Wildlife issues Update provided at convention
Published on Jan. 11, 2020
During the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup Convention and Trade Show Dec. 9-11 in Casper, Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and Dr. Gary Beauvais, director of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD) provided updates on several wildlife issues including grizzly bears, migration corridors, chronic wasting disease (CWD), elk feeding grounds and species of concern.
The first issue discussed was the re-listing of grizzly bears on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“I think the most important thing to note in the grizzly discussion, regardless of what side of the issue people are on, is the majority of the courts and scientists have found the grizzly bear population is fully recovered. There isn’t a lot of argument about it,” Nesvik stated.
With this in mind, Nesvik explained in 2018 U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen restored ESA protections for grizzly bears.
“Judge Christensen found three problems with the last delisting rule,” Nesvik explained. “The first was that it didn’t adequately describe how there would be genetic interchange amongst ecosystems. The second was that it didn’t adequately describe how the populations outside of the distinct population segment would be evaluated and the last issue dealt with the concept of recalibration.”
Nesvik explained following this ruling, Wyoming made the conscious decision as a state to appeal Judge Christensen’s decision.
“We believe appealing this decision is the right thing to do for a lot of reasons,” Nesvik stated. “So for now, we are waiting for the appeal to take its course ,and we expect to have a decision in about nine months.”
“Up until a year ago, the Game and Fish were involved in a process that took scientific data and new information, put it into a model, verified the model with on-the-ground observations and feedback from landowners and federal managers and designated a migration corridor,” Nesvik explained.
Nesvik further explained the corridor designations were separated into categories including which portions of the corridors had high usage, moderate usage and low usage. They also pinpointed the areas of the corridors that were bottlenecks or pinch points and stopover areas.
Nesvik noted after using science to designate the corridors, they made recommendations to land managers on how development would be permitted on the corridors.
“There was, and continues to be, a lot of concern that the state and other stakeholders should be involved in the process before the recommendation goes to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM),” Nesvik said.
Therefore, the governor formed a task force consisting of landowners, oil and gas folks, mining representatives, non-governmental organizations ad environmental organizations, according to Nesvik.
“The governor put all of these different people in the room and over the course of three days, they created a set of recommendations,” he explained. “Essentially, the governor is contemplating an executive order (EO) to bring all of the recommendations together to give stakeholders guidance on how the state goes about developing on wildlife corridors.”
Nesvik noted currently, three corridors have been designated and two others are in draft form.
“It is important to note, there is no desire, at least from my perspective, to involve private lands in the EO,” Nesvik added. “Based on my experience, private landowners in our state value wildlife very highly, and if given information, they will make decisions on their private lands that will preserve the functionality of those herds to the best of their ability.”
Nesvik noted CWD continues to be a concern.
“CWD only used to be a problem in southeast Wyoming, but it continues to move a little bit further west each year,” he explained. “We now understand when CWD prevalence is high enough, it can hold down wildlife populations. We also know the problem is not getting better. In fact, it is spreading wider and becoming more severe.”
Nesvik mentioned they have conducted on-the-ground sampling and they have also done some vaccine research that is yet to be successful.
“As of right now, we still don’t know the specific vector which transmits CWD from one animal to the other. We have some suspicions but no proof,” Nesvik said. “However, the top-notch research that would get us where we need to be and help us understand these questions is very expensive and time consuming.”
He continued, “Knowing this, we thought it would be important to get a group of people from across the state from all factions, to come together and consider the problem. These people came up with a good set of recommendations that we are in the middle of considering right now.”
Nesvik also noted Sen. John Barrasso has been working to create a national focus on the disease and a national task force to leverage money from the 26 CWD infected states as well as federal money to put toward the expensive research.
Elk feed grounds
“As CWD continues to move west, it poses a challenge for our 100-year-old elk feeding operation,” Nesvik stated.
He explained the three primary objectives behind feeding elk is to prevent comingling between elk and cattle during peak brucellosis transmission times, to prevent damage to crops and to provide recreational opportunities.
“Concentrating game is not something WGFD necessarily promotes, but it is a 100-year-old practice and stopping feeding tomorrow is not an option as it would create conflicts on private lands that are far beyond reasonable,” he said.
Species of concern
When it comes to species of concern in the state of Wyoming, Beauvais noted there are five species listed as endangered including four vertebrate animals – Wyoming toad, Kendall Warm Springs dace, grizzly bear and Black-footed ferret – and one plant species – blowout penstemon.
He also said there are eight threatened species including five vertebrate animals – Canada lynx, northern long-eared myotis, Preble’s Meadow jumping mouse, wolverine and gray wolf – two plants – Ute lady’s tresses and desert yellowhead and one invertebrate animal – glacier stonefly, which is the first insect ever to be listed in the state.
Additionally, Beauvais explained there are eight resident species in the state of Wyoming under review for listing. These include the plains spotted skunk, little brown myotis, American perimyotis, sturgeon chub, western bumblebee, narrow-foot hygrotus diving beetle, monarch butterfly and regal fritillary.
“Over the last year, one species has been listed – the glacier stonefly – and three species have been delisted – the peregrine falcon, bald eagle and Colorado butterfly plant,” said Beauvais.
He continued, “In response, WYNDD has completed 56 research projects over the past year, 21 of which addressed endangered, threatened, candidate and petitioned species in the state. This year, we have 64 different projects in the books, 24 of which deal with species of concern.”
“The other two-thirds of our work is focused on being proactive,” Beauvais added. “We go out, pull out our crystal ball and try to predict what species might be next and get ahead of them.” Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.