Talbott: Ag partnerships essential to wildlife survival
Laramie – “I have learned a few things in my almost 30 years with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD),” commented WGFD Director Scott Talbott at Laramie’s Today’s Ag dinner, “and one of those things is that, in Wyoming, if it’s good for ag, it’s good for wildlife.”
Talbott addressed over 300 attendees of the dinner, sponsored by the Albany County Cowbelles, Albany County Farm Bureau, Albany County Stock Growers, Laramie Area Chamber of Commerce, University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, WyoTech, Wyoming Beef Council and the Wyoming Business Council.
“I have also learned that there are a whole bunch of places in the state that, if it weren’t for agriculture, we wouldn’t enjoy the abundance and diversity of wildlife that we enjoy today,” he continued.
At the dinner, Talbott discussed a number of issues affecting Wyoming’s wildlife and updated attendees on some of Wyoming’s wildlife issues.
“WGFD, by Wyoming Statute, is mandated to provide an adequate, flexible system for the control, propagation, management, protection and regulation of all Wyoming’s wildlife,” he explained, noting that the WGFD works to ensure the management of all wild animals – ranging from deer and elk to smaller wildlife and trophy game.
Ag and wildlife
Talbott began by recognizing the working relationship with agriculture that he has emphasized in his time as director of the WGFD.
“Wyoming is a relationship state,” he said. “If you want to accomplish anything in Wyoming, you need to build positive working relationships.”
Talbott emphasized, “The people in Wyoming matter, and the wildlife matter.”
One of the ways that Talbott has noted the WGFD continues to work with agriculture is in their damage control.
“We have had a damage management program in Wyoming since 1939,” said Talbott, “and we have one of the most comprehensive damage programs in North America.”
“We work with landowners to evaluate, mitigate and prevent damage to private property, not only from big game animals, but trophy game animals as well,” he added.
He noted that in his time at the WGFD, he has sought the input of farmers and ranchers to gain their perspective and to accomplish goals.
“Working together, we can accomplish a great deal, and we can leave this place in better shape that we found it,” he added.
Of particular concern to many of Wyoming’s ranchers are the elk populations in Wyoming.
“In Wyoming, we manage elk in herd units,” said Talbott, “and currently we have a dichotomy on how elk are managed.”
In the northwest portion of the state, Talbott noted that the WGFD has seen elk populations declining noticeably in the last seven years.
“We have taken a lot of hunting management options there, moving to limited quota hunting in both the Cody and Sunlight elk herds. For the first time in a number of year, we are approaching objective in the Jackson elk herd,” said Talbott.
However, in the eastern parts of Wyoming, Talbott said that elk numbers are over objective and growing.
“We are seeing record cow/calf ratios,” he said of some eastern Wyoming herds. “There are some areas that we are seeing 60 calves per 100 cows survive – that helps populations grow fairly rapidly.”
In contrast, as few as nine calves per 100 cows survive on the Gros Ventre feed ground.
In order to manage elk populations, Talbott listed a number of tools that the WGFD has available and mentioned that they continue to work with the Wyoming legislature to allow more options.
“We use hunters to manage elk to the best of our ability,” said Talbott, “and we regulate that through season dates, season length, general versus limited quote licenses and cow/calf licenses, for example.”
Using hunter management, he also noted that record harvest and hunter success has been seen recently.
“In 2012, we had a record elk harvest in Wyoming,” he commented. “There are more elk in Wyoming right now and more harvested than at any time since the turn of the 19th century. This past year, we harvested almost 15,000 elk in the state, and hunter success was at an all-time high of 46 percent.”
However, particularly in eastern Wyoming where over-objective herds present a problem, access is an issue.
“Access is a huge key in some areas,” Talbott mentioned.
To ease access issues and continue to increase access for hunters, particularly in problem areas, the WGFD has implemented several programs to work with both hunters and landowners.
“In 2010, we implemented a program called the hunt management coordinator program,” said Talbott. “In that program, we hired people to go out and work with landowners. Those individuals contact hunter and work with hunters and landowners to facilitate harvest.”
The program has been successful in Meeteetse, where it was started due to brucellosis concerns. Recently, the program has also been implemented on Iron Mountain in the Laramie area.
They also started an access program in the mid-1990s to allow hunters onto private lands.
“Our hunter management areas are a very popular program with landowners, and in a lot of areas, we have been able to provide a lot of public access,” Talbott explained.
Continuing to move forward
While they have several programs that are working, Talbott noted that they continue to work to change regulations and statutes to accommodate their needs.
For example, an emergency regulation is currently in place to allow hunters to obtain up to three elk licenses.
Working with the public also continues to be a priority for Talbott.
“When I became the director, I asked our folks to put a face on the agency,” he commented. “I want to make sure that when someone talks about the WGFD, they know who their local game warden is.”
“In addition, I want our people to listen to the public,” he said, noting that their efforts have been very successful.
“We establish our objectives with landowners and public input,” said Talbott. “We talk about habitat concerns, and we continue to look at opportunities for ways that we can work with landowners.”
To learn more about the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and their efforts, visit wgfd.wyo.gov.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.