish Commission to halt the sale of the short-term licenses to out-of-state anglers because of his order that anyone coming into Wyoming from outside the state should self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Gordon said at the time that it made little sense for visitors to buy one- or five-day licenses, given the fact they were to be quarantined for two weeks.

“The suspension is due to the need to ensure individuals coming into Wyoming for a non-work related purpose comply with Gov. Gordon’s … directive requiring a 14-day quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Game and Fish Department said in a news release. “Individuals are responsible for complying with all state and local orders.”

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Gordon Calls for Suspension of Short-Term Out-of-State Fishing License Sales

in News/Coronavirus
3973

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Gov. Mark Gordon is asking the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to consider suspending the sale of short-term out-of-state fishing licenses to discourage travel into the state, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, also said the state Game and Fish Department emailed more than 43,000 non-residents who own hunting and fishing license to ask them to stay away from Wyoming in the short-term.

“I, just this morning, asked the commission to consider suspending the sale of short-term or temporary fishing licenses simply because if you are going to be here for 14 days before you go out, it doesn’t seem the correct thing to do to issue temporary or one-day licenses,” the governor said.

Gordon said the email told non-residents “in no uncertain terms” that if they can’t agree to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering Wyoming then “they should stay home.”

“We are particularly concerned about our neighbors in a lockdown states like Colorado coming up from Wyoming,” he said.

“They seem to be traveling up in droves to Wyoming. We’re trying to put a stop to that,” he added.

Gordon said his message was also being delivered at point-of-entry boat inspection stations.

“I’d also like to ask all of our neighbors to resist coming to Wyoming for antler collection,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Game and Fish Department advised Wyoming citizens to stay close to home and not to travel out-of-state if engaging in outdoor activities.

At that time, a spokesperson said the department had no plans to cancel hunting or fishing seasons.

Wednesday’s announcement won’t change that, although suspension of the sale of fishing licenses will likely have some impact on the number of out-of-state anglers in the state.

The discussion of non-resident fishing in Wyoming appeared to begin when Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr on Monday announced, via Twitter, that more than 150 out-of-state fishing licenses were sold on Saturday and Sunday.

“Dear Visitors: We love that you appreciate all Wyoming offers, including recreation and our great outdoors. The fact 153 non-resident annual fishing licenses were sold this weekend alone signals you are not staying at home. Please stay away. We’ll welcome you back another day,” she said.

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Game and Fish drafts plan to manage Chronic Wasting Disease

in News/wildlife
2563

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

Incurable and spreading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diminished herds

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

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

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

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

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

Options on the table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)
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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.

Chronic Wolf Depredation

in Cat Urbigkit/News/Column/Agriculture
wolf
Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit
2498

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I recently attended a meeting of fellow sheep and cattle producers who raise livestock in the part of Sublette County that is outside Wyoming’s trophy zone for wolves.

Wolves in the trophy zone are subject to regulated harvest as determined by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F) with hunting seasons and quotas, but in the predator zone, wolves can be killed at any time, for any reason.

If a livestock producer has wolves preying on their livestock in the trophy zone, it is the WG&F’s responsibility to both take care of the problem and to provide compensation for livestock losses to wolves. Not so in the predator zone. Although there is no regulation on the “take” of wolves in the predator zone, there is no state compensation program for livestock losses due to wolf depredation.

The state does have a program to help local predator boards pay for wolf control in the predator zone when there are confirmed livestock depredations, but again, no compensation program.

At the meeting, I listened to two of my neighbors who belong to a grazing association discuss their historic annual herd death-loss rate of 2%, and how that rate has now increased to 10%. The increase comes despite the application of intensive animal health protocols, and active herding by range riders living with the cattle. This is the same scenario as that faced by cattle producers experiencing grizzly bear depredation on their herds in the Upper Green River region of the same county.

With losses now 10% or more, several Upper Green producers said they wouldn’t be able to stay in the cattle business without the WG&F compensation program.

Two of my neighbors in the predator zone ended the grazing season short a total of 48 calves. A few calves were verified as wolf kills, but the majority of the missing calves simply disappeared, as is typical when a large carnivore species preys on livestock in rugged terrain. If each of those calves were sold at $700 per head this fall, that’s a loss of $33,600 in revenue between the two neighbors.

Five other neighboring producers (including me) didn’t disclose their losses, but all had enough losses to wolves to bring us all into the same room for a discussion. I can think of two other neighboring producers who weren’t able to attend the meeting but are in the same boat as the rest of us.

Our portion of the southern Wind River Mountains has become known as a chronic wolf depredation area. This area was not included in the trophy wolf zone specifically “because of the high potential for persistent conflicts with domestic sheep and cattle that are grazed on both public and private lands in these areas.”

There are other areas of the state’s predator zone in a similar situation, including in areas in Lincoln, Park, and Fremont counties. Wolves have even hit herds in Natrona and Carbon counties.

The livestock losses in our region are occurring with relatively high hunting pressure on the wolf population, since wolves can be taken anytime and without a permit in the predator zone. As one young cattleman questioned, “Who thinks this is working, when you’ve got wolf hunting and calf losses are at 10%?”

Hunting pressure has made wolves in the predator zone smarter and more elusive, but it has not stopped wolves from killing livestock – as we all knew it wouldn’t. But it has made controlling problem wolves more difficult.

Without radio collars on wolf packs in the predator zone, we have no way to monitor wolf pack movements, so we lack a method of tracking problem wolves. When we did place a radio collar on a wolf on our place, she would be at our ranch one night, and 15-20 miles away the next night. We always know the wolves will return, but what we never know is when. Sometimes it’s three or four nights a week, but sometimes it’s only about once every three weeks.

What has now been proven is that the Wyoming legislative declaration of wolves outside the trophy game zone as a predatory species with no limits on take does little to resolve depredation problems. While hunters can legally kill wolves at any time in the predator zone, most have learned that it’s easier to talk about hunting wolves than actually succeed at killing one. Even when they succeed in harvesting a wolf, most often they are not targeting wolves involved in livestock depredations. 

Targeting depredating wolves requires a sustained effort by skilled professionals: USDA Wildlife Services, the professional animal damage control experts that wolf advocates love to hate. After our recent livestock producer meeting, Wildlife Services agreed to devote more ground time to our chronic damage area, and within a few days was able to trap and radio collar another female wolf – a member of another wolf pack living in the area. With this federal agency’s help, we hope to get more collars placed on wolves in the predator zone. Then we can respond to livestock depredations by taking not just any wolf, but the wolves responsible for livestock depredations.

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.

State, national park work to limit mountain goat population

in News/wildlife
Mountain goats
2405

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

Doug McWhirter wants people to understand several things about Wyoming’s iconic mountain goat populations.

They’re cool. And they don’t belong everywhere.

“Mountain goats are fascinating, cool, and there are places we want to manage for thriving mountain goat populations,” said McWhirter, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife management coordinator in the Jackson region. “We want thriving mountain goat populations in the Snake River, Palisades and Beartooths areas.”

“We want to manage for hunting and viewing opportunities in these areas. In other places, we want to favor the core-native bighorn sheep herds in our management,” McWhirter continued. “Bottom line, we don’t hate mountain goats.”

Wyoming game managers share a concern with the National Park Service concerning a relatively new, expanding, non-native mountain goat population in Grand Teton National Park. 

The Teton Range is home to a small herd of native bighorn sheep, one of the smallest and most isolated populations in Wyoming.

The Teton Range bighorn sheep population is about 100 strong, while this new non-native mountain goat population has eclipsed 100 animals and is still growing.

The new mountain goat population is believed to have expanded from the Palisades area and into the Teton Range. The first documented reproduction of mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park was recorded in 2008. 

Now there are concerns that the mountain goat population threatens the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd through increased risk of disease transmission, which the Palisades goats are documented to harbor, and the potential for competition for limited resources.

“The Teton Range herd of native bighorn sheep is of high conservation value to the park, adjacent land and wildlife managers, and visitors,” said Denise Germann, Grand Teton National Park public affairs officer. “Our intent is to remove the non-native population of mountain goats and to maintain and improve viability of the native Teton bighorn sheep herd.”

The Game and Fish Department, assisted by hunters, is doing its part to manage the park’s mountain goat population in 2019. Liberalized hunting seasons were implemented outside of the park, in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s Jedediah Smith Wilderness.

“We’re doing what we can to address the situation in goat hunt area 4,” McWhirter said.

In the hunt area, the once-in-a-lifetime draw for mountain goat licenses was set aside. Instead, to help manage the mountain goat population, the department set a quota of 48 licenses for the 2019 season.

McWhirter checked a harvested mountain goat last week from area 4, and it marked the 21st harvested goat of the season. 

“Without exception, the hunters I have encountered have been very supportive,” McWhirter said. “They have appreciated the opportunity  to harvest a mountain goat, and to try to conserve bighorn sheep populations in the Tetons.”

The Teton bighorn sheep herd, “during the times we’ve been monitoring numbers, has never been huge. There’s about 100 to 125 sheep there,” McWhirter said. “They don’t migrate. They live at high populations all year, and they are subject to harsh conditions. These new non-native mountain goats are bringing additional mouths to the landscape, and we believe this peer competition could adversely affect the sheep.

“The bighorn sheep are doing OK in the Tetons,” McWhirter continued. “They’ve always been living on the edge, and besides the non-native goats, there are issues, too, with expanding backcountry winter skiing. The pressures on those sheep are making it tougher for their survival.”

Details aren’t certain yet, but Grand Teton National Park is considering removing the non-native mountain goats from within its boundaries — specifically, between Cascade and Snowshoe canyons — by lethal and non-lethal methods this winter.

“Without swift and active management, the mountain goat population is expected to continue to grow and expand its distribution within the park,” Germann said. “The mountain goat population is at a size where complete removal is achievable in a short time, however, the growth rate of this population suggests that complete removal in the near future may become unattainable after a period of about three years.”

Mountain goat hunting inside the park itself, or what the National Park Service refers to as the “use of skilled volunteers,” is the newest idea for mountain goat removal in the Tetons. 

“Qualified volunteers is a tool that may be used, but we have not developed this program,” Germann said.

Where Grand Teton National Park currently authorizes hunting, park officials refer to the practice as a “reduction program.” 

Rules are generally more restrictive for hunters in Grand Teton National Park, but the hunting is done by hunters licensed by the state Game and Fish Department.

The concept of using “skilled volunteers,” or hunters, is new since the national park issued an environmental assessment on the issue last December. Plans then called for National Park Service staff or contractors to kill goats from the ground with rifles, and from helicopters with shotguns. These early plans called for leaving the carcasses where the animals fell.

In March, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act passed Congress. Part of the bill addressed wildlife management in national parks.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stated, “if the (Interior) Secretary determines it is necessary to reduce the size of a wildlife population … the Secretary may use qualified volunteers to assist in carrying out wildlife management on [park] system land.”

Grand Teton National Park officials cited the Dingell act in their “finding of no significant impact” decision, which was signed by Acting Park Service Regional Director Palmer Jenkins in September.”

The desire is to quickly and efficiently remove non-native mountain goats from the park,” Germann said.

“Our big things, in our comments, are that we would like to see all efforts exhausted before ‘agency lethal removal’ is the answer,” McWhirter said. “We really appreciate the Park Service addressing our concerns, and allowing skilled volunteers to participate and help with the conservation of these goats. It’s all about trying to make a bad situation more tolerable.”

Grizzly bears visit Wyoming corn maze, family business works around “reality of recovery”

in News/wildlife
2285

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As Wyoming’s grizzly bear population continues to grow, the animals are increasingly moving into situations that put them in conflict with humans, according to a state Game and Fish Department official.

Dan Thompson, director of the department’s Large Carnivore Section, said his department is facing new challenges as it attempts to manage the bears to prevent conflicts with humans as the grizzlies spread into new areas.

“It’s a term I use: ‘The reality of recovery,’” he said. “We don’t want people to be punished for a recovered grizzly population. So those are the things we deal with now. We’re trying to do what’s right for bears and for people, obviously.”

Last year, some grizzly bears made themselves at home in a corn maze in Clark run every October by the Gallagher family.

Bridget Gallagher said a sow and her cubs entered the maze 2018, forcing the family to close the operation while the Game and Fish Department worked to remove the bears. The family then put an electric fence around the maze and Gallagher said it was roughly one week before the business could open again.

“The actually made a lot of sacrifices,” Thompson said. “Shutting down their money-making efforts to make sure people were safe and we had a lot of management work to try to get the bears out of there.”

This year, the fence went up before the maze opened, Gallagher said, and no bears have been seen.

“We decided we were going to be proactive and we were going to put up the fence before we even started,” she said.

Such experiences are growing more common as the area grizzly population increases and expands, Thompson said.

“We’ve seen the grizzly bear population increase in distribution more than 50 percent since the early 2000s,” he said. “As they move into newer areas … we’re having bears move into these situations where we don’t expect the public to make the sacrifices that people did within the core (recovery area).”

Fall colors depend on spring rains, first frost

in News/weather
leaves
2229

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

It’s that time of year again. The pumpkin spice is flowing, the birds are flying south, and according to social media, the leaves are turning.

But for most Wyomingites, fall colors only appear for a few days before the world turns dead and gray. 

In southeast Wyoming, it can feel like it takes longer to rake all the brown leaves than it did for them to die and fall to the ground. In northwest Wyoming, however, residents report fall looks more like the story books with yellows and reds dotting the landscape for weeks at a time.

“The intensity of the colors depends on three different things: Sunlight, temperature and moisture,” said Katie Cheesbrough, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department habitat biologist. “But frost is your major color killer.”

Working primarily in the Saratoga region, Cheesbrough said she couldn’t say for sure why northwest Wyoming experienced brilliant fall colors longer than other parts of the state, but it could be related to wind.

“I think the secret in Jackson is they just have less wind,” she said. “Down here, the wind tends to blow the leaves off the trees before they’ve had a chance to fully turn.”

Most leaves are green in the spring and summer because of the chemical chlorophyll, which is essential to the photosynthesis process, allowing trees to absorb energy from light.

As the weather changes, “The green pigment breaks down rather quickly,” Cheesbrough said. 

Without chlorophyll, red and yellow pigments, which are present throughout the year, come to the fore.

Yellow pigments are caused by carotenoid and red pigments are the product of anthocyanin, Cheesbrough explained.

“You’re going to see the best, most intense colors if you have a moist growing season early on, drier periods in the late summer and warm, sunny days in the fall with cool nights that don’t drop below freezing,” she said. 

Tree species also play a role in leaf color.

“Maples will have red leaves and aspens are primarily yellow, but do have some red,” Cheesbrough explained.

Leaf colors are genetic traits passed down through generations of trees, which is why an aspen copse tends to be monotoned, she said. But, occasionally, a person might see a bright red aspen floating in a sea of yellow.

“Most people think aspens only reproduce through cloning,” Cheesbrough said, explaining cloning is the process of a single tree growing new stems upward from a single root system. “But they also reproduce through seeds. When you see a lone aspen with different color leaves among others, you’re seeing a different tree’s genes at work.”

Deciduous trees shed their leaves while conifers, like pines and firs, retain their needles.

“They’re completely different organisms with completely different strategies,” Cheesbrough said. “Like some animals migrate to avoid winter and others hibernate, (deciduous trees) basically ditch these energetically expensive parts of themselves. Meanwhile, conifers still need their needles to photosynthesize, but in winter, they go into a dormant state to prevent them losing water through their needles.”

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said it is common to see leaves in an area change colors at different times.

“We do see a really wide variety of when leaves change throughout Medicine Bow National Forest, and how leaves change color,” Voos said. “This year, a lot of our trees turned much later than normal.”

One of the scientific theories Voos said is predominant in arborist circles is leaves turn based on the length of available daylight, rather than specific weather patterns. No matter the science, he said the early bird gets the worm.

“The best bit of advice I’ve ever got is, ‘When they’re turning, go see them,’” Voos said. “They may not be around that long.”

Elk hunting outlook good, deer hunting ‘mixed bag,’ says G&F report

in News/Recreation/wildlife
2021

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Fall is in the air and it’s the time of year when hunters around Wyoming are finalizing their plans for a successful hunting season. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department  has prepared a fall forecast of its eight regions to make planning much easier. 

The WGFD uses a map to define the eight regions identified as Cody, Sheridan, Jackson, Pinedale, Lander, Casper, Green River, and Laramie. 

The hunting season outlook in each region for the big three game animals — pronghorn antelope, deer and elk — is covered in the forecast, along with information on other species. 

Antelope

According to the report, pronghorn populations are up in the Casper, Green River, and Laramie regions, while in Sheridan and Cody, the populations remain stable. Although lower populations have been recorded in Pinedale, the limited number of licenses issued should mean success rates will be high, the report said. In Casper, populations are average. A GPS collar tracking program is set for the winter of 2019-20 to provide better information to Pronghorn Managers.   

Deer

The outlook for deer hunting is a “mixed bag,” according to the WGFD forecast. Although a successful hunting season is expected for the Big Horn Basin, most deer populations in Wyoming are down due to the severe winter of 2016-17. However, the Pinedale and Cody regions are seeing large populations and high quality hunting opportunities, with Cody herds expanding into new areas and habitats.

Elk

Elk hunting should be good, the report said. Populations increased in Casper, Cody, Green River, Laramie and Sheridan, with Sheridan’s populations being high due to limited hunter access to private land. The Lander and Pinedale populations remain steady in almost all areas.

The WGFD Fall 2019 Forecast also has information on moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison, upland game birds and small game, including turkey and migratory game birds. 

For complete information you can read the full forecast at the WGFD website.

Bear Attacks Increasing Worldwide

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
1874

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A French composer on a trip to Canada’s Northwest Territories to record the sounds of nature was attacked in his tent in the middle of the night and killed by a grizzly bear earlier this month. Such an unprovoked attack is rare, according to wildlife officials, although large carnivore attacks on humans are on the increase worldwide. Grizzly bear attacks on humans in Wyoming are part of that worldwide trend.

A new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports examines brown bear attacks on humans worldwide between 2000 and 2015. The report reinforces what we already suspected: attacks have increased significantly and are more frequent at high bear and low human population densities.

Researchers tallied 664 attacks on humans during the 15-year study period, including 183 in North America, 291 in Europe, and 190 in Russia, Iran and Turkey. There were more than 60 other attacks in Japan, Nepal, and southeastern Europe in which not enough information was available for their inclusion in the analysis.

The attack rate is about 40 attacks per year globally, with 11 attacks per year in North America, 18 per year in Europe, and 19 per year in the East (Russia, Iran and Turkey). About 14 percent of the attacks resulted in human fatalities, including 24 deaths in North America, 19 deaths in Europe, and 52 in the East (Russia, Iran, and Turkey). Of the brown bear attacks causing human injury in North America, 51 occurred in Alaska, 42 in British Columbia, 29 in Wyoming, 25 in Montana, and 18 in Alberta.

Globally, attack victims were almost exclusively adults, and most attacks occurred while the person was alone, during the summer, and in daylight hours. About half the attacks were categorized as encounters with females with cubs, while 20% were surprise or sudden encounters.

Bear awareness reminder against Palisades (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Interestingly, there were 15 attacks classified as “predatory” in which a predator attacks a human as prey: 9 in Russia, and 6 in North America. The bear attacks at the Soda Butte Campground just outside Yellowstone National Park in 2010 involved a sow grizzly killing a man camped alone in his tent, and injuring two other people in other campsites the same night, in what was deemed predatory attacks. The next summer, a female grizzly with cubs killed a man in Yellowstone National Park in what was then viewed as a defensive attack, but the same sow was linked to the death of a second man a month later in which the man’s body had been partially consumed.

Romania

Some Greater Yellowstone bear advocates point to Romania as an example of bear-human coexistence, noting that Romania is roughly the same size as the Yellowstone region, but hosts a bear population 10 times more numerous. Not surprisingly then, when it comes to brown bear attacks on humans, that almost half of Europe’s total number of attacks happen in one country: Romania. It’s worth a quick history lesson.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu worked to rid the Romanian countryside of its human residents by “collectivizing” farms and razing entire villages, forcing residents into “state-controlled urban hives,” as David Quammen wrote in The Atlantic more than a decade ago.

Under Ceausescu’s leadership, brown bears thrived. For decades, Romanian gamekeepers tended to hundreds (if not thousands) of feeding stations for bears, keeping bears numerous and fat so that the dictator and his party elite could have trophies to shoot from the comfort of nearby blinds – all the while the few remaining rural residents were prohibited from having guns.

After Ceausescu was deposed and executed in 1989, hunting of brown bears was opened to rich foreigners willing to pay tens of thousands for a trophy, but that lasted only a few years. The hunting of any large carnivores in Romania was halted in 2016, with few exceptions. More than 40 bear attacks on humans were recorded in Romania in 2017, and three people have already died this year due to bear attacks. Half of the Romanian attacks in the 15-year study involved bears attacking adults who were working outside; shepherds tending flocks, drovers with their cattle, and farmers working the landscape.

Self-defense tools are rather limited since gun ownership is extremely restricted in Romania, and although it’s legal to carry bear spray, it is not a common practice. In many European countries, pepper spray is illegal or its use is tightly regulated.

The researchers found at a global scale, bear attacks are more frequent in regions where the human density is lower and bear densities higher, and that attacks are also more frequent where recreational activities in bear areas are more common. In Europe, that might be people hiking or gathering berries, but in Wyoming, it tends to be hunters seeking large game.

Legal protection has resulted in recovery and expansion of brown bear populations worldwide, with more than 200,000 brown bears now in existence. As grizzly populations continue to expand their range, it’s important for recreationalists in shared territory to be ever-mindful of grizzly presence.

Bear Attack Sign

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that if you surprise a grizzly bear at close range, drop a nonfood item (like a hat or bandanna) on the ground and slowly back away. Speak softly, but avoid eye contact, and never run from a bear. If the bear charges, remain standing. Carry bear spray and be ready to use it. If a bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and play dead.

That’s what we’ve been trained to do in grizzly country when it comes to surprise or defensive encounters.

But a predatory bear is a different beast, and requires the opposite tactic. If a grizzly bear approaches a human in a persistent manner, with head up and ears erect, behaving in a curious or predatory manner, you need to be aggressive and fight back.

Predatory bears do not give warning signals or use threat displays or bluff charges to attempt to scare you away, as a defensive bear will, according to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. A predatory bear will demonstrate keen interest in a person, often quietly and intently approaching, eyes locked on its target. Predatory attacks end only when the bear is overpowered, scared away, injured, killed, or kills you. If a bear attacks a person at night in a tent, fight as hard and loudly as you possibly can. 

Remember the general rule: Play dead for a defensive attack, but fight for your life in a predatory attack. The fact that predatory attacks on humans are rare is of little comfort when confronted with a predatory animal.

For more in what to do in a bear encounter, read this from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s recommendations.

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.

Conflict Prevention Takes A Genius

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Be bear aware
1715

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and presidential hopeful known for his animal advocacy and veganism.

John Barrasso, a conservative Republican from Wyoming who serves in a top leadership position for Senate Republicans, is known for his support of animal agriculture and our nation’s energy industry.

What do they have in common? Both have an interest in reducing human-predator conflicts. Barrasso is the primary sponsor of the bill, but Booker joined together with Tom Carper (D-Delaware), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), to cosponsor Senate Bill 2194, Promoting Resourceful and Effective Deterrents Against Threats Or Risks involving Species (PREDATORS) Act. If enacted, the bill will amend the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act to establish the Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize for reducing human-predator conflict.

Last week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard testimony about the possibility of providing a financial incentive for the development of non-lethal, innovative technologies that reduce conflict between human and wildlife predators.

While human fatalities caused by grizzly bears are a concern to Barrasso’s constituents, the committee also heard testimony about shark attacks, as well as conflicts involving mountain lions and alligators. Brad Hovinga of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department provided testimony, as did Animal Planet’s Extinct or Alive host Forrest Galante, and Dr. Nick Whitney of the New England Aquarium.

Hovinga told the committee: “Wildlife agencies use a variety of innovative, non-lethal technologies to aid in reducing conflicts. These technologies include the use of chalk and pepper balls, weapon-fired beanbags, a variety of pyrotechnics and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Wyoming recently trained personnel in the use of conducted electrical weapons, commonly known as tasers, for use as an aversion tool for wildlife.”

Hovinga talked about the both the importance and limitations of pepper spray, and the need for innovation in improving conducting electrical devices for use as both an aversive conditioning tool and a temporary immobilization tool.

“Improvements in unmanned aerial vehicles, or drone technology, that allow for the deployment of aversive conditioning tools would greatly improve our ability to keep people safe and influence the behavior of habituated or aggressive wildlife. Developments in FLIR and thermal camera technology for the use with UAVs would significantly increase human safety when assessing dangerous situations.” Hovinga said. “Lastly, long-range acoustic sound devices, or sound cannons, are devices that directionally deliver sound over long distances. The potential for development of long-range acoustic deterrents for wildlife management exists. Work to develop an appropriate aversive conditioning tool for addressing wildlife conflicts would be greatly beneficial.”

One difference I noted between both the senators speaking during the hearing, and the witnesses giving testimony, was perspectives on encroachment – whether humans are encroaching on animals, or animals are encroaching on humans. While some conflicts occur when predators in Wyoming come into urban areas seeking prey (such as mountain lions pursuing deer in urban developments), Delaware Senator Carper noted that human-predator interactions are increasingly common as more people recreate “in wildlife habitat.” Carper said “as humans continue to encroach upon wildlife habitat and compete with predators for the same space and the same natural resources, our relationships with these animals can become, in some cases, adversarial.”

Some committee members emphasized the need to address habitat loss and protect predators, while others expressed the need for more scientific research to understand changes in animal behavior due to climate change, and pressed for public education about wildlife species.

Near the close of the hearing, Barrasso pointedly asked Hovinga: “since the goal of the Genius Prize we are considering is to protect both predators and humans, regarding predators, the key to protecting their lives involves preventing conflicts with humans in the first place. Can you explain why, from your years and history and knowledge, after a conflict with humans occurs, it may be necessary to euthanize some of these predators?”

Hovinga’s reply reflected the reality involved when large predators come into conflict with humans. He said: “That is an unfortunate reality sometimes with wildlife management and wildlife behavior, that we have to realize. With a lot of wildlife, bears specifically and other large carnivores, those behaviors that end up becoming a part of an animal’s everyday behavior, that becomes dangerous toward humans, those are learned behaviors. Those are typically learned through successes over time. It usually revolves around those successes in obtaining food.”

Hovinga gave an example of a black bear that learned when it approached people, the people would drop their backpacks and run away, allowing the bear to receive a food reward from the backpacks. Over time, the bear repeated the action, and the more aggressive the bear became, the higher the probability the person would drop the backpack and run away. He added, “Fortunately, we were able to intervene in that situation, prior to that becoming dangerous and actually somebody becoming injured.”

He continued: “Those learned behaviors are very, very difficult for animals to unlearn. They typically don’t unlearn them. It is irresponsible for us as a wildlife management agency to allow animals to remain on the landscape that engage in behavior that is dangerous toward people. Unfortunately, sometimes those animals need to be removed from the population. The populations are nearly always doing well enough that those removals are not significant in the scheme of the population management, but certainly, a requirement to keep people safe.”

This is an issue all state wildlife managers have to deal with and must justify to the public when wild predators are killed to protect human safety. Listening to the testimony before the committee, it became evident that to some, living with wild predators is more of an idea than a reality. It’s a reality for wildlife manager Hovinga, and to a majority of Barrasso’s constituents. 

As it should, the committee hearing provided a forum for a variety of views on a diversity of predator-human interaction issues. That Democrats from densely populated areas would have differing views than Republicans from sparsely populated areas is to be expected. That they are talking and sharing their experiences for a wider audience is important.

Both Barrasso and Hovinga represented Wyoming well.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

The Decline of the Whiskey Mountain Bighorns

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Big Horn Sheep
1458

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd has made Dubois, Wyoming an international stop for people interested in this species of mountain royalty, with many residents keep spotting scopes trained on the hillsides above town for constant sheep viewing. This rustic western community also hosts the National Bighorn Sheep Center.

Whiskey Mountain once held the largest concentration of wintering bighorn sheep in the country, but the herd began to decline in the 1970s. In 1975, researchers found the sheep herd was consuming more than 90 percent of the annual vegetative growth on its wintering grounds, and herd members were afflicted with poor health, indications that there was inadequate forage and the herd had overpopulated its range.

Those researchers (led by the late and sorely missed wildlife veterinarian Dr. Tom Thorne of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department) predicted that any added environmental stress could result in a catastrophic disease outbreak, which came true in the early 1990s. The population has continued to struggle since that time, with the herd currently numbering about 400 animals.

Although the herd is now only utilizing less than half the annual forage growth on its winter range, there continue to be indications that the herd is subject to some unknown nutritional stress on its summer range.

According to the draft management plan for this herd, “Underpinning the nutritional issued identified in this herd is now the persistence of bacteria and other pathogens believed to have serious health repercussions for the population.”

The herd has multiple species of bacteria related to pneumonia in bighorn sheep, as well as sinus tumors, and other diseases and parasites.

“At this point managers do not know if poor sheep health in the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd is strictly due to pathogens and parasites or if the persistence of pathogens and parasites is the result of nutritional stress,” according to the draft plan.

Domestic sheep and goats have traditionally been blamed for bighorn sheep die-offs, regardless of whether there was any documented contact between wild and domestic sheep.

In this case, “when and how bacterial pathogens were introduced to the bighorn sheep population is unknown, but it is likely environmental stress associated with severe winter conditions resulted in the disease outbreak and die-off event.”

The last known record of domestic sheep use in the Whiskey Mountain area was in the early 1960s, and all domestic sheep and goat grazing has been banned on the area of the Shoshone National Forest used by this herd – even the use of pack goats. Despite there being no domestic sheep in the herd area for decades, the draft plan calls for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) to work with the National Bighorn Sheep Center to “develop a strategy to provide educational materials to domestic sheep or goat owners” and to coordinate with federal agencies on the need to maintain separation between wild sheep and domestic sheep and goats.

In my view, that’s pretty much a waste of time and money: As if there is a domestic sheep producer in the West that hasn’t heard this refrain before. It would be far more suitable to invite wool growers to the table rather than having bighorn sheep advocates trying to tell domestic sheep producers how to manage their flocks. Sheep producers know that there are a variety of ways of keeping bighorns and domestic flocks separated, but some bighorn advocates view ridding the range of domestic sheep as the only way to ensure separation, setting the two up for conflict rather than working together.

In addition, new research on a pathogen known to cause pneumonia in bighorn sheep has been recently been documented to occur in moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, antelope, and caribou. But WG&F maintains that these other species are not a component of the bighorn problem.

The presence of a new wolf pack on Whiskey Mountain has added a new pressure to the mix for the bighorn herd. The increased wolf activity has changed the behavior and distribution of the bighorn herd on its winter range, with the herd shifting up the mountain, into higher-elevation, less accessible, and more rugged terrain as the wolves have moved onto the lower-range winter habitat for the sheep, and the area elk population has also moved down onto traditional sheep winter range. The draft plan notes that while direct predation on sheep hasn’t been observed to be an issue, “the displacement being caused by wolves adds another potential stressor to an already nutritionally and conditionally stressed population.”

WG&F has started a three-year research project aimed at understanding lamb mortality and assessing summer habitat conditions, with the WG&F Commission kicking in $350,000 for the first year. Since much of the herd’s summer range is within the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service has agreed to approve the study components, including backcountry camps, experimental habitat treatments, and the use of a helicopter to capture bighorns in the wilderness area.

WG&F will hold two workshops this week to discuss the draft plan, which can be found at this link. The first workshop will be held June 5, at 6 p.m. at the Dubois Headwaters Arts and Conference Center, and the second will be June 6, at 6 p.m. in the WG&F’s Pinedale office.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Golden Problems, Working Solutions

in Uncategorized
Golden eagle talons.
1342

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Imagine being a commercial sheep producer in Wyoming and losing 15 percent of your annual lamb crop to a federally protected predator. Then as each year passes, your livestock losses increase as more of those federally protected predators concentrate depredations on your flocks. The losses climb so that fully half of your lamb crop is lost to these predators. 

That’s the reality for Johnson County’s Tommy Moore of Moore Ranch Livestock, which lost half of its lambs to golden eagles last year. The Moore outfit had about 200 lambs born earlier this year, but 27 lambs are left alive at this point, with 80 percent of that death loss due to golden eagles.

It’s not a sustainable situation and everyone knowledgeable about this case understands that.

That’s why Moore has teamed up with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, and Mike Barker of the International Eagle Austringers Association (a group of eagle falconers) to organize a coordinated effort to get some of the depredating golden eagles off his ranch. That work has drawn in several federal agencies, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, the North American Falconers Association, numerous volunteer falconers and scientists from across the country, and U.S. Senator John Barrasso. 

Barrasso – quietly and successfully – amended the federal eagle protection act last fall to require the director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to “use the most expeditious procedure practicable to process and administer permits” for the take of depredating eagles.[

“That really helped to push this through,” Barker said. 

A golden eagle in flight in western Wyoming.
A golden eagle feeds on a dead pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Prior to a mid-1970s study documenting severe eagle depredation on Montana lambing grounds, the public (and some wildlife agencies) were skeptical at rancher claims of eagle depredations.

Bart O’Gara of the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit documented a similar kill scenario to the Moore’s Johnson County ranch on two Dillon, Montana-area ranches in the 1970s. In one six-hour period, O’Gara found 15 fresh eagle kills on one ranch, and that year, federal officials removed 145 golden eagles from the two ranches, which suffered losses totaling 76% of their lamb crop. Over a period covering three springs, nearly 250 golden eagles were removed from the ranches and depredations began to decline.[

With USDA Wildlife Services confirming the eagle depredations on his Wyoming ranch, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued Moore a depredation permit allowing the removal of two eagles. Moore agreed to work with the International Eagle Austringers Association so that the two eagles removed pursuant to his permit would be used for falconry, while other eagles that are captured are to be relocated away from the area.

A total of 27 eagle falconers applied to trap a golden eagle, and two names were drawn, including lucky man Barker and another falconer from New Mexico. Within six days, the trapping team captured a male eagle for the New Mexico falconer, and three days later, caught a female eagle for Barker. Both are immature golden eagles, so they were not part of the breeding population.

Now that two eagles have been removed from the population under the depredation permit, all other eagles captured on the ranch during the 90-day term of the permit will be relocated away from the ranch. Two other eagles have already been relocated, and live trapping efforts continue.

A golden eagle feeds on a dead pronghorn antelope in Wyoming.
A golden eagle in flight in western Wyoming. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Similar efforts to stop eagle depredations on sheep have been successful in South Dakota. Other tactics, such as using scare devices, are generally viewed as ineffective at deterring eagle depredation on range sheep operations.

Eagle depredation on domestic sheep isn’t limited to newborn lambs, as Moore points out. They also attack and kill adult sheep and antelope. Golden eagles also killed a number of Moore’s replacement ewe lambs (weighing about 100 pounds) last fall. For the benefit of those not involved in the domestic sheep business, I’ll add that in my view, replacement ewe lambs are the future of any family sheep outfit.

While the eagle problem on the Moore ranch varies with the weather and with the season, the ranch experienced heavy damage in February (before his depredation permit was issued), and Moore expects problems to increase again this fall, if last year’s pattern is any indication.

The FWS has been hesitant to allow the removal of golden eagles, only allowing up to six goldens to be taken for falconry nationwide, so nearly all the golden eagles used for falconry in the United States were captured in the wilds of Wyoming. But FWS has not allowed any eagles to be taken from the wild since 2011 – until Barrasso pushed through the amendment to the eagle act last fall, and wool growers teamed up with falconers to push for action in Johnson County.

The wool growers/falconry partnership will continue, with numerous volunteer citizen scientists and falconers arriving on lambing grounds in other regions of the state in the coming days to monitor eagle depredations on lambs through the month of June. They will assist USDA Wildlife Services in confirming eagle depredations where problems are reported, which will set the stage for more ranchers to follow Moore’s lead in applying for depredation permits and requesting that falconers be allowed to trap and remove eagles from depredation areas.

The end result is that rather than pushing another domestic sheep producer out of business, the Moore family can continue their ranching heritage, and problem eagles will be removed from the wild, to hunt with their falconry advocates for decades to come.

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.[

Trapping in Wyoming is aging out, wildlife management could suffer

in News/wildlife
Trapping in Wyoming is aging out, wildlife management could suffer
1306

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cruel trade?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coalition to sue over state’s new grizzly hunt law

in News/Recreation
989

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A coalition of environmental groups plans to sue the state over a new law giving it the authority to conduct grizzly bear hunts.

The groups, including the Sierra Club, filed a notice this week with the state Game and Fish Department of their intent to sue over the statue, which was signed into law about a week ago by Gov. Mark Gordon.

The groups, in a news release, said the law is contrary to a federal judge’s ruling last year that said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service erred by removing grizzlies from the endangered species list and giving management of grizzly bears to the state.

But backers of the law, as well as the law itself, maintain that federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act require cooperation between federal and state governments.

Senate File 93, signed into law by Gordon on Feb. 15, was the Legislature’s response to a federal judge’s ruling in September that halted a hunting season on grizzlies.

The hunting season was scheduled after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had ruled recovery goals for grizzlies in Wyoming had been met and the animals could be removed from the endangered species list.The Fish and Wildlife Service is appealing the judge’s decision.

SF 93 would give the Game and Fish Department the right to declare a hunting season for grizzlies if it determined such a hunt would be beneficial to the state’s residents.

The coalition, which also includes the Center for Biological Diversity and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said the new law violates the Endangered Species Act and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives federal law primacy over state law.

“This state law directly and unlawfully conflicts with the clear mandate of the federal Endangered Species Act that grizzly bears not be shot by trophy hunters seeking their heads and hides for bragging rights,” said Nichola Arrivo, a staff attorney with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), another member of the coalition.

But the law’s backers maintain the Endangered Species Act requires federal officials to work cooperatively with states in managing endangered species, so the law is valid.

The law itself raises the same point.

“In enacting the Endangered Species Act, the United States Congress requires the United States secretary of the interior to cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the states in conserving and managing any endangered or threatened species,” it said.

Jim Allen, an outfitter in Fremont County who served in the Legislature from 2015 through 2018, said if nothing else, the legislation would show the state’s intent that federal laws be administered in accordance with laws in effect in the state.

“What (bill sponsor) Sen. (Wyatt) Agar’s (R-Thermopolis) bill does is just one more statement by the state that can’t be ignored by the (federal) agencies,” Allen said. “State and county use plans are statements the federal government is supposed to abide by.”

While the federal government may not recognize the law’s validity, it will still send a message, Allen said.

“Nothing else that we’ve tried has worked to gain (grizzly bear) management, so why not pass a bill?” he said. “It can’t hurt.”

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

in News
874

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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