Current Edition

current edition

Wildlife

Casper – “We are seeing a lot of new records around the country this year,” commented Wyoming Game and Fish Staff Biologist Steve Tessmann during the Sept. 13 Game and Fish Commission meeting. “In Wyoming, we set our third highest temperature records. We had both the second driest and the second hottest years since 1895 in the 12-month period between September 2011 and August 2012.”
    With drought conditions plaguing the nation, Tessmann noted that a lot of focus has been on implications for crops and livestock grazing, but wildlife are suffering as well.
    “We asked our Game and Fish regions to share with us what conditions are like around they state,” he added, noting that each of the regions are seeing similar patterns.
Jackson and Pinedale
    “The Jackson/Pinedale region only received 25 percent of their normal precipitation in June. April, May and June were the driest on record since 1985,” he continued. “In higher elevations, conditions are better for big game.”
    While production levels were near average at higher elevation, they were below normal on drier public lands.
    “Sage grouse production appeared to be higher this year – that is a common theme,” Tessmann said. “When we have cold, wet storms in the spring, that is bad for game birds.”
    This year, however, Tessmann noted that good residual cover and good nesting conditions resulting from a warm, dry spring resulted in a good hatch of chicks.
    “As we get into the fall, we are starting to see lower survival rates of broods,” he said.
Cody and Sheridan regions
    Moving to the Cody region, Tessmann marked that lower elevations received almost no moisture, with even sagebrush plants showing sign of moisture and heat stress.
    “Big game are concentrating on and near agriculture lands,” he said. “We are seeing animals move onto the crop lands.”
    Elk calf production and sage grouse brood numbers were near average, but deer and antelope fawn and bighorn sheep production levels were below average.
    Sheridan also saw lower precipitation levels in the southern portion of the region, with near average pronghorn fawn and game bird brood production near or above average levels.
Southern Wyoming
    In the southern half of the state, marked by the Green River and Laramie regions, similar trends could be seen.
    “Basically, in the Green River Region, there was no herbaceous growth below 7,000 feet,” Tessmann said of the area. “Above that, they did see better forage conditions, but the entire region has been under extreme drought conditions since May.”
    As a result, fawn ratios for mule deer and pronghorn were below average. Sage grouse brood production also suffered in areas with less moisture, showing no chicks in those regions.
    “Winter losses are predicted to be above average due to poor winter range conditions,” Tessmann explained.
    “Laramie saw above normal temperatures, and they only received 15 percent of their average precipitation,” he commented. “They have had quite a few fires, with over 100,000 acres that burned.”
    Tessmann added that some direct mortality of mule deer fawns and bighorn sheep lambs resulted from fire.
    “The rangeland is in poor condition,” he continued. “Fires that burned were so hot and dry that they scorched the soil, killing the seed and rootstock, so recovery is going to take an extended period.”
    Additionally, female sage grouse saw some mortality due to West Nile Virus in the region.
Casper and Lander
    The final two regions in the state, the Casper and Lander regions, marked continued dry conditions.
    “Pronghorn production and body size are below normal, and mule deer are below average,” Tessmann said. “Some of that is due to distribution. They are being seen in clearings on the mountain ranges where we aren’t used to the animals being.”
    Animal condition is also poor, said Tessmann, adding that winter will be difficult as a result.
    Casper showed limited water availability for big game and no production on rangelands.
    “We did have some summer thunderstorms that moderated conditions in the Thunder Basin and the Black Hills,” he added, “but we are seeing major epizootic hemorrhagic disease outbreaks in the Black Hills and Wheatland area due to dry conditions.”
    Overall, Tessmann noted that drought has had a substantial impact on Wyoming wildlife, with fawn production around the state to be variable, but below normal.
    “Depredation is increasing where ungulates concentrate near green vegetation in agricultural areas producing forage,” summarized Tessmann. “Game bird nesting success appeared good, at least early on, and brood survival continues to be good in irrigated and higher lands.”
Looking forward
    With winter looming ahead, Tessmann noted worries over the survival of wildlife.
    “Nutritional condition of big game animals is very poor going into winter,” he said. “If we have a severe winter, we can expect die-offs. We are expecting higher than normal mortality due to conditions.”
    He added that there may be renewed pressure on the WGFD to feed deer, especially if members of the public begin to see nutritionally stressed animal.
    “One of the unfortunate things about drought is that the impacts extend beyond the drought year,” Tessmann commented. “Because of the poor condition going into this year, we expect fawn production next spring to be even lower, even if we do see better moisture.”
    Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – On March 20, the Governor’s Fish and Wildlife Task Force held their final meeting  to discuss the outcomes of the program review of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and to finalize their recommendations for the Governor’s consideration.

The Fish and Wildlife Task Force was created by Gov. Matt Mead in 2015 to look at future funding for wildlife management in the state of Wyoming, says Governor’s Office Policy Advisor Matt Fry.

“In 2013, the Legislature debated increasing license fees for the WGFD, and that was unsuccessful,” he explains.

Fry continues, “There were a number of hunters, anglers and general sportsmen’s groups that met with the Governor and asked if he would be willing to set up some sort of a task force or group that would look at opportunities for broadening and stabilizing funding and finding additional opportunities for the department to support wildlife management.”

The 19-member task force boasts a wide variety of experts and stakeholders spanning across the outdoor industry.

Meeting

The task force meeting ended with approximately 10 recommendations, which will be presented to the Governor.

WGFD Director Scott Talbott explains that an external review of WGFD programs and fund usage was one of the primary recommendations of the task force.

“There was an inquiry from the task force to have a review of WGFD programs,” he says. “An outside group came in and did that review. It was finalized and published in 2016. This was the first chance for the task force to discuss the report.”

The review looked at 12 WGFD programs and asked the question, “Were we were spending the money we were getting in an effective manner?” Talbott comments.

He continues, “The report to the task force clearly indicated that the funds were being used effectively.”

Funding

“The task force spent quite a bit of time talking about the role of those who hunt, fish and use wildlife in other ways and how they pay for management,” says Talbott.

He notes that historically, hunters and anglers have funded all of wildlife management.

In 2005, the state began allocating funds from its General Fund dollars to wildlife management.

“Since that time, there were five WGFD programs that were covered by the General Funds, and those programs were aquatic invasive species, sage grouse, wolves, our vet services program and our sensitive species program,” explains Talbott.

According to Talbott, the reasoning behind the change in 2005 was because those five programs impact the entire state, rather than just hunters and anglers.

“It was felt that the general public could participate in the funding those, and that’s when General Fund monies became available,” he says. “However, this year, the Legislature cut funding from the General Fund.”

The task force recommended a bifurcation of the WGFD budget, so hunters and anglers would only pay for programs that support game animals and a different funding source would be used for non-game animals.

“They recommended generally funding those programs that did not benefit hunters and anglers or looking for alternative funding sources,” comments Talbott.

He continues, “The task force recommended that those programs that involved hunting or fishing be funded by the licenses and fees, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission would have the authority to set those fees.”

Maneuverability

Maneuverability and license prices were another big discussion topic for the task force, says Talbott.

“When we look at the issue, the price of licenses are set in Wyoming Statute, and when we look at license numbers, those are established by Commission on an annual basis,” he explains.

Talbott continues, “WGFD also receives federal funding from taxes on the sale of guns, ammo, boats and fishing equipment. The amount that Wyoming receives changes, and there are many other issues that influence fluctuations, sometimes really dramatically year-to-year.”

To allow for greater flexibility and increase ability to respond to fluctuations, the task force discussed transitioning some authority to set license fees to the Game and Fish Commission.

“There was a discussion about moving license fee authority to the Game and Fish Commission, so the Commission could respond to those fluctuations in a more timely manner,” he notes.

Looking ahead

“There is a lot of uncertainty ahead for funding of WGFD and its management of the public’s wildlife,” says Talbott.

According to Fry, the March meeting is expected to be the last formal meeting of the task force.

After the recommendations are finalized, those accepted by the Governor will be sent to a legislative committee for review.

The task force’s recommendations will be made available to the public once they are finalized.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cody – The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC), an organization of federal land management groups, met at the end of April in Cody to continue their mission of working together to address issues facing the region.

In a synopsis of a meeting, the GYCC said, “Participants commented on numerous topics including natural resource management, resource use, recreational uses, GYCC membership and representation and partnering possibilities. People expressed a desire to continue the conversation and meaningful engagement, asked for more communication from GYCC and many suggested the federal managers be more engaged in understanding socioeconomic issues in the region.”

Dick Loper of the Wyoming State Grazing Board has attended the last several meetings of the committee and mentioned, “We have started to attend these meetings because Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a brand new member of the coalition, and we wanted to see if the BLM issues we are facing will be a subject of conversation.”

“At this point in time, we haven’t seen the GYCC addressing these issues,” Loper continued, “but we continue to be informed by BLM that, sooner or later, they will show up. We want to be knowledgeable and able to participate with the BLM issues in particular.”

In the last several meetings, the GYCC has begun to solicit public opinions. While the morning portion of the meeting consisted primarily of agency updates and reports, the afternoon allowed participants to break into roundtable groups and visit about priorities.

“The GYCC seems to want more involvement from the public to know about the interests of the public,” Loper said. “It is a bureaucratic process, but their efforts seem to show that they want to continue to involve the public.”

“They had a large attendance at this most recent meeting,” Loper explained. “A number of county commissioners from the surrounding areas and interest groups from the area were there. There were also ag groups involved.”

In addition, the GYCC focused on the effects of climate change on the national parks system and the Greater Yellowstone area.

“It is obvious that there is direction from Washington, D.C. to focus heavily on climate change,” Loper noted.

“The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) was formed to allow representatives from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the BLM to pursue opportunities of mutual cooperation and coordination in the management of core federal lands in the Greater Yellowstone area,” said GYCC.

The GYCC’s fall meeting will be held on Nov. 4-5 in Jackson.

Learn more about the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee online at fedgycc.org.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne –  “The Forest Service (FS) and producers know how tough of a year last year was,” said Bob Mountain, Forest Service Rangeland Vegetation staff member for the Medicine Bow-Routt and Thunder Basin National Grassland (TBNG). “Going into the fall and winter, it did not look like there would be much help coming to lessen the drought. However, much of the moisture that did come this spring came at a critical time for site development.” 

At the 2013 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Cheyenne, held June 5-8, Mountain updated producers on current issues faced by the FS, which included drought and sage grouse management. 

Drought

The persistent drought that is impacting Wyoming rangeland was noted as a management challenge for both producers and the FS. 

“In every situation, the FS tackles each case on a site by site, allotment by allotment basis on what we need to do to work with the producer,” said Mountain. “There are so many factors that affect each allotment that we believe it is never the right answer to make an across the board decision on any scale.”

This individualized analysis helps tailor the plan to match the producer and their needs, opening up more opportunities for management decisions. The FS is currently working with producers on managing stocking rates with the current numbers being turned out. 

“In most cases we have started the stocking decisions,” Mountain continued.  “We are trying to accommodate the number of animals that producers still have left and have not needed to destock yet. The FS is hoping that the whole season will carry those numbers but planning that it might not, so we will evaluate as we go. That has served us well in the past, and we hope that it will continue to do so.”

Last year, National Director for Rangeland Management Charles Richmond asked the FS to compile responses for every vacant allotment and pasture in the region. These responses detailed why the pastures were vacant, most often due to conflict, and determined the possibility of using these as emergency pastures or forage reserves during times of intense drought. 

“If we have vacant forage reserves allotments or pastures that can be used, we are doing everything in our power to use those so that producers on neighboring or adjacent allotments can utilize them in hopes of carrying out a full season or more of the season,” concluded Mountain. 

Wildlife

During the update, Mountain stated that the Wyoming FS would be piggybacking on the Nine-Plan Amendment of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for sage grouse habitat and management in the Bridger-Teton and Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and the TBNG. 

“Because of a court-ordered settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until 2015 to make a final determination on listing the Greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act,” stated BLM. “State wildlife management agencies, along with the BLM and FS, which administer most federal lands in the West, are taking unprecedented steps to ensure the conservation of the Greater sage grouse on public lands.  Proactively implementing the right policies and conservation measures now will reduce long-term regulatory burdens on stakeholders.”  

The Nine-Plan Amendment, which impacts Casper, Kemmerer, Newcastle, Pinedale, Rawlins and Rock Springs, is targeted to have public availability by September 2013. 

“The TBNG has 98 percent of the sage grouse habitat on nation forest system lands in Region Two,” said Mountain. “We have little slivers on the top slopes of the Medicine Bow, but the TBNG is the bulk of the sage grouse habitat.”

“The grassland plan is already fairly consistent in incorporating the vegetative habitats of the sage grouse,” added Mountain. “In our five-year analysis of that plan, it was indicated that we are already meeting the plan in desired species composition and structure on the broader ray across the landscape.”

The TBNG also supports ideal habits for prairie dogs. The FS will be creating an amendment on these creatures as well.

“We will be embarking on another amendment on prairie dogs in the TBNG region,” added Mountain. “The habitat types that the sage grouse need are just a little bit different than the prairie dogs for vegetative or lack of vegetative components, but in many cases, the two are found on the same acre.” 

Kelsey Tramp is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

On Oct. 28, the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) met in Bozeman, Mont. to receive updates from subcommittees and look toward the future.  

After a morning of agency updates and reviews from each of a host of subcommittees, the public was asked to provide input and comments to the committee. Over 40 participants joined in the conversation, ranging from private citizens and interest groups to state legislators, agency staff and congressional representatives. 

“The GYCC wants to more strategically address ecosystem-scale issues, to improve collaboration with nonfederal entities and to increase capacity through partnerships,” explained GYCC Chairman Joe Alexander, who also works as the Shoshone National Forest Supervisor, during the meeting. “The GYCC has limited capacity to implement big changes in its operation. It can reorient its focus and work in different ways with each other and the public.”

The meeting was the second in a series of three public meetings designed to provide input to the committee. At the conclusion of the three meetings, in April 2015, the group will discuss how to move forward.

Public process

Public discussion was widespread and included topics such as ecosystem management, natural resources, recreational opportunities, visitor use, land and resource use, transportation, GYCC priorities, GYCC membership and partnering opportunities. 

“The most prevalent theme emerging from the meeting was a request for more communication from GYCC,” said Alexander in a meeting summary. 

Participants of the meeting suggested increased frequency of meetings, use of social media and increased one-on-one engagement. At the same time, members of the public present at the meetings noted that partnerships should be emphasized.

Communicating

“Better communication is needed so members of the community who are working on a topic know who to be in touch with,” commented one person. “GYCC needs to do a better job of communicating the structure of public engagement with the GYCC member agencies and how decisions are made.”

She continued, “The decision-making process differs across agencies, so members of the public don’t understand what the decision-making process is in each of the units, and the role of the GYCC should be to help with this.”

The use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, was also promoted at the meeting to tap into greater networks of citizens and influence greater conversations.

“GYCC needs to be more strategic about communication. We need to be cautious about assuming the public understands the differences among agencies,” said members of the public. “GYCC needs to better inform the public about the differences amongst the agencies, otherwise it creates a conflict and misunderstanding – ‘intellectually light-weight spitball conversations’ that create conflict,” she explained.

Other concerns

“What is the agenda of the GYCC?” asked one participant. “Is it to serve the agencies, or to make the ‘world a better place’ and to serve the larger ecosystem? If it is the latter, then the GYCC needs more involvement. The focus might be somewhat narrow.”

Dick Loper of the Wyoming State Grazing Board attended the meeting and said, “It looks like the GYCC is trying to find a way to include more public input and involve the public in a more meaningful way.”

“There was no doubt that there is a complete disparity between the management goals, objectives, procedures and policies of the agencies,” he added.

Partners

Partnerships between agencies would help to accomplish larger issues, added other participants. 

“We need to look at work that is across boundaries,” one man noted. “The number one purpose of the GYCC should be an ecosystem approach.”

Multiple members of the public noted that by focusing on the whole, rather than just the area managed by a single agency, more progress could be made. 

“The need for coordination at the large scale is very clear,” added another participant. “The Greater Yellowstone is the headwaters of the U.S. and is an example of the need for increased coordination at a large scale, especially with limited water resources.”

Beyond coordination, implementing consistency across agencies is important, said another participant. 

Consistency

“Stress should be made on consistency across state and agency lines, and even within sub-districts of agencies,” one man said. “Science should direct management decisions.”

As an example, he continued, “Sheep grazing is allowed on some units while others don’t allow sheep grazing. We need more consistency.”

To achieve increased coordination and consistency, many folks noted that the input of outside groups could be helpful, saying, “Outside entities add capacity and can help foster coordination between federal, state, county and private groups.”

“Non-federal participation in the GYCC process could help to enhance effectiveness of the group,” said another participant. “If there are priorities that the GYCC identifies, there are probably projects that partners could find funding for.”

Next steps

After four hours of public comment, Alexander said, “The GYCC members are discussing the many ideas heard at the meeting.”

“We will hold the final public conversation in Cody in spring 2015,” Alexander added. “At the conclusion of the Cody meeting, we will evaluate all of the comments from all three meetings and consider how to move forward.”

The Cody meeting is currently scheduled for April 29 and will include a public conversation segment. An agenda will be posted at fedgycc.org when it is available. 

Committee organization

The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee was formed in 1964 to allow various agencies of the federal government to work together toward managing lands in the Greater Yellowstone region. 

At the time, a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) brought the agencies together. The MOU was revised in 2002 to add the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to the group and again revised in 2012 to incorporate Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

As of 2014, participating agencies included the U.S. Department of the Interior, NPS, FWS, BLM, U.S. Department of Agriculture and USFS. 

Each of those agencies is represented by employees from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. 

On their website, the committee notes that ecosystem health, sustainable operations, Greater Yellowstone Area habitat integrity, connecting people to the land and climate change are their priorities. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..