Wildlife news Talbott speaks to current issuesWritten by Christy Martinez
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.