Governor continues discussion on Wyoming’s wildlife
On March 30, a town hall meeting was held in Sublette County and featured Gov. Mark Gordon, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Brian Nesvik and University of Wyoming Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources Professor and Scientist Dr. Kevin Monteith to discuss Wyoming’s wildlife and how they have been impacted by current weather conditions.
An article in the April 8 edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup provides highlights from the first half of the meeting, in which Gordon, Nesvik and Monteith gave an update on Wyoming’s current big game population.
During the second half of the meeting, the panel turned the microphone over to attendees to offer comments, ask questions and propose solutions regarding the issue.
To kick off the public comment session, Tyler Wilson, a native of the Boulder area, nodded to feeding operations taking place in surrounding states and asked the panel why Wyoming wasn’t doing the same.
Several attendees voiced similar concerns.
“We have looked at feeding and at the results of those efforts. But, at the end of the day, they don’t have a large enough effect to make any difference,” explained Nesvik. “States that are doing it haven’t seen a lot of positive results from their efforts. This is why we’ve chosen not to.”
Gordon mentioned one of the challenges with feeding wildlife is increased concentration densities and intermingling with livestock.
“We are concerned about brucellosis as much as we are about anything else,” he stated. “Anytime we concentrate wildlife, we also have to worry about disease transmission, which can actually compound our problem to a degree.”
Monteith reiterated concern for disease transmission when increasing population densities, noting during the winter of 2016-17 adenovirus was the leading cause of mortality in fawns.
He explained this hemorrhagic disease is spread through animal-to-animal contact, and concentrating wildlife at feeding sites increases risk for the deadly disease to pop up again.
Monteith also noted although feeding seems like the right thing to do to help animals increase fat cover as they move into winter months – fat cover is one of the leading factors for increased survivability – it actually can do more harm than good.
In fact, he noted the digestive system of deer and pronghorn are full of microorganisms to help with digestion, and as winter progresses, especially in current conditions, the microflora adapts to the course diet they feed on.
“Feeding may make us feel good, but it is insidious because we are going to lose a lot of animals at the same time given the digestive upset and acidosis which are consequences of it,” he said.
Although animals can be slowly introduced to hay or fed forage specifically designed to avoid this issue, Nesvik and Monteith reiterated the lack of benefit feeding operations would provide.
Gary Garlick of Big Piney and Sarah Elmquist Squires of Lander questioned the panel about why, if feeding lacks a beneficial outcome, several emergency elk feeding operations have cropped up throughout the state.
“We are doing emergency feeding for elk exclusively to deal with disease transmission between them and domestic cattle, as well as for elk that are damaging haystacks on private property,” Nesvik replied. “These operations are effective because elk are better able to digest harvested hay. It is not to increase their survivability, but rather to mitigate the damage they cause.”
Migration corridors were also a large topic of conversation throughout the meeting, and Nesvik noted Wyoming is the leading state in the nation in migration corridor policy.
Bill Winney of Bondurant praised the WGFD for over and underpass construction occurring along these migration routes in an effort to reduce wildlife traffic incidents.
“Sublette County was a leader in this country for erecting crossings at Trappers Point, and they are certainly effective,” commented Nesvik. “I can’t recall the exact number, but we saw a decrease of 90 percent or more in road mortality following their construction.”
He further noted the governor continues to make migration corridors a priority. In fact, on top of projects recently completed in Buffalo and Kaycee, the WGFD, with the help of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, will complete nine other underpasses by October in Dry Piney.
They are also considering a project in Dubois and another large-scale project over Interstate 80.
Later in the meeting, Linda Baker, a representative of the Upper Green River Alliance in Pinedale, offered her concern regarding pronghorn migration corridors specifically.
“The last visit to Pinedale to speak about wildlife and the migration corridor executive order was Feb. 1, 2020, and during those listening sessions the Pinedale audience overwhelmingly supported designation of migration corridors in Sublette County,” Baker stated.
“Close to $35 million mitigation dollars have been spent to help our herds through fence modification, habitat treatment and private land conservation easements,” she added. “At Trappers Point, two overpasses and six underpasses were completed at a cost of $10 million, but for all of this money spent, our Sublette pronghorn herd has been steadily declining.”
She continued, “The Upper Green River Alliance requests the governor’s office direct the WGFD to use the scientific data available now to define and designate the path of the pronghorn in Sublette and Sweetwater counties. We also request WGFD communicate frequently with the Bureau of Land Management during their review of the migration corridor habitat.”
Gordon admitted the COVID-19 pandemic, which reared its head shortly after this meeting, put a halt to the work they were doing on pronghorn migration corridors.
“But, we did not slow down,” he said. “In fact, we are looking at getting two corridors going.”
A few meeting attendees also addressed the panel about offering hunting licenses and expressed their support for suspending or curtailing deer and antelope licenses in the area this coming hunting season.
Paul Ulrich, vice president of Jonah Energy, noted his family has been hunting on La Barge Creek for decades, but given the drastic circumstances, would be in full support of restricting licenses.
Terry Pollard, a Sublette County sportsman and hunting outfitter of 47 years, agreed with Ulrich about cutting back the number of licenses issued this year, and noted he wouldn’t be against seeing them shut down altogether for a few years.
He also offered support for putting resident and nonresident deer hunting tags under a regional system, similar to that of pronghorn licenses.
Zane Straley of Pinedale also questioned the panel about antler hunting season.
“As far as antler season goes, we will evaluate if snow conditions and the location of animals will impact wintering big game, and if we need to, we will change the opener for antler season,” Nesvik replied. “It will receive serious consideration, but we have the ability to do so.”
Nesvik also noted WGFD would continue to monitor game populations and decide more on hunting season and license restrictions at their upcoming meeting, further noting they could change in response to what they see on the ground at any time.
However, he also shared changing hunting limits alone will not solve the problem.
“We can mess with hunting seasons and have a short-term effect, but for the long-term, hunting seasons aren’t the answer,” he said. “We hardly kill any female deer, and bucks can’t have fawns. It all comes down to how we can help females be more productive, and the best way to do this is through improving habitat and movement across the landscape.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.