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


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.

Energy Development Drives Pronghorn Study

A pronghorn is released in western ColoradoWildlife researchers with the University of Wyoming (UW), the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are cooperating on a project to study pronghorn antelope in southwestern Wyoming, a WGFD press release says.

According to biologists, the release says, pronghorn in the region are under increasing pressure from human presence and have seen declines in numbers and the ability to recover from hard winters over the past 20 years, primarily because fawn production is very low. The study, however, is driven by energy production in the region. The press release says that the study will, “provide credible information to industry, the WGFD, and land management agencies, such as the BLM, that are involved in permitting energy development in south-central Wyoming.”

The release details the study’s methodology:

“Each pronghorn was aged, weighed, their blood tested for pregnancy and disease, and their body fat measured,” said Wildlife Biologist Tony Mong.” Fecal samples were collected to determine pronghorn stress levels and each animal was fitted with a collar. The proposal for this three-year study specifies that thirty-five animals in each study area will be fitted with GPS collars, which will record locations across three years. Twenty-five additional animals in each study area will be fitted with VHF collars to bolster the sample for survival estimation. The pronghorn will be monitored from the air on a bimonthly basis. All the collars will be retrieved once an animal dies or after the collars are automatically released in August 2015.”

Read the WGFD press release here.

Photo: Pronghorn in a Colorado study. Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife. I apologize for the repeat of photos in the last few weeks. There’s just been a lot of news on pronghorns and golden eagles and not a lot of photos of them in my files.

Third Time’s the Charm for Wildlife Passages

A pronghorn is released in western ColoradoAt Trapper’s Point in Wyoming, migrating pronghorns and mule deer are funneled by two rivers to 13-mile stretch of Highway 191, where they attempt to cross. Each year they endanger their own lives crossing the highway, and human lives as well, High Country News’s Goat blog reports.

Last year the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) opened eight wildlife crossings, including both under- and overpasses at the site. The deer and pronghorns were guided toward the passages with fencing.

The effort worked — the deer and pronghorn eventually used the passages, but not without a lot of searching, looking and just plain standing around, first. Worse still, during the spring migration, the pronghorn and deer repeated the process. The passages still made them nervous.

But the third time is the charm, according to the excellent Goat blog post and a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society. When encountering the passages for the second time on their fall migration, the animals didn’t hesitate, but proceeded right through.

Read High Country News’s Goat blog, here.
Read the Wildlife Conservation Society press release, here.

Photo: A pronghorn being released after being collared in Colorado. Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife

Fishers Not Found in Wyoming

FisherHabitat models say that there should be fishers in the Wyoming section of the Northern Rocky Mountains, says the Billings Gazette, but a search by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department of the Sunlight Basin, near the Beartooth Mountains, just to the east of Yellowstone National Park did not turn up any fishers.

“We didn’t find any (fishers),” the Billings Gazette article quotes Game and Fish nongame biologist Bob Oakleaf as saying. “What we did find is (pine) marten everywhere.”

It has been about 10 years since the last fisher sighting in the state, the article notes. The Northern Rockies population of fishers had been rejected for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Further searches for the fisher will be conducted next year.

More details about the search, and the history of fishers in Wyoming, are available in the article. Read it on the Billings Gazette website, here.

Photo: Fisher taking bait in Pacific Northwest. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.



Grizzly News

Yellowstone grizzlyThere’s lots of news about grizzly bears out there this month.

Is the Kangal, a Turkish breed of dog, more effective in protecting livestock from grizzly bears and wolves than the breeds traditionally used in the United States, such as Great Pyrenees and Akbash? A Utah State University doctoral student is studying the issue, with funds from National Wildlife Research Center, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. Read the story in the Great Falls Tribune.

In Montana, the use of electric fences is increasing to protect livestock, bee yards and other attractants from grizzly bears. The NGO Defenders of Wildlife helps fund the fences, which have proven to effectively deter grizzly bears. Read the story in the Great Falls Tribune.

An editorial in the Caspar Star-Tribune says that Wyoming governor Matt Mead needs to have some facts to back up his wish to have grizzly bears removed from the federal list of threatened species and he needs to share those facts with the public. Read the piece in the Caspar Star-Tribune.

Scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University have published a paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology showing that the return of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem has meant more berries for bears. Read the press release on EurekAlert here.

Alberta Environment, Alberta Parks, Parks Canada and the University of Alberta are studying grizzly bear population, density and distribution in an area of Alberta. DNA analysis has already revealed 100 grizzly bears in the region. Read the story in The Western Producer.

Shoshone National Forest officials have temporarily banned soft-sided tents at campgrounds because of more grizzly bears than usual in the area. Read a very brief article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Photo: Grizzly walking in flowers in Yellowstone by Terry Tollefsbol

Wyoming Expands Moose Study

Non-native tree kills moose in AlaskaThe Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit recently collared 28 cow moose to add to the 65 moose they are already tracking with GPS collars, the Sheridan Press reports.

Twelve of those collars provide real-time data, while the rest will fall off after two years, and will need to be collected so the data can be retrieved, the article says.

The article quotes Wyoming Game and Fish South Jackson Wildlife Biologist Gary Fralick as saying that after the first two years of results, some moose are “very localized,” staying in one spot. Other findings include a low birth rate for the moose, and a rump fat level that compares unfavorably to moose in Minnesota, which are in decline.

The rump fat was measured with an ultrasonograph to determine body conditions. The details are still being worked out.

Read the entire article in the Sheridan Press, here.

Wyoming Studies Mountain Goats

mtn goat wyomingThe Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently captured four mountain goats in the western part of the state as part of an on-going study into the animals’ travel between Idaho and Wyoming, says an Associate Press article in the Billings Gazette.

An article in the Caspar Star-Tribune adds that, “the goats were tranquilized while biologists collected nasal and tonsil swabs, blood and fecal samples.”

Mountain goats are not native to Wyoming, the articles state. But apparently, they are native to adjoining Idaho. After being reintroduced to Idaho, some of the mountain goats wandered over to Wyoming.

Photo: Mountain goat, courtesy of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Mountain Lion Research

mo mountain lionWhen it comes to mountain lions making use of suburban habitats, there is no difference between males and females, or resident and transient animals, but sub-adult mountain lions were more likely to be found in the suburbs, a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy found. The study was conducted in western Washington State.

The study suggests targeting problem individual mountain lions, maintaining older age structures and other methods to decrease contact between humans and mountain lions.

Read the Journal of Mammalogy paper, here. (Subscription or fee required for full text.)

Wolves seem to be knocking back the mountain lion population in Wyoming’s Teton Mountains, and they seem to be targeting mountain lion kittens, says Mark Elbroch, a researcher with the Teton Cougar Project in an article in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. It’s competition, not predation, the article states.

The Teton Cougar Project both collars mountain lions and observes them through video cameras set up at bait stations. The article reports that project scientists will publish three papers in the coming year. Read more about the research in the Jackson Hole News & Guide article, here.

The Teton Cougar Project is a partnership between Panthera and Craighead Beringia South.

Photo: Mountain lion, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Northern Rocky Mtn. Wolf Population Is Down

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Population shows fewer wolves in more packs. The overall decrease in the number of wolves is seven percent, the report found. It’s the first decrease in wolf population since wolf collaringrestoration efforts in the region began.

An Associated Press story that ran in the Helena (Montana) Independent Press and elsewhere noted that wolf populations were down 16 percent from 2011 in Wyoming, four percent in Montana and eight percent in Idaho. There were population gains in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, the article says.

An article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review sites a slightly different number, an 11 percent decrease, and says that state wildlife managers had hoped for a larger decrease in the population.

Read the 2012 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) Gray Wolf Population here. (13-page PDF)
Read the US Fish and Wildlife Service press release here. (It is a less a summary of the report than support for current management strategies.)

Read the AP story in the Helena Independent Record, here.
Read the Spokane Spokesman-Review article, here.

Montana Wolf Management Advisory Council also met on the same day the report was released. It suggested a bounty system and creating a list of trappers among other things. Read the article in the [Montana] Missoulian, here.

Photo: National Elk Refuge biologist Eric Cole removes a whisker from a male yearling wolf. The sample can be used for a sample isotope analysis to learn about the animal’s diet. Credit: Lori Iverson / USFWS