Encampment Bighorn Sheep Capture

0120_sheep capture (1)Two weekends ago I joined Wyoming Game and Fish as they captured five bighorn sheep near the Encampment River. The state agency partnered with Native Range Capture Services which originated in New Zealand. The company works with many agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Another bighorn sheep capture took place last February. At that time Game and Fish collared five ewes. Over the weekend, the mugging crew caught the same sheep, so they could receive new collars.

Saratoga Game and Fish Biologist Teal Cufaude said the sheep needed new collars because the ones placed last year didn’t work well. The new collars have functional GPS systems that give Game and Fish the ability to see day to day movements. The old ones were only giving off high frequency signals.

“(The new collars) will send out a couple points per day as the sheep move throughout the landscape,” Teal said. “We’ll collect the collars in a couple years. Then we’ll be able to download even more points and fill in the gaps of where they’ve been moving day to day.”

0120_sheep capture (3)Once the muggers captured the sheep, Game and Fish personnel and local residents brought the sheep to tables. There some Encampment students and Game and Fish employees took samples and fitted the animals with new collars.

The samples included blood samples, swabs from the nose and tonsils, fecal samples and an ultrasound to see if the ewes were pregnant.

The samples that Game and Fish gathered from the sheep will go to the agency’s veterinary lab. This is part of a statewide effort to gauge the health of the Wyoming’s bighorn sheep populations.

Game and Fish Wildlife Disease Supervisor Hank Edwards said the state wildlife agency can determine the health of the bighorn sheep with the samples.

“We’ll be sampling for pathogens known to cause pneumonia,” Hank said. “Pnemonia is a big deal in bighorn sheep.”

Game and Fish will also be able to compare herds that are healthy with those are not. From there they can try to determine differences in environment and any needs for ecological management.

Locally, Teal said Game and Fish will track the movements the sheep make to develop useful habitat improvement plans in the future.

“We’ll be able to know where we can better spend our money and our time enhancing habitat if we know exactly what parts of the landscape they’re using,” Teal said.

The state wildlife agency has been receiving help on the initiative from Encampment students. Jordan Seitz’s sixth and eighth grade classes got involved last February when Game and Fish captured the first five sheep.

The students have participated in observing the sheep as well.. The Game and Fish Laramie Region Newsletter states that the students took a field trip where the learned about bighorn sheep habitat, diets and digestion. Then they explored that habitat and learned about radio telemetry. At the end of the day they got to observe several bighorn sheep feeding near Miners Creek. Jordan said he hopes the experience inspires his students.

 

It’s cool that Jordan takes his classes out to help Game and Fish with this project. It shows the students that they can have a successful and awesome career in this state and in their hometown. Many students could enjoy a similar experience that opens their eyes to a fuller extent of what they can do after they graduate.

dsc_0260It’s been fun to take part in this effort myself for the past two years. I’ve gotten to touch the bighorn sheep to help hold them down while game and fish personnel gather samples. My first year at the capture Will Schultz, who was the game biologist at the time, asked if I wanted to touch the sheep and get my picture taken. Of course! Anybody who knows me won’t be surprised that I took my gloves off when holding the ewes so I could feel their soft fur.

If I had liked science more while in school and college, I may have become a game biologist. At least I get to sometimes live vicariously as one while being a news reporter.

 

Further Bighorn Sheep News

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department in partnership with the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckleshaus Institute is announcing a public engagement process to explore management concerns, issues, and opportunities for the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd.

A situation assessment was recently completed and dates for a series of public workshops and a “Bighorn Sheep Summit” have been set. Game and Fish encourages all those interested in this herd to attend the Summit. People will meet with bighorn sheep specialists from around the country to chart a path forward for this iconic bighorn sheep herd.

This herd has struggled to recover from a catastrophic all-age die-off caused by pneumonia in 1991. The disease caused an estimated 30% decline in the number of sheep. The herd continues to stay below the desired population size. This is because lamb survival is very low, likely due to the persistence of lamb pneumonia. At one time, there were an estimated 2,500 sheep in this population; today there are about 750.

“The bottom-line is, we simply don’t have all the answers how to turn this important bighorn sheep population around,” says Daryl Lutz, Lander’s wildlife management coordinator. “There is much to be learned how to best address this decline and perhaps implement management strategies and projects to attempt to arrest and reverse this trend,” says Lutz. “To do this, it is clear we must consider a different approach.”

All collaborative workshops will be held in Dubois at the Headwaters Arts and Conference Center (20 Stalnaker Street) from 6:00 pm- 9:00 pm each of the following evenings:

February 11 – Public workshop to summarize the situation assessment and exploration of issues.

March 14 – Bighorn Sheep Summit – discussion with “outside” experts about technical and scientific information regarding disease, predation, habitat and other aspects of this bighorn sheep herd.

April 3 – Public workshop to craft solutions to improve herd conditions.

June 5 – Public workshop to present draft strategy for public input, discussion, and refinement.

Weekly Review: January 18th

Update on the federal government shutdown’s impacts on Wyoming.

Yellowstone National Park

Park officials say federal employees have started providing some basic services again, despite the ongoing partial government shutdown. Last weekend staff resumed collecting trash, cleaning bathroom and manning park entrances to provide safety information. Staff are removing snow at overlooks along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Recreation fee revenue is paying for the service. This money is from entrance, camping, parking and other fees previously collect from park visitors. Many of the services, such as trash collection, have been done by tour guides that operate in the park and community groups. Staff won’t collect fees during the shutdown and visitor centers will remain closed.

I also have to give kudos to the volunteers who’ve cleaned restrooms and have taken out trash in Yellowstone. Volunteers have used windshield scrapers to remove frozen human waste from the sides of toilets. Others have cleaned up rest stops and remove garbage.

Additional kudos goes to K-Bar Pizza of Gardiner, Montana who has given pizza to those volunteers. Another to Conoco who donated gas cards to volunteers and Yellowstone Forever who donated garbage bags. Many volunteers also paid for supplies out of pocket.

 

Devils Tower remains open

Devils Tower is accessible during the federal shutdown, but no National Parks Service staff members are on site. The buildings and bathrooms are closed. The National Parks Service website and social media are not being updated, meaning access to Devils Tower and other federal sits could change without notice.

Visitors should use caution and follow all safety protocols when entering federal sites because emergency services are limited during the partial government shutdown.

 

National Historic Trails Interpretive Center remains closed

The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper has been closed since December 21st due to the partial government shutdown. Six full-time federal employees aren’t able to go to work.

The 11,000 square foot center offers visitors a variety of exhibits and programs designed to educate visitors about the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express trails. The trails all passed through central Wyoming.

On December 31st, center officials posted an apology on the museum’s Facebook page for being closed.

 

Wyoming energy projects on federal lands

Four of the Bureau of Land Management’s field offices will begin working through applications for permits to drill on Monday. The Buffalo, Casper, Pinedale and Rawlins field offices will focus on critical paperwork for the industry. This includes processing drilling permit applications that were near approval, right of ways that are tied to applications for drilling permits and alterations on approved permits.

What the BLM cannot do is process applications that need wildlife or archaeological evaluations. Those staff have not received exemptions to the shutdown.

 

Nationwide

Outside Magazine states that eight hundred of the 2,300 BLM staff remain on duty during the shutdown to serve the oil and gas industries.

They are also pushing forward with plans to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Alaska Public Media discovered that one BLM employee sent emails to schedule meetings related to the drilling environmental review process on January 3rd. This is problematic because the review process is supposed to be transparent and facilitate public input. However, BLM staff are not available to answer the public’s questions.

 

The River and the Wall has a premiere date

On January 4th I shared the trailer for the River and the Wall, a documentary that talks about the impacts a border wall would have on the people who live near there, wildlife and the Rio Grande River.

Ben Masters, who created the project, announced on Instagram on Wednesday that the premiere date has been set. The film will be released at the SXSW 2019 Film Festival, which is March 8-17.

Masters said the crew locked picture Monday evening and will have the finished film by late February. They are currently working out plans for a nationwide release.

According to Masters, you’ll never look at the border the same after you watch his film. “It’s so much more than a black line on the map and it gives voice to landowners, border patrol, Republican policymakers, Democrat policymakers, the wildlife there, immigrants and others.”

To get a sneak peak of what will be in the film, go to the River and the Wall Instagram page and take a look at the saved stories.

 

CWD found in a new elk hunt area near Sheridan

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department confirmed a cow elk has tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Elk Hunt Area 37. The elk was harvested by a hunter in late December. CWD has been previously documented in deer in overlaying Deer Hunt Area 24 but this is the first time an elk has tested positive.

To ensure that hunters are informed, Game and Fish announces when CWD is found in a new hunt area. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that hunters not consume any animal that is obviously ill or tests positive for CWD.

A map of CWD endemic areas is available on the Game and Fish website.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is concerned about CWD and how it may affect the future of Wyoming’s deer. The disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose. Recent research in Wyoming and Colorado shows that it may pose a threat to deer populations in areas with a high prevalence of the disease.

In 2018, Game and Fish personnel tested 5,280 CWD samples during this year’s hunting seasons, a significant increase from past years and continues to evaluate new recommendations for trying to manage the disease.

My upcoming adventures

Ice Fishing Derby

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I’ll be volunteering at the Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby this weekend. It’s a fun event with many cash prizes. The top trout of every hour gets a prize. There’s additionally three tagged fish that are worth big bucks!

Last year the Saratoga Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce, with the Silver Spur Ranch, also introduced the sucker skirmish. People got prizes for catching the biggest sucker. The suckers are an invasive species in Saratoga Lake, so this new objective had two benefits. The person who caught it could win a cash prize, and the lake was losing some of the suckers. This year, the Chamber and Silver Spur are taking it a step further. The person who catches the most suckers on Saturday will win $150. The most on Sunday will win $100.

You can still register for the event here! The event is on Saturday from 7 am to 5 pm and Sunday 7 am to 2 pm. The entry for adults is $35 and $10 for children.

Bighorn Sheep Capture

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I’ll be joining Wyoming Game and Fish for their capturing of Bighorn Sheep near the Encampment River. I took part in the activities last winter and have been invited again this year. It’s a great experience to see them capture the Bighorn ewes, collect samples and put collars on them. They’ll watch their movements to see where they go to forage throughout all seasons of the year. Game and Fish will also compare the data of this herd with others in Wyoming.

 

What I’m watching

Here’s a video on another capture, this one for mule deer.

mule deer capture