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    Although microscopic when young, two species of freshwater, bivalve mollusks could wreak havoc on Wyoming’s water systems and reservoirs should they make their way into the state.
    Members of the list of aquatic invasive species (AIS), zebra and quagga mussels currently occupy waters in over 30 states, and surround Wyoming on three sides in Utah, Colorado and Nebraska. The nearest infected waters are 50 miles from the Wyoming state line in Utah.
    The mussels were imported to the U.S. on ships traveling from the Black, Aral and Caspian seas in the mid-1980s to the Great Lakes, from which they spread quickly throughout the eastern U.S.
    To prevent their introduction to Wyoming the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has undertaken extensive public education and outreach efforts, as well as working with the Bureau of Reclamation on monitoring in the state’s major waters and the Wyoming Legislature on legislation for mandatory checkpoints and funding for surveillance.
    “After the mussels began to spread downstream it became obvious they were crossing watersheds, and their primary transport was watercraft,” says WGFD Director Steve Ferrell, adding, “In the West the plan was to keep them in the East with an initiative called the 100th Meridian, an effort to keep them from crossing that line.”
    That worked for about 20 years, but in 2007 they were found in the lower Colorado River and Lake Mead between Nevada and Arizona. “After that they moved downstream and began crossing watersheds,” says Ferrell. “The concern for all the states is the impact they have not just on fish and wildlife resources, but on anybody who uses water, from irrigation districts to hydropower to municipal water.”
    Ferrell says the investment in prevention is far better than what would be spent to maintain and manage populations if they were to make it into the state. “Once they establish they’re nearly impossible to eradicate, and they multiply so quickly,” he notes. “They essentially could clog a 30-inch pipe in a short period of time, so it’s a constant maintenance nightmare for water users.”
    Some states estimate the cost of cleaning a single intake tower on a cooling plant at $800,000. “It’s a pricey proposition, once you have them, to continue the operation of the facility that’s affected,” says Ferrell.
    “In the ag water supply, the mussels could cover any hard surface of an irrigation canal, covering the entire bottom and colonizing on top of existing mussels,” says WGFD AIS Coordinator Beth Bear. “That would impede water delivery and clog pipes.”
    The WGFD plan for the invasive mussels includes four steps – prevention, surveillance, containment and eradication.
    “We’ve ramped up our outreach and education to the public, and we’re going to continue to do that with the available resources,” says Ferrell.
    “We’re asking watercraft owners to drain, clean and dry boats for at least five days between waters, and that will stop the transport of mussels and all other aquatic invasive species,” says Bear. “We’re targeting mussels, but it will also catch all the other invasive plants.”
    In addition to education, the other half of prevention is boat inspections. “Most states have a program to inspect watercraft and decontaminate those that need it with a high pressure hot water wash at 140 degrees, which kills them,” says Ferrell.
    Regarding surveillance, Ferrell says there are people looking for the organism in its environment. “They take a sample of water and send it to a lab, and if the larval forms are present they run a DNA test,” he says.
    Bear says they expect to first see the mussels in public use areas.
    In containment, Ferrell says if a population is identified there needs to be an immediate response plan to keep the infected water from spreading.
    The fourth step, eradication, he says is really hard. “The cost of eradication is outrageous, and only one isolated population has been eradicated,” explains Ferrell. “In a big body of water like Buffalo Bill, Boysen or Flaming Gorge, management would be expensive and eradication impossible.”
    Bear notes that if Wyoming’s large reservoirs are infected there’s no way to get rid of the mussels unless the entire water is treated, which would also kill everything else in the reservoir. “Once they’re in it’s a matter of containing the spread,” she says.
    Flaming Gorge Reservoir experienced a near miss in April, when a Wyomingite bought and imported a boat from Arkansas. Before launching it he had it inspected and a live quagga mussel was found and removed. “His awareness and the awareness of the mechanic that inspected the boat allowed us to decontaminate it,” says Ferrell.
    The mussels can live out of water for an extended period of time, depending on air temperature and humidity. Ferrell says they can live up to seven days in Wyoming’s climate, provided it’s not cold enough to freeze.
    Going forward, Ferrell says the department’s working with the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee of the Wyoming Legislature on an interim study. “They were very interested in seeing what we could do to prevent their invasion into Wyoming. They directed us to draft a bill that addresses the plan the WGFD has written,” he notes.
    Bear says that right now invasive aquatic species are covered under the WGFD, state noxious weeds and federal legislation, but nothing covers the whole gamut.
    The WGFD will also finish writing the state’s Invasive Species Management Plan for Aquatic Mussels, which should be finished by the end of the year.
    “Once the mussels are in a body of water, any water user can be impacted, from the sprinkler head on an irrigation pivot to the faucet in your kitchen,” cautions Ferrell.
    “If these mussels come into the state they’ll create a domino effect, causing severe outages,” says Game and Fish Commission member Jerry Galles. “They plug things up and take aquatic habitat fisheries need, as well as fill livestock ponds, drainage systems and irrigation ditches. It’s a state issue, and not just wildlife related.”
    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..

Casper – While the past several years have been wrought with wildlife issues, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) continues to address budget challenges, endangered species and disease concerns across the state.

“One of the biggest issues the WGFD has been working on the last few years is our budget,” commented WGFD Director Scott Talbott at the 2013 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup. “We get about six percent of our budget from the general fund, and the rest of our budget is hunting and fishing dollars.”

Because of the strain on budgets, the WGFD has worked to make necessary cuts.

Budgetary cuts

“Since 1937, the WGFD has been funded primarily through hunting and fishing license dollars,” Talbott said. “We have been funded through periodic license fee increases, and we have gone through some very significant cuts in the agency.”

When the license fee increase bill did not pass the legislature last year, Talbott noted that they have cut their budget by an additional $4.5 million. In total, he noted that approximately $8 million from the WGFD budget over the past 1.5 years. 

“We have another $880,000 already identified for our 2015 budget,” Talbott said. “We have reversed our financial situation right now.”

The cuts have eliminated 18 positions, with 21 positions identified for restructuring.

Talbott also commented that two bills have been passed out of committee to improve the agency’s financial situation.

“There is a bill for a 10 percent license fee increase to generate about $3.3 million for the agency,” he explained. “In addition, there is a bill to provide the health insurance costs of WGFD employees from general fund dollars.” 

The move would provide $4.5 million from the general fund for employee health insurance costs.

Endangered species

“The other program under consideration is our grizzly bear program,” Talbott commented. “That program costs about $2 million per year, including damage claims for livestock and property.”

Because grizzly bears are a sensitive species by definition, Talbott said, “It may be appropriate that the people of Wyoming step up and pay for that program.”

At the same time, the state of Wyoming is pursuing a delisting rule for the grizzly bear.

Good news

“We are seeing a good-news story with the grizzly bear,” said Brian Nesvik, chief of the WGFD Wildlife Division and chief game warden. “The most recent court decision regarding the delisting of the grizzly bear said we needed to describe what impact white bark pine production or its decline in Wyoming might have on the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Area.”

Nesvik said that the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team has put significant efforts into synthesizing available literature and data to determine those impacts.

“As white bark pine has declined, the populations have continued to grow,” he said. “It has still slowed, but population growth is still positive.”
At the same time, Nesvik noted that populations may be growing more slowly because grizzly bears have saturated their suitable habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

“We could be back to a delisted grizzly bear within the next two years,” Nesvik added. “I am optimistic that will happen.”

Up and coming

Currently, Talbott also noted that other endangered species may be coming down the line.

“We continue to comment pretty vocally on listing,” he said. “The wolverine is the latest issue that we have been vocal about.”

Because critical designations for habitat arise from data collected by WGFD employees, Talbott said the agency is very involved in endangered species issues and management.

“A lot of folks in Wyoming are unaware that we have any wolverine populations in the state,” said Nesvik. “There aren’t a lot of wolverines in the state, but we do have a few, almost exclusively located in the northwest portion of the state in high altitude places.”

However, the concern with wolverines isn’t that they may be listed, but rather how the listing decision may be made. 

“When we look at the big picture, everyone ought to be concerned by the reasons they are using for potential listing,” Nesvik explained. “They are basing this listing on speculative models of what climate change will to do the deep snowpack in 40 or 50 years.”

Because models say that deep snowpack may be limited in the next 50 years, groups fighting to list the wolverine say that the reduced snowpack will reduce wolverine habitat across its range.

“We think it is significant that they want to list based on speculative models,” he said. “We, and other states, have articulated that concern.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of 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..

Elk populations

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott addressed issues concerning elk populations across the state.

“We manage wildlife populations by objective, and with the changing land ownership and changing values for landowners in Wyoming, we have areas where landowners have created significant refuges, especially for elk,” he explained. 

However, the use of hunter management areas and land access programs has opened numerous acres and dramatically increased harvests. 

In addition to excess elk populations, brucellosis continues to be concerning to livestock owners.

Brian Nesvik, chief of the WGFD Wildlife Division and chief game warden, said that in working with the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB), WLSB Director Leanne Correll and State Veterinarian Jim Logan, an enhanced surveillance program has been developed and was utilized this hunting season to collect additional blood samples from elk in Hunt Area 40, where two elk were found to be positive for brucellosis last year.

“We have tripled the number of blood samples we received this year to 677,” said Nesvik. “We also increased the number of useable samples from 86 in 2012 to 394.”

The increased sampling has led to identification of only one additional seropositive animal from the same area.

“It is hard to tell what that means right now,” Nesvik continued. “Right now, it tells us that we don’t have large-scale infection of brucellosis in elk across the Big Horns.”

He also noted that, while final decisions on the sampling procedures for next year haven’t been made, it is likely they will look at increased sampling for at least one more year.

“We need to finish up this year’s samples, look at the data, put our heads together and see what this means,” Nesvik said.