Very tough winter for Wyoming Range mule deer

Posted

SUBLETTE COUNTY – People from several counties crowded into the Pinedale Game and Fish Office’s meeting room to hear updates on big-game herds’ status before springtime, voice concerns about starving and sick animals and question hunting season changes.

Regional supervisor John Lund asked everyone present with comments to submit them in writing – online and on paper – to Wyoming Game and Fish headquarters by March 29 at 5 p.m.

“On a year like this public comments are going to be pretty important,” Lund said. “It’s quite the winter this year and we have some changes to run by you.” 

Sublette elk, pronghorn

Game and Fish biologist Dean Clause reviewed elk, antelope and Sublette mule deer hunt proposals.

An Upper Green elk herd hunting proposal adds an opportunity in Hunt Area 87, from Dec. 1 to Jan. 31, with a quota of 10 “any antlered elk within the interior of the Dell Creek Loop Road. Quotas would increase for antlerless cow and calf elk in most hunt areas.

The Pinedale elk herd hunting season for antlerless elk is set to remain about the same as last year. Clause said.

For the Sublette Antelope Herd, its post-2022 hunting season population was somewhat low going into winter

“Fawn ratios have struggled a little,” Clause added. “With winter conditions the way they are with well above average snow levels and our temperatures are below average this year.”

Recently, dead and dying pronghorn were found across the Mesa, along Highway 351 to Highway 191, along Boulder South and “even the end of the Jonah,” stricken with bovine pneumonia that “is pretty new” in these parts, he said.

Antelope hunters have high expectations for success, he added, usually in the high 80 to 90 percentages.

Sublette mule deer

The Sublette Mule Deer Herd is suffering, according to Clause. Numbers are well below the population goal of 32,000, up slightly after the devastating winter of 2016-2017. Forty percent of the herd was lost the following year.

“We’re probably going to lose a number of fawns,” Clause said. “Losses will probably negate the growth seen in the last year or so.”

Antlered deer will need three points or more on each side under the proposed 2023 hunting regs. One hundred fewer nonresident tags are proposed, from 600 to 500 tags.  

Sublette moose

The local moose numbers are stable with a winter count of 1,331 animals, higher than the past two years, according to Clause. Fawn and buck ratios “are low but within the goals.”

Moose resident and nonresident tags are allocated in a 9:1 ratio. For example, in Hunt Area 25, 40 residents and five nonresidents will draw for antlered moose and five residents and no nonresidents will draw for antlerless moose.

Wyoming Range

Many people present appeared very interested in the Wyoming Range mule deer herd and its young fawns’ chances of survival in the harsh winter that blankets Sublette and adjacent southwest counties.

Game and Fish wildlife biologist Gary Fralick brought data printouts of Wyoming Range hunter surveys, current fawn mortality and hunting season changes with a focus on Greys River and Salt River hunt areas 144 and 145 – “one of the best spots in North American, arguably.”.

First he talked about the Big Piney elk herd, with a record high of 4,500 elk, leading to proposals of extending some seasons plus “substantial adjustments” to the Upper Hoback elk cow-calf Type 6 licenses.

Wyoming Range mule deer “have had a tough go of it the last six years with bad winter losses,” he said.

In Green River hunt areas 134 and 135, Fralick said, antlered deer will change from four points to three points per side or a whitetail deer “to protect younger bucks.”

Currently, Game and Fish biologists are assisting with a University of Wyoming study of a focal herd. Researchers put radio collars on 65 mule deer fawns and 65 2-year-old does between Kemmerer and Star Valley.

“As of yesterday (March 21) morning, 87 percent of the fawns had died,” Fralick reported, or 58 of the 65 collared. Of the 65 does, 27 percent or 15 of the 65 does had died.

A man asked if biologists made a winter mortality count of uncollared deer; Clause said those numbers weren’t back yet.

Clause said the December fawn ratio will be compared to April numbers as mule deer leave their winter ranges and are “reclassified” or recounted to figure a total fawn loss.

“We’re going to lose one-third of the fawns there every year, anyway,” he noted.

Fralick said not all fawns will die even if all of the collared fawns do – “There are 29,000 deer in the Wyoming Range.

People questioned the biologists closely about hunt areas 144 and 145 opening and closing dates and spoke for and against extending a season. More hunters would crowd into one hunt area if the other closed early, reducing everyone’s chances of a successful hunt, one man stated.

Another asked about feeding deer; a LaBarge landowner suggested knocking snow off sagebrush so mule deer could browse better.

“I would like to see more emphasis on winter habitat improvement (than harvest),” one said, asking Game and Fish to consider “new thinking.”

Habitat biologist Troy Fieseler reviewed winter and transitional habitat projects, with a focus on 2022 “landscape scale” cheatgrass treatments on private, Forest Service and state lands. Next year, the Bureau of Land Management expects to begin using a more effective herbicide, he said.

“We’re not in the business of game farm animals,” Clause replied.

A LaBarge man pointed out wildlife crossings, particularly at Dry Piney, “have 10-foot fences and corridors drifted in with snow,” suggesting snow removal before spring.

Lund offered to share several states’ research into artificially feeding deer and antelope, for example. “We also do a lot of work on transitional ranges.”

For more information on proposed seasons and wildlife reports or to submit comments online, go to https://wgfd.wyo.gov.