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WGFD

Casper – The Wyoming Board of Agriculture and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission met in a joint session on Sept. 13 in Casper to discuss a number of issues that affect both groups extensively.     
    Of particular interest to landowners, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) continues to focus on elk management.
    Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik said, “This is something that the WGFD has invested time and effort into over the last few years, and it has been on the forefront of the Game and Fish Commission’s mind.”
    The WGFD has been working for the last couple of years to reach management objective for herds across Wyoming, but the unique situations across the state have been challenging.
Current situation
    “Right now we are in a precarious spot,” Nesvik explained. “We are in a place in Wyoming where we never dreamed we would be.”
    That spot, said Nesvik, is a situation where some elk populations in the state are far over objective, but others are experiencing steep declines that haven’t been seen in a number of years.
    A number of factors have contributed to the situation, including limited access, which results in agricultural challenges and damages, as well as reduced hunter opportunities.
    “The first thing I wanted to address was an overall increase in our statewide elk harvest,” added Nesvik. “In 2010, we had a great year and increased harvest by 12 percent.”
    He continued that 2011 saw a slight decrease, despite an increase in the number of available licenses, but noted that peaks and valleys are seen in trends due to weather conditions and access issues.
    “We have taken a lot of steps to increase harvest,” he said. “When we have season structures, coupled with license allocation, coupled with access, and when they come together, we can have management of elk populations.”
Licenses and seasons
    Nesvik commented that, in some areas, overpopulations are causing large problems, and the WGFD has been working to increase harvest in several ways, including increasing license number and lengthening seasons.
    “We have dramatically increased license numbers over the last five years, especially for antlerless elk,” he said. “In 2010, we increased by over 1,000 licenses, and in 2011 by over 2,000 elk licenses.”
    At the same time, in some areas, rather than having a limit of two licenses per hunter, people can now obtain up to three elk licenses.
    “The legislature has also given the Commission the authority to set the number of licenses,” Nesvik added, “similar to what they do with the deer and antelope seasons.”
    “We have coupled that with a long season,” Nesvik continued. “We are now hunting elk from Aug. 15 to the end of January.”
    In other hunting areas, where artificial refuges and access issues exacerbate the problem, the WGFD has taken additional steps to improve harvest numbers.
Access
    “We started with our hunter management access program in 2010 in Laramie Peak, which was an area we had significant issues with elk on private land that were creating programs for landowners,” Nesvik explained.
    The goal for the new program was to initiate a “handshake” deal to sit down with landowners and work to help manage hunter on the group during the season.
    “The ultimate goal was to reduce elk conflict and increase elk harvest,” he said. “We didn’t dramatically increase harvest, but we dispersed elk to other areas where the landowners said they weren’t a problem.”
    The program was also useful across the state in Meeteetse, where elk migrate from backcountry areas to winter each year. As cattle commingled with elk, not only were harvest numbers not as high as hoped, but spread of brucellosis increased.
    “We worked out a handshake deal with 13 landowners and an intensive effort by the WGFD,” Nesvik explained. “It was an intensive effort that resuled in an increase in harvest and an increase in overall satisfaction from the hunters and the landowners.”
    Nesvik mentioned that the success of the program has resulted in plans to continue it in the future.
    An additional hunter access program is being developed on 260,000 acres in southeast Wyoming, where nontraditional landowners, formerly not interested in access issues, have begun cooperating with the WGFD to allowing hunting access.
    The WGFD has also begun utilizing a new and more accurate method of estimating elk populations to improve management.
Public input
    With a number of steps being taken to address elk management and elk population numbers, Nesvik mentioned that the WGFD will review objective numbers again.
    “We are taking elk objectives, over the next four years, out for public and landowner review,” he said. “We still manage by an objective, as far as the population is concerned, but they haven’t been vetted by the public and landowners for quite some time.”
    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..

Wolf delisting filed
Casper – With a delisting rule published in the Federal Register on Sept. 10, wolves will be handed over to state control beginning Oct. 1.
    Twelve hunt areas in the trophy game management area have been established and hunts begin Oct. 1. However, there are a number of regulations in place to ensure that viability of wolves.
    “For hunters in the trophy game management area, there is an 800 number to call where they can find out if the quota has been met,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik explained. “If it has not been met, they can hunt.”
    All harvests in that area are required to be reported within 24 hours, and harvests in the predator area are required to be reported within 10 days.
    Despite the steps being taken to ensure the genetic interchange and viability of wolves, two groups have filed a notice of intent to sue.
    “The lawsuits won’t be filed until 60 days after they filed the notice,” added Nesvik, “so it couldn’t be before a judge before the first part of November.”
    Regardless, Wyoming will begin managing wolves on Oct. 1, with the requirements to document 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs at the end of the year
    “We will enter into a post-delisting monitoring period that will last for five years,” explained Nesvik of the future. “For five years, the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate Wyoming’s progress to continued management of wolves.”



Newport Beach, Calif. – Members of Wyoming wildlife agencies and organizations recently attended the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) summer meeting in California, at which West-wide issues from wolves to budget cuts were discussed.
    “Both our staff here at the agency and our commissioners have been very active in WAFWA for a long time,” says Larry Kruckenberg of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), who is also on the WAFWA Executive Committee. “They see it as a great opportunity to network and get a lot of our priorities and issues on the regional radar screen.”
    The purpose of WAFWA’s committees is to address some of the issues that apply to everybody in a coordinated effort, and to make sure each state isn’t jumping through the same hoops.
    He says the western association is a key player in advancing western priorities for national debate and policy. He says Wyoming has been instrumental in creating committees to address Wyoming concerns that are also applicable to others, like human-wildlife conflicts and hunter/angler participation.
    “Certainly we have more sage grouse than any other state, and things we’re doing on that front are important and we’re heavily engaged with energy issues,” says Kruckenberg, noting that other members of WAFWA rely on Wyoming’s expertise and experience in those arenas.
    “Sage grouse are still very much at the forefront of the agency directors’ minds,” he says. “They’re ensuring that all the western states have submitted and updated all our sage grouse information. They’re staying engaged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make certain they have the best available information.”
    He acknowledges this year wind energy has come to the front in discussion, particularly its impacts to sage grouse. “We’re working with a number of interests including wind industry to see if we can get a coordinated approach in the research involving wind turbines and sage grouse.”
    He says agency directors lent their support for a cooperative composed of multi-disciplinary people to develop and fund research that could be used broadly across the range of sage grouse.
    Kruckenberg says climate change continued to be a discussion point at this year’s meeting. “At last winter’s meeting the directors established a climate change committee that met for the first time in California this summer. The bottom line is the attention to climate change by Congress and the new administration. There’s a whole suite of federal legislation that’s either introduced or is under initial work on Capitol Hill.”
    He says the two focuses of the climate change committee include making sure the states aren’t left behind and ensuring funding is available to deal with climate change impacts to wildlife across the West.
    The hunter/angler/shooting sports participation committee, he says, is working on recruitment and retention. “At Wyoming’s behest WAFWA established a committee to become more directly involved and stay engaged,” he says, noting that WGFD Director Steve Ferrell chairs the group. “The focus will be on carrying out programs addressing participation and the effects of an aging populous and changing demographics.”
    WAFWA’s grasslands coordinator works not only on prairie dogs but also the whole suite of grassland species. “The states did a tremendous amount of work with the black-tailed prairie dog over the last several years and we dodged a bullet. The information the states have gathered and the plans they’ve put forth demonstrate we’re serious, and that we have more dogs than were originally thought,” says Kruckenberg.
    Regarding the Endangered Species Act, Kruckenberg says WAFWA doesn’t expect much to change this year, as Congress is dealing with other topics including health insurance and the economy.
    Although the Farm Bill has historically been an issue largely driven by midwestern states, Kruckenberg says the reality is the Farm Bill has a lot of programs with great applicability and utility for western states. “The western states are starting to weigh in more heavily, but we’re still not as effective in providing information to producers and landowners about some programs that could be mutually beneficial to them and to wildlife.”
    At the meeting two former WGFD Commissioners, Bill Williams of Thermopolis and Ron Lovercheck of Lagrange, were awarded Honorary Lifetime Member awards. “Those awards are given to the people who are the pistons that help run the WAFWA engine,” says Kruckenberg.
    “At every meeting there’s more going on, and this one had a strong attendance with over 300 people from 19 states and one province,” he says. “A lot of work was accomplished in 30 committees and working groups.”
    “We all come with a problem we think no one’s ever had, but then we start talking about it and find this isn’t the first time,” says Kruckenberg of the leadership represented from wildlife commissions and agencies from across the western breadth of North America. “We find someone else has already dealt with the problem, and for us learning is critically important.”
    “The association gives a means by which the individual states can recognize issues of common concern and bring them national attention,” says Kruckenberg, adding they can also establish regional priorities and things that can be worked on collectively. “Identifying a broad geographic area for a single species or problem is a much more powerful strategy to get something accomplished.”
    Christy Hemken is 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..
Cheyenne – “What is the Wyoming Game and Fish doing to address brucellosis?” is an often-asked question in agricultural circles. As long as the disease persists in wildlife ranchers realize it will impact the everyday operation of many of the state’s ranches.
    The Roundup this week posed the question to Game and Fish spokesperson Eric Keszler.
    “First,” says Keszler, “it’s important for people to know that we have a regular ongoing program called the Brucellosis Feedground Habitat Program.” Numerous agency personnel, he explains, are assigned to work with the program. “They’re doing a lot related to brucellosis and feedground issues, brucellosis surveillance to determine the prevalence of the disease in elk and how some of the projects might help change that.” Keszler says the group is responsible for administering Strain 19 vaccine to elk on the state’s feedgrounds and the National Elk Refuge.
     “They’re doing a number of habitat improvement projects near feedgrounds to spread out elk or decrease the amount of time elk spend on the feedgrounds,” says Keszler.
    Game and Fish personnel are also part of the Governor’s Brucellosis Task Force. “We developed brucellosis action management plans for each of the feedgrounds,” says Keszler of work that stemmed from the Task Force. “Each of these plans establishes ways to avoid mixing livestock and elk and reducing the prevalence of brucellosis.” Copies of the individual plans for each feedground are available on the agency’s website. Fencing, working with neighbors and in a few cases a test and removal program are some examples of plan elements.
    Keszler says the test and removal project is an experimental endeavor underway on three feedgrounds — Muddy Creek, Fall Creek and Scab Creek. With three years of the five-year project complete, Keszler says it’s too early to tell if the project is proving effective. With three gathers behind them, 1,053 elk have been trapped with 582 adult females tested for the disease. “Of those 582,” says Keszler, “112 tested positive for brucellosis and were sent to slaughter.”
    “In addition,” says Keszler, “we have a number of research projects ongoing.” One, he says, involves taking elk fetuses known to be free of brucellosis and placing them on feedgrounds to watch how area elk interact with the fetus. “One thing we learned is that predators can come in and clean out fetuses pretty quickly so we’ve changed our management on elk feedgrounds to not haze away predators,” he says. “Most of what we’re looking at is ravens,” he adds.
    “Another study we’re doing is using a vaginal implant transmitter to study how cow elk move around as it relates to the feedground when they abort or give birth,” says Keszler. “We’re also looking at different feeding regimens to spread out the elk and reduce contact.”
    Agency personnel, says Keszler, are also focusing their attention on western Park County. “We have seen an increase in brucellosis prevalence,” says Keszler, “We’ve typically thought of this disease as a feedground issue.” With no feedgrounds in the Cody area Keszler says, “We’re increasing our surveillance to get a better handle on whether it’s a one or two year spike or something that’s going to keep increasing.”
    In other parts of the state Game and Fish continues to utilize hunter-gathered blood samples to monitor for the disease. Hunters drawing elk licenses in areas seven, three, five and six have been mailed brucellosis test kits for the 2008 hunting season.
    In 2007 the Wyoming Game and Fish asked hunters in northeast Wyoming and parts of Central Wyoming to collect blood samples from the elk they harvested. In 2006 testing was carried out in the elk hunt areas straddling the Big Horn Mountains. In 2005 testing was carried out in the area spanning from south central Wyoming to central Wyoming. Hunters in several northwest Wyoming hunt areas have been asked to collect blood samples during at least two hunt years out of the past four.
    Of brucellosis in general Keszler says, “This is a really tough problem and we haven’t found a ‘silver bullet’ yet.” Like folks who run livestock in Northwest Wyoming, wildlife managers also hope to see a more effective vaccine developed in the near future. “I think if we had an effective vaccine it would go a long way,” says Keszler.
    Despite agency efforts Keszler says the reservoir of brucellosis within Yellowstone National Park is beyond their management reach. The agency does work with National Elk Refuge managers to address the disease and to host a hunting season. A hunting season is also held in a portion of Grand Teton National Park.
    Landowners interested in discussing brucellosis in wildlife or efforts to prevent the commingling of cattle and elk are encouraged to contact their regional Game and Fish office. The agency can be found on-line at http://gf.state.wy.us. Jennifer Womack 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 – Prairie dog translocation, grizzly bears and elk management are just a few of the topics that top the wildlife management priority list in Wyoming.
    On Dec. 14 Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Scott Talbott updated members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association on his agency’s current activities.
    Speaking of the prairie dogs, Talbott said the WGFD’s policy was drafted in 2003, when the Game and Fish Commission had two interested parties – a coal mine and a government agency – who asked for permission to relocate prairie dogs.
    “As a result, the Commission developed 11 criteria for the translocation of prairie dogs, and the primary concern was that the Commission was not party to moving problems from one part of the state to another, along with the biological considerations,” explained Talbott.
    He said the policy required “close coordination and communication” not only with those who were doing the translocations, but also with county weed and pest boards, county commissions and adjoining landowners. The initial translocations never did take place, but the policy remained until 2007, when a coal company in Gillette wanted to use prairie dogs to modify habitat for mountain plover, which the Commission approved.
    “The Forest Service came to the department and asked for a permit to translocate prairie dogs, and we applied the same stipulations to them,” said Talbott. “After that, we loosened up the criteria, asking the entities to closely coordinate any translocation efforts with adjoining landowners, land management agencies, county commissioners and the appropriate county weed and pest boards.”
    However, in 2011 there were translocations that did not meet the intent of the criteria established by the Commission, which led to several local meetings with Weston and Converse county commissioners.
    “At this point, the Commission has revised the policy and requires that coordination take place with the individuals who desire to translocate prairie dogs, and they’ll have to have a permit,” said Talbott. “The 11 original criteria will apply as conditions of the permit, and we’ll move forward.”
    Talbott said the policy has been sent to all individuals who attended the meetings in Crook and Weston counties, and it’s also available from the WGFD. There will be a public comment period at the January Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting, and written comments will be accepted through the first week in January.
    “We’ll ask the Commission to adopt that policy and put the 11 original criteria back into the permit requirements so we can enforce them on individuals who apply for those permits,” he explained.
    Talbott also spoke to a related issue – the translocation of black-footed ferrets. He said there is a 12-state committee focused on ferret recovery.
    “It’s apparent to all wildlife management agencies that, if ferret recovery is to happen, it will happen on private land with the cooperation of landowners,” he said.
    Of the landowner incentive payments for black-footed ferret reintroduction, Talbott said there are two issues that first need to be resolved.
    “One is the boundary control issue. There has to be some means of controlling prairie dogs,” said Talbott of the species that is crucial for ferret reintroduction. “Black-footed ferrets are solely dependent on prairie dogs, and if there are no prairie dogs, there are no black-footed ferrets.”
    In addition to ensuring prairie dogs will not be allowed to exist on properties where they’re unwelcome, Talbott said regulatory assurances are also a must.
    “We need a block clearance or a 10j provision,” he said of the ferrets. “Nobody is in favor of introducing an endangered species on either private or public land in Wyoming.”
    Moving to grizzly bears, Talbott said the species continues to do very well in Wyoming.
    “Their abundance and distribution is expanding to points far beyond our management plan or the desires of the public,” he said. “Grizzly bears continue to be endangered and are covered under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.”
    Information indicates that the grizzly population has expanded at a rate of four to seven percent per year for many years.
    “Last year in the front country we trapped and handled 65 grizzly bears, which is 12 percent of the entire population estimate from the original model. We think there are far more than 600 bears in the ecosystem,” said Talbott, mentioning the WGFD is pushing to have a reevaluation of the population estimate model. “Some of our thoughts are that number may be as much as 50 percent conservative.”
    Talbott said they continue to be protected based on an “inadequate habitat assessment for white bark pine.”
    “The last 70 percent of white bark pine in the Yellowstone ecosystem has been injured or died from rust or pine beetles,” he explained. “While it’s a critical food source on the years it’s available, there are many years – even in healthy stands – when there is no pine nut production, and populations continued to expand at the same rate.”
    But, in response to the concern, the WGFD and trophy game interests are coordinating with habitat assessments and population correlations.
    “Hopefully we’ll complete that no later than the end of February 2012, and the initial recommendation from the Fish and Wildlife Service is that they should be prepared to file another delisting rule no later than July 2012,” stated Talbott.
    “Hopefully we can move from a recovery direction, which has been the emphasis of the last three decades, to management,” he added.
    In addition to grizzly bears and prairie dogs, Talbott said his agency has been working on elk management throughout the state.
    “Our people are looking at the elk management objectives, and have become much more aggressive in elk management,” he said, mentioning work with WSGA, the Joint Ag Committee and the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee, both of the Wyoming Legislature. “We’ve been working diligently with private landowners, and we’ve had some emergency regulation changes in both south central and southeast Wyoming to facilitate additional elk harvest.”
    Talbott mentioned the new access program in the Laramie Peak area in which the WGFD coordinates and facilitates hunters for the landowners, according to the location of the elk herd.
    “So far that program has worked fairly well, and we hope it can work better. We’ll try two more programs in the Meeteetse area,” he said.  
    Talbott added that there is also some legislative interest in changing a statute in Title 23 that restricts any one person to harvesting no more than one elk.
    “There is interest in changing that to allow individuals who do have access to those properties to kill more than one elk,” noted Talbott.
    Christy Martinez 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..

Two zigzag lines on a simple chart display a grim story of the Sublette mule deer herd on the Pinedale Anticline. 

The chart is on the cover of December 2018’s mule deer monitoring report for the Pinedale Anticline Project Office shows precipitous drops last year.

One steep line is the 48-percent drop in Mesa mule deer and the other, a 28-percent decline in the overall Sublette herd numbers, including the Mesa, for 2017-18 within the Pinedale Anticline Project Area. The net decline – 20 percent overall.

These are the worst numbers reported by Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) since the Anticline’s monitoring program set its baseline winter counts in 2006-07.

Inside the numbers

WGFD Biologist Phil Damm, who works with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Pinedale Anticline Project Office (PAPO), presented “Mule Deer Monitoring in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area” to the board of directors at its Dec. 12 meeting in Cheyenne.

It was prepared for the PAPO and WGFD by Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc., which has monitored the Sublette herd on Bureau of Land Management’s extensive Anticline oil and gas development since 2001.

The 20-percent drop is well over the 15 percent trigger defined in the Anticline’s 2008 Record of Decision. The Record of Decision for the project is the foundation for how Sublette mule deer and other wildlife are managed in its development zones and sets out set guidelines for management, monitoring and mitigation.

The baseline numbers against which declines – and growth, which last happened in 2008 – were 2,846 mule deer on the Mesa and 24,165 deer in the entire Sublette herd unit. 

Last February, 1,495 mule deer were on the Mesa and 17,299 in the Sublette herd.

Mitigation matters

When an annual net decline crosses the 15-percent threshold, mitigation measures are required. 

WGFD plans long-term habitat projects, and these are undertaken by the PAPO team, employees, the public and interested groups. Many projects have multiple partners, according to Damm. On the Anticline, operators – mainly Ultra Resources – pay $7,500 “spud” fees to the PAPO for mitigation.

Mule deer declines were not unexpected, according to Caleb Hiner, BLM Pinedale Field Office manager.

“We did an Environmental Impact Statement back in 2008 and said in the Record of Decision (ROD) that there would be significant impacts for wildlife,” Hiner pointed out. “We were very clear that there would be impacts.”

In 2009-10, the net decline was 25 percent with 26,732 deer and the next year, 2010-11, it was 16 percent with 23,426 deer. 

“This is the third time they have hit the trigger,” Hiner said. “It’s important to point out it hasn’t been hit three years in a row.”

Active projects

Mitigation began in earnest back then, and new projects are approved annually by the PAPO board, which meets in May in Pinedale and “continues for the life of the Pinedale Anticline,” Hiner added. “BLM is committed to working with its partners on the Pinedale Anticline to find appropriate mitigations.”

Past habitat projects have not slowed the decline, though. 

“I don’t know how to gauge the effectiveness of mitigation,” Hiner said. “The mitigation we are doing is within the reference area. We don’t have a ‘control’ to measure effectiveness.”

WGFD has technology on its side, said Damm.

“One key method we use to ensure these projects have benefits to PAPO mule deer is analyzing mule deer GPS collar data to inform the most suitable locations for project work, places where we will get the most ‘bang for our buck,’ so to speak.”

WGFD and partners have many projects that improve off-site and onsite habitat, according to Damm.

“Thousands of acres of habitat projects and dozens of miles of fence modifications have been completed over the last 10 years,” he said. “New habitat projects for Sublette mule deer are developed on an annual basis and much work is yet to be initiated.”

Pace of drilling

A 2017 report showed mule deer avoid active oil and gasfield facilities.

Hiner said mule deer already avoid the most developed places and he doesn’t want “punitive” action against operators.

“Whatever we do we want to make sure it is going to be effective,” he said. “We don’t want to have mitigation be just a punitive measure. The ROD of 2008 says we may limit the pace of development and 10 years ago that might have been a good idea. But I don’t know if it is a good idea now. We may look at some other locations and intensity when new applications are submitted.”

Ultra’s Kelly Bott said of the trigger, “Mule deer mitigation has been an ongoing priority in the Pinedale Anticline for many years and Ultra supports continuing this approach. The recent mule deer impacts stem from the particularly harsh winter of 2016-17.” 

He added, “Ultra appreciates the importance of mule deer and will continue to support efforts advancing the vitality of the mule deer population. We also look forward to supporting future projects that will help offset the winter losses of the Mesa mule deer and the Sublette Herd Unit.”

WGFD with BLM and others review new natural resource extraction projects, “coordinating with them and industry on new mineral leasing, individual site development, exception requests and wildlife monitoring,” Damm said.

Future

The largest factor for the plummeting population was the extremely harsh winter of 2016-17, which killed at least 90 percent of fawns and perhaps 35 percent of adults.

The Sublette herd seems to be rebounding, according to Damm. The annual herd count takes place later this month but WGFD just completed its post-hunting season survey with a focus on fawns and does.

“Given that the drivers of our populations are the does’ survival and annual fawn recruitment, we can get a good picture of the status of the population by focusing on those aspects,” Damm explained. “Doe survival continues to be very high. WGFD assesses fawn recruitment by the ratio of the number of fawns per 100 does, which was 68 during the latest post-season counts and slightly above the 10-year average of about 64.”

He added, “If the winter continues to be average or below in terms of winter range snow and temperatures, then recruitment into the population should be above average.”

Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..