Wildlife concerns: Board, commission jointly discuss wildlife issuesWritten by Saige Albert
Of particular interest to landowners, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) continues to focus on elk management.
Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik said, “This is something that the WGFD has invested time and effort into over the last few years, and it has been on the forefront of the Game and Fish Commission’s mind.”
The WGFD has been working for the last couple of years to reach management objective for herds across Wyoming, but the unique situations across the state have been challenging.
“Right now we are in a precarious spot,” Nesvik explained. “We are in a place in Wyoming where we never dreamed we would be.”
That spot, said Nesvik, is a situation where some elk populations in the state are far over objective, but others are experiencing steep declines that haven’t been seen in a number of years.
A number of factors have contributed to the situation, including limited access, which results in agricultural challenges and damages, as well as reduced hunter opportunities.
“The first thing I wanted to address was an overall increase in our statewide elk harvest,” added Nesvik. “In 2010, we had a great year and increased harvest by 12 percent.”
He continued that 2011 saw a slight decrease, despite an increase in the number of available licenses, but noted that peaks and valleys are seen in trends due to weather conditions and access issues.
“We have taken a lot of steps to increase harvest,” he said. “When we have season structures, coupled with license allocation, coupled with access, and when they come together, we can have management of elk populations.”
Licenses and seasons
Nesvik commented that, in some areas, overpopulations are causing large problems, and the WGFD has been working to increase harvest in several ways, including increasing license number and lengthening seasons.
“We have dramatically increased license numbers over the last five years, especially for antlerless elk,” he said. “In 2010, we increased by over 1,000 licenses, and in 2011 by over 2,000 elk licenses.”
At the same time, in some areas, rather than having a limit of two licenses per hunter, people can now obtain up to three elk licenses.
“The legislature has also given the Commission the authority to set the number of licenses,” Nesvik added, “similar to what they do with the deer and antelope seasons.”
“We have coupled that with a long season,” Nesvik continued. “We are now hunting elk from Aug. 15 to the end of January.”
In other hunting areas, where artificial refuges and access issues exacerbate the problem, the WGFD has taken additional steps to improve harvest numbers.
“We started with our hunter management access program in 2010 in Laramie Peak, which was an area we had significant issues with elk on private land that were creating programs for landowners,” Nesvik explained.
The goal for the new program was to initiate a “handshake” deal to sit down with landowners and work to help manage hunter on the group during the season.
“The ultimate goal was to reduce elk conflict and increase elk harvest,” he said. “We didn’t dramatically increase harvest, but we dispersed elk to other areas where the landowners said they weren’t a problem.”
The program was also useful across the state in Meeteetse, where elk migrate from backcountry areas to winter each year. As cattle commingled with elk, not only were harvest numbers not as high as hoped, but spread of brucellosis increased.
“We worked out a handshake deal with 13 landowners and an intensive effort by the WGFD,” Nesvik explained. “It was an intensive effort that resuled in an increase in harvest and an increase in overall satisfaction from the hunters and the landowners.”
Nesvik mentioned that the success of the program has resulted in plans to continue it in the future.
An additional hunter access program is being developed on 260,000 acres in southeast Wyoming, where nontraditional landowners, formerly not interested in access issues, have begun cooperating with the WGFD to allowing hunting access.
The WGFD has also begun utilizing a new and more accurate method of estimating elk populations to improve management.
With a number of steps being taken to address elk management and elk population numbers, Nesvik mentioned that the WGFD will review objective numbers again.
“We are taking elk objectives, over the next four years, out for public and landowner review,” he said. “We still manage by an objective, as far as the population is concerned, but they haven’t been vetted by the public and landowners for quite some time.”
Wolf delisting filed
Casper – With a delisting rule published in the Federal Register on Sept. 10, wolves will be handed over to state control beginning Oct. 1.
Twelve hunt areas in the trophy game management area have been established and hunts begin Oct. 1. However, there are a number of regulations in place to ensure that viability of wolves.
“For hunters in the trophy game management area, there is an 800 number to call where they can find out if the quota has been met,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik explained. “If it has not been met, they can hunt.”
All harvests in that area are required to be reported within 24 hours, and harvests in the predator area are required to be reported within 10 days.
Despite the steps being taken to ensure the genetic interchange and viability of wolves, two groups have filed a notice of intent to sue.
“The lawsuits won’t be filed until 60 days after they filed the notice,” added Nesvik, “so it couldn’t be before a judge before the first part of November.”
Regardless, Wyoming will begin managing wolves on Oct. 1, with the requirements to document 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs at the end of the year
“We will enter into a post-delisting monitoring period that will last for five years,” explained Nesvik of the future. “For five years, the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate Wyoming’s progress to continued management of wolves.”