Elk Update

More Cervid Contraception: GonaCon and ElkIn February, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission collared 11 elk for a study in north-central Nebraska. There are a few more details in this brief KOLN-TV report.

A new elk study in Montana got more coverage. There, 45 cow and 20 bull elk were fitted with tracking collars. Five of those were traditional radio collars, the rest were GPS collars. The two year study will investigate elk movement patterns and food. Read about it in the Ravalli Republic.

In Wyoming, the concern is the potential to spread of chronic wasting disease at the 22 artificial feeding stations run by the state and one at the National Elk Refuge. Read the opinion piece in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, here.

An opinion piece that is getting a lot of buzz ran in the New York Times recently. It says that wolves did not fix the Yellowstone ecosystem by preying on elk and allowing aspen to grow. No, the article says, the Yellowstone ecosystem is broken, and mere wolves can’t fix it. Read the article in the New York Times, here.

Photo of bull elk courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

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Another CWD Deer in Pennsylvania

white_tailed_deer_buckChronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2012 at a captive facility in Adams County. Subsequently, three free-ranging deer harvested by hunters during the 2012 season tested positive for CWD. Now, a Pennsylvania Game Commission press release reports, a white-tailed deer that was killed by a vehicle this fall has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The latest case is in the same county as one of the previous wild deer cases. Apparently, that’s the first report of CWD in Pennsylvania in 2013 (even though the press release came out in 2014, which makes things a little confusing).

Read the Pennsylvania Game Commission press release, here.
Read a brief article in PressConnects.com, a Gannett publication, here.

Photo: A (very) healthy deer. Joe Kosack/Pennsylvania Game Commission

Wyoming Studies Mule Deer and Burbot

wrmdh-deer-on-mat-up-close-gov-del_originalWyoming Game and Fish Department personnel, researchers with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, personnel from the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, and many volunteers are trapping mule deer for two research projects in southwest Wyoming, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) press release says.

In one region, the department would like to know how many deer travel between Wyoming and Colorado, an important point of information for managing mule deer in both states. In that study, mule deer are netted when they feed at a bait of apple pulp and are fitted with bright yellow numbered ear tags and white vinyl visual collars. Some bucks are fitted with VHF ear tags.

In another region, the deer are netting by helicopter and fitted with GPS collars.

Read all the details, including the time frame of these multi-year studies, in the WGFD press release, here.

WGFD has also teamed up with researchers from the University of Idaho and Trout Unlimited to learn more about an illegally introduced population of burbot (a fish) in the Green River, according to another WGFD press release.

The tricky part is that burbot are native to some watersheds in Wyoming. The research, says the press release, “aims to study the effectiveness of various sampling gears for capturing burbot in flowing water, learn more about how they are potentially affecting this world-class sport fishery and what actions can be taken to prevent such negative impacts.” It notes that in some parts of its native range, burbot are in decline.

Read more in the WGFD press release, here.

Photo: a Wyoming mule deer captured in the second study. Courtesy of Wyoming Game and Fish.

CWD in Plants

cwd_map 9-30-13Plants, including crop plants such as alfalfa and tomatoes, may serve as a reservoir for the prions, or misfolded proteins, that cause chronic wasting disease in deer (as well as other prion diseases such as scrapie in sheep, and mad cow disease), reports WisconsinWatch after a careful reading of the The Wildlife Society conference program.

WisconsinWatch is produced by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. And they certainly investigated here.

Christopher Johnson, U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center will present a talk on his research at the conference on October 7.

Oh, and Johnson found that the prions from plants were infectious when injected into mice.

I’m going to skip right over the scary prospect of plants as a reservoir for prion diseases and go right to the next point made in the WisconsinWatch article: this finding is not going to change the fact that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has pretty much given up on managing CWD in the state.

Johnson’s findings have not yet been published in a scientific journal, and it appears that the National Wildlife Health Center has not yet released a report or a press release on the research.

Find The Wildlife Society Conference abstract here.
Read the WisconsinWatch article here.

Map: Incidents of CWD, courtesy of USGS National Wildlife Health Center

Getting the Lead Out

lead - periodic tableTwo stories today focus on two different states’ efforts to get lead out of the environment.

An article in the Portland (Maine) Herald Press literally goes behind the scenes of the recent legislative ban on lead fishing gear in Maine, which was passed earlier this year, but won’t totally ban the lead gear until 2017. It goes into the lab of Mark Pokras, a Tufts University professor of wildlife health, who played a role in encouraging that legislation. Pokras has been studying lead poisoning in loons for over 20 years.

Pokras says that lead poisoning is responsible for the deaths of over a third of the loons that find their way to his lab in Massachusetts.

Read the story in the Portland Herald Press, here.

In Minnesota, studies show that a bad shot with a lead bullet (such as one that hits a hip bone), can cause lead to splinter throughout a white tailed deer’s flesh to the extent that it would be difficult, or impossible, to remove all of it. For the sake of public health, and also for the sake of the state’s bald eagles, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourages deer hunters to voluntarily use copper bullets.

The article details some of the differences between hunting with copper and lead bullets, which implies that a different technique may be more effective when using copper bullets.

Read the story in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, here.

Penn State Develops CWD Model

white_tailed_deer_buckEight years ago, research done by Penn State University, the Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission, and the US Geological Survey found in a study of white-tailed deer, that 70 percent of yearling males will disperse, and the average dispersal is six to seven miles. Depending on the amount of forest on the landscape, the researcher says, those yearling males may go just a mile or as far as 30 miles.

Now, another team of Penn State researchers are using that dispersal data to model the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania.

So far, the conclusions are that in parts of the state with less forest, the Game Commission may have to consider disease-management areas that are larger. It also has implications on sampling efforts to try to get a handle on the prevalence of the disease.

Read the Penn State University press release here.

Photo: Joe Kosack/Pennsylvania Game Commission

Moose: CWD in Canada and New Study in Montana

mooseThe Edmonton Journal reports that chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been discovered in an adult bull moose that was killed in a vehicle collision in southern Alberta last year. It is the first case of CWD in a moose in Canada, the article says, adding that the disease has previously been found in moose in Colorado and Wyoming.

Read the Edmonton Journal article here.

In Montana, the moose population has been in decline in the last several years, with last year’s moose hunt seeing the lowest numbers in 50 years. An article in the Flathead Beacon says that Montana has joined the states initiating a long-term research project to try to uncover the cause of the decline.

Twelve cow moose have been radio collared for a 10 year study, the article in the Flathead Beacon says. The study will also include analyzing blood samples. Nick DeCesare is the lead biologist for the study, assisted by Jesse Newby.

Read the complete store in the Flathead Beacon, here.

Photo: Not Canadian, eh? A New Hampshire moose by Alan Briere, courtesy of NH Fish and Wildlife

Why Deer Die

Wisconsin deer trap“Hunter harvest continues to be the greatest cause of death of both adult and yearling bucks, while predation was the leading cause of fawn mortality, with most predations occurring within the first four to six weeks following birth,” said Jared Duquette, research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and lead researcher for a five-year study of causes of adult deer mortality and a three-year study of fawn mortality in an item in department’s weekly news bulletin.

According to the weekly news summary:

Capture of adults will continue through the 2012-13 and 2013-14 winters. Fawns were live-captured in May and June in 2011 and 2012 and will be captured again in 2013. A number of captured adults and fawns are fitted with radio collars. All are fitted with ear tags. Additional metrics are collected including body weight and size, blood samples, sex, presence of external parasites and age. Does are also examined for pregnancy. Deer are followed by radio signal until death, at which time researchers study the mortality to determine cause.

More details on the two studies are available in the department’s news report. Wisconsin is also conducting some other interesting deer studies. You can see the list here. I’d be interested to know the results of “An evaluation of the usefulness of deer-vehicle collision data as indices to deer population abundance.”

Read the weekly news item detailing the two deer studies here.

Photo: Closed box trap with deer feeding around it, courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Reindeer Games

Yes, we’re falling for it. When a wildlife conservation organization calls caribou “reindeer” on the day before Christmas, we are going to run with it. ‘Tis the season, after all.

What really happened was that the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada received a three-year grant to work in Ontario’s Far North and Northern British Columbia/Southern Yukon. The grant is from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Now you see, caribou live in this region, and caribou, when domesticated in Eurasia, are called reindeer. Interesting trivia: while reindeer are culturally vital on the Russian side of the Bering Straight, native North American people didn’t domesticate caribou, and didn’t show much interest in raising reindeer when they were introduced in the region. (These facts from the National Museum of Natural History’s Arctic Studies Center.)

As for the grant: “The conservation challenges in Canada’s north are ever increasing and the supporters of those challenges are dwindling,” said Dr. Justina Ray, Executive Director of WCS Canada in the press release. It comes at a good time.

Moose of “Special Concern” in Minn.

mooseThe the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ list of endangered, threatened and special concern species is due to get its first update since 1996, a DNR press release reports. While 302 Minnesota species will be affected, moose are getting all the attention.

The iconic north woods animal is proposed for listing as a species of special concern. The designation reflects a 50 percent decline in the number of moose in the state since 2005, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. There are now about 4,000 moose in the state.

What is causing the rapid decline is still a bit of a mystery, but a combination of disease, parasites and a warming climate appear to be the causes, the Star-Tribune notes.

CBC News reports University of Minnesota Duluth biologist Ron Moen as saying that wildlife managers in Ontario should keep an eye out for their own moose. The southern part of western Ontario shares a border with Minnesota.

As for why the gray wolf’s delisting in the other direction, from special concern to not on the list, is not receiving much attention, that’s because this year’s wolf hunting season (and the federal delisting) packed more punch than this proposed delisting.

Read the Star-Tribune article here.
Read the Minn. DNR press release here.
Get more details about the list changes, here.

Photo: Moose, courtesy MN DNR