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Articles

G&F Seeking Information on Buck Mule Deer Poached in Curt Gowdy State Park December 15; Second One in 16 Days

12/17/2012

CHEYENNE - The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking for information about an adult buck mule deer – the second in 16 days -- illegally shot in Curt Gowdy State Park Saturday night, Dec. 15.This crime took place after 6 p.m. on the southwest side of Granite Reservoir, near the Pole Mountain Campground.

The carcass was dragged off the hillside to near the road and the head was removed. “The violator or violators started to field dress the deer and likely got scared off by a passing vehicle or something,” said Allen Deru, Cheyenne game warden. “So, if anyone was near the area Saturday night and noticed any unusual activity, such as possibly vehicle lights directed off the road or pedestrians at night, please contact me.”

Deru said he collected a 30.06 casing on the road and hopes to collect fingerprints from it. Curt Gowdy State Park rangers are also helping with the investigation.

Buck deer are particularly vulnerable this time of year because it is the “rut” or breeding season. For killing a buck deer out of season and leaving it to waste, the violator could face up to a $10,000 fine, one year in jail and a 10-year suspension of hunting/fishing license privileges.

Deru is also seeking information about a fork horn mule deer shot and left the night of Nov. 30 near the Volin Trailhead between Crystal and Granite reservoirs.

Deru urges anyone with information about these crimes – even if it is second hand – to report it to the Stop Poaching Hotline at (877) WGFD-TIP or on the Game and Fish website at wgfd.wyo.gov at any hour or call him directly during business hours at 777-4585.

“We are hopeful we can build a case and find these violators,” Deru said. “If the violators come forward themselves, it could possibly reduce the citations and punishments that are handed down.”

He adds callers may be eligible for a cash reward up to $5,000 if the information leads to a conviction and can remain anonymous. “So even close acquaintances to the violator who are disturbed about the crime can call without having their identity revealed,” he said.

(Contact: Al Langston (307) 777-4540)

Drought and Fire Warnings

Because of the continuing drought and many fires throughout Wyoming, many agencies dealing with outdoor recreation are asking that we use the outdoors with care. The Game and Fish Department is asking that hunters make sure that they use appropriate fire safety rules as we go out into the mountains and prairies.

You can check the progress of the various fires here. Check this information against your hunting maps, and the area where you plan to hunt.

Rebuttal to "Do Wolves Help Pronghorn?"

Rebuttal to "Do Wolves Help Pronghorn?: Yellowstone Pronghorn Find Refuge in the Shadow of the Wolf" - WyoFile, July 24, 2012

 

The first flaw in this story is that Mr. Dawson can't decide which "herd" of pronghorn he is talking  about. The title refers to the pronghorn that live in the Yellowstone valley. But throughout the article he bounces between using the Tetons and Yellowstone as a reference, pulling statistics or examples from one or the other, without giving full details of either one. You've already got your readers confused. If you doubt me, just run a check on Google Earth. Teton Valley and Yellowstone Valley are two distinct places. So which one are we talking about?

Research done in the late '90s and early 2000s by Joe Riis and Emilene Ostlind showed that there were far more than 2-300 pronghorn that would winter in Teton Valley, and migrate to the Upper Green River Basin.

Mr. Dawson also states that the population of pronghorn has been fairly steady since the early 1990s - fluctuating between 200 and 300 pronghorn. Dropping numbers was only accredited to coyote predation and the growth of human development in the area. (Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.) He lists increases in recent years but not how recent, and then states that they dropped the last year of record, by more than 20%. That's a pretty big drop, but the author glosses it over by stating that the count was "not up".

Dawson dismisses the fact that pronghorn is a suitable meal for wolves - equating wolves dining on pronghorn to you and me feeding a family on one single Big Mac - yet acknowledges that bears prey on pronghorn, especially fawns. The last time I looked bears were larger than wolves, and while bears do not travel in packs, they'll pick up a pronghorn for a snack, the same way a wolf will. He also did not say anything about the increase in the number of Grizzly Bears that live in the Yellowstone area. Grizzlies are on the threshold of being removed from the Endangered Species List.

The wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone are not indiginous Grays, either. They are Canadian Grays - a larger, more aggressive animal. This wolf can get to be up to around 200 pounds, as compared to a 50 lb wolves which originally inhabited the region.

Mr. Dawson sites a study done by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) - and again, in the Teton Valley, not Yellowstone - that showed where coyotes were present (but relatively few wolves) there was only a 10% survival rate for pronghorn fawns, but that where there were more wolves, which had presumabely chased out the coyotes, the fawn survival rate was closer to 35%. Again, the waters were muddied by the location reference. The WCS study was done on the Teton herd of pronghorn. But the claim is made that the pronghorn herd increased by 50% after wolves were reintroduced in 1995.

Mr. Dawson quoted a 2010 report in The Journal of Mammology that stated, "the park’s pronghorn are exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior of heading for higher ground to seek refuge from coyotes while birthing. They also state that in winter, coyotes limited in their movements by deep snow allows for high-elevation sanctuary for young pronghorn." NOw think of this logically - Coyotes have been preying on pronghorn for generations. Why would they only recently retreat to the high altitudes for birthing? The leap to that conclusion doesn't make sense. What does make sense is that wolves have returned, which ads a "new" predator to the mix, and has caused the antelope to change their behavior and move to higher ground, seeking refuge from the wolves, not the coyotes. Antelope have natural defenses against coyotes, and none against wolf packs. Protective behavior in response to a more aggressive predator is more reasonable than seeking shelter within the range of an aggressor that will take out a Pronghorn mother who is birthing just as quickly as they'll take out a fawn.

The study quoted also tagged fawns up to four days after birth - the first three days are the time of greatest vulnerability, because they are the period during which the fawn cannot run with the mother, and is at the weakest point of their life.

There is no acknowledgment of massive declines in elk populations (now below the sustainability point for surviving young), and similar declines in mule deer. When larger prey disappears, wolves move en-masse to smaller prey, which is more likely to account for the previous year's declines than higher than average snowfall which would have resulted in better than normal grazing, and increases in herd populations.

The numbers recorded in the study were too low to be representative of any kind of meaningful statistic. Less than 20 predation events were studied, and of the 13 recorded, 4 of them were "unknown predators", which is such a high percentage that it skews any interpretation of actual facts.

The article is very thin on valid science, ignores logical animal behaviors and patterns, and has the feel of someone trying very hard to make thin bits of incomplete information from non-correlating sources fit together into the pie that he wants it to be. It does not have the feel of a credible conclusion based on all available data instead of just the pieces he wants us to see.

Wind Turbines, Sage Grouse and Pronghorns

I've been doing a little reading up on Sage Grouse and wind turbines lately. It's hard to find anything that isn't either a scholarly paper (ugh!) or a bit heavy on the environmental issues. Why Sage Grouse? Because they share the same habitat as pronghorns.

When a wind farm is built, there is a flurry of activity with bulldozers, earth scrapers, and a whole lot of other large, noisey machinery. Of course the wildlife is scared off. If there was a bunch of large machinery leveling off my home, I'd be a little nervous, too. The construction crews do what they need to do in order to make conditions right for the pouring of the concrete footings, then long, flat-bed, semi-trailers bring in the several components of the towers, generators, and finally the propellors. The turbines are assembled, then the crews are gone. All that is left is a hand-full, or less, of the technicians required to keep the new wind farm running. The big machines go away. Maybe the technicians walk from tower to tower, or they could drive a pick-up on their rounds, but the impact from this point on is minimal. If a tower needs a repair, the repairman (or team) is flown in, the repairs completed, then they leave.

How do I know this? The little town where we lived had it's own "experimental" wind farm. The two original towers were eventually taken down, and eight (I think) modern turbines stand in their place. There were also three other wind farms within sight of the town, and another just over the hill to the north. We were able watch the builidng of these sites over a long period of time.

The big worry is that wind farms remove habitat from Sage Grouse, Mule Deer and pronghorn. I can see where they'd be removing a small amount of habitat from Sage Grouse, since each turbine has a permanent concrete pad, which takes up some ground. Sage Grouse nest in the grasses and brush.

We never saw that many Mule Deer in the area of the wind farms. Oh, we saw a good share, but they didn't seem to be bothered much by the wind farms, once they were there. Same with pronghorns. I've seen pronghorn congregating under turbines and bedding in their shadows. (Whenever I bring this up, I usually hear, "oh, I'm sure you have, but....")

I know that we need to achieve a balance when it comes to our search for energy sources and needing to keep our environment livable for not just us, but all species. But where do you draw the line? In researching this, it has become clear that the issue of whether wind turbines and wildlife is actually secondary to the issue of whether the wind turbines are needed - at least to the degree that they are being constructed.

There is a tremendous overlooked issue, concerning the size (quantity of turbines). The number of turbines on the wind farms is the number of turbines needed to supply the electricity for the "end market". (The project nearest to our town had some 70 towers. The one 20 miles away was nearing 200 when we left Wyoming.) The major problem with all of those wind farms in Wyoming is that NONE of the power is for local markets. It is all being sent to California or Arizona, or some other far away place which makes the whole exercise inefficient in the extreme. When you transmit electrical power over a long distance there is a loss of power - the greater the distance, the greater the losses. The lines "bleed" energy the whole way. By the time wind power from Wyoming gets to California (a distance of 800 or more miles, over high altitude lines with higher than average losses most of the way), the power is reduced by 50% or more.

If the wind farms were smaller, and provided power only for cities and towns in Wyoming then it would make sense. And smaller wind farms have less of an impact on habitat. If you're going to build a wind farm outside of Rawlins, Wyoming, then have the farm supply energy to Rawlins or Rock Springs (maybe), not Hollywood or Seattle.
The capacity and technology is avaliable for these large cities to put (relatively) small turbines on the roofs of skyscrapers (high altitude, more wind) in order for those buildings, and maybe a few of their neighbors, to supply their own power. Why do massive turbines need to be built away from populations centers? Why are farms built hundreds of miles away?

It does not make sense from an economical standpoint either. High voltage power lines require between $1 and $4 million per mile to build. 800 miles, people! This makes wind power very costly by the time it gets there, and all of those miles require multiple electrical towers to support the power, each one on concrete footings, and each one with an effect on habitat. The lines then lose power the whole way - remember the effects of stray voltage on cattle? That same stray voltage runs along the entire line from Wyoming to California, with all the inherent negative effects on animals that live under them. While the effect is not significant for animals that wander past (such as antelope, who are migratory), it may be more significant for nesting birds.

Anyway, smaller wind farms would mean less of an impact on the habitat of Sage Grouse, pronghorn, or anything else. Sage Grouse, Mule Deer and pronghorn adapt with a changing environment.

The real issue isn't whether a wind turbine affects wildlife populations and health in an unreasonable way. The real issue is that the distances over which the power is transmitted are causing far more harm than the wind turbines themselves, and they are inflating the required numbers of turbines. This is the issue that environmentalists, lawmakers, and power companies are all avoiding.

Keep the power production near the end use locality. If that is done, impact issues become negligible.

Stating the Obvious About Pronghorn Declines

I've been reading up on a topic that's been a big concern of late - especially in the western-half of Wyoming. It seems that elk, mule deer and pronghorn herds are all on the decline, and have been for a couple of years. Sportsmen and conservationists have been concerned, and they have every right to be.

Of course one of the major concerns is the gowing businesses of coal, coal bed methane, and natural gas - all of which are very abundant in Wyoming. There is also the concern about the loss of habitat from wind power, but once the construction crews leave, and there is only a mainenance crew of a handful of workers, the antelope don't seem to be overly concerned about the presence of the big steel monsters. The biggest concern seems to be the increasing size of the Jonah Field (natural gas) - just to the east of a major migration corridor for mule deer and pronghorn.

Between that, and loss of habitate, it would logical to jump to the conclusion that it is just a matter of loss of habitat. Not only are the oil fields growing, but the town of Pinedale, and other communities, are growing, because the workers need somewhere to live, shop, and relax.

There is also the question of natural causes for the decline of the big game herds - the amount of food available, and predators. Most articles I've read barely touch the subject, leaving the reader to assume that the decline of the herds is due soley to the increase of man's influence in the area. But just like many other subjects, the question is too complex to be left to one cause or the other. So we have to realize that there are a number of factors at work here.

I've been reading a study - ok - actually a master's thesis done by a student working towards a Master of Science in Wildlife Biology. Scholarly papers are not usually my cup of tea for relaxing entertainment since they have to be written in a certain scholarly way (there are many other adjectives that can be inserted in place of the word "scholarly"). And I've written a few of these myself. I never minded writing papers. It's the way that they have to be presented and formatted that gets my dander up. It would be nice if they could be written in a more entertaining and interesting way, but... I digress.

Anyway - this person studies the question of removal of coyotes and the effect on pronghorn and mule deer herds in Wyoming (and this is from a student at Utah State University). My first question is why did it take a study or a master's thesis to figure something out that is common sense in the observable world.

The jist of the paper is what the effect the removal of coyotes has on the size of mule deer and pronghorn herds. Coyotes were trapped and shot. Shot from airplanes and helicopters, as well as on the ground. Some areas were left alone, and mule deer and pronghorn populations were studied in all areas, then compared.

Areas where coyotes were left alone, populations of mule deer and pronghorn either stayed in decline or leveled off. In areas where coyotes were hunted/trapped, herd populations went up the following year (is anyone surprised by this? If you shoot the predators then the herd increases! Imagine that!) Does anyone know of a "scholarly way" to say "Duh! Ya think?"?

But there was another factor that was overlooked, and has been completely overlooked by every news artical and paper dealing with this subject. In 1995 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. If you know your Wyoming geography you know that the Jonah Fields and the Green River Basin are in migration distance from Yellowstone. At first the wolves hadn't strayed too far from Yellowstone, but as their numbers have increased, the packs have needed more room to stretch out and call their own. Now there are reports from as far away as Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado that more wolves are beeing seen. And where do you suppose all of those wolves came from? (Oddly enough, Wyoming Game & Fish doesn't acknowledge the presence of wolves in eastern Wyoming, even though wolves have been spotted in the Dakotas. But then again, I suppose those could be wolves reintroduced into Michigan. But that's a whole 'nother blog.)

Generally wolves will chase coyotes out of an area, but there would still be areas were there are both. If both predators were in certain areas, that would certainly mean bad news for elk, mule deer and pronghorn. Now there is another predator added to the list that already takes it's toll on the herd populations.

Not one newspaper or magazine story, nor study has mentioned the rising wolf population along with the decline of the elk/mule deer/pronghorn herds. While at the same time blaming solely the intrusion of man (more or less). Well, yes it was man's fault. By reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone, and then not allowing resonable controls long after the wolf packs have been reestablished.