Winter is typically the time when wildlife managers with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department conduct their big game counts because animals are concentrated on their winter ranges. This makes it easier for managers to get a good count on the herds, which can be quite large. Counts are conducted from both the ground and the air. Managers not only count the total number of animals, but also classify them as males, females and young of the year to help determine the trajectory of the population.
Pinedale Region elk herds continue to do quite well with the Piney Elk Herd continuing to be the most prolific. There, managers are proposing hunt seasons that emphasize harvest of cow elk for the 12th consecutive year.
Last year’s mild winter was a welcome change from western Wyoming’s devastating winter of 2016-17. This winter was again tough on deer in some areas, notably along the southern Wind River Range towards Farson. However, animals that wintered on the east slope of the Wyoming Range tended to fare better. The 2019 hunt season proposals are conservative, similar to the past several years. Also, this will be the third and final year of restrictions requiring three points or better on all bucks harvested.
The impacts of this year’s hard winter on pronghorn pretty much mirror the effects seen on mule deer. The number of pronghorn in the Sublette Herd is still at about 22 percent below the desired population objective. Proposed hunt seasons for 2019 are similar to last year.
The Sublette Moose Herd continues to hover just below the population objective. A study conducted during 2011-2014 within a portion of this herd unit documented moose demographics, body condition, and survival rates to help managers better understand issues and problems within this moose population. Findings from this study indicate lower than expected adult female survival, fluctuating and low pregnancy rates, and high calf survival rates. Fat measurements from study animals indicated overall poor body condition, suggesting poor quality habitat. A combination of factors such as habitat conditions, disease, parasites, predation, etc. may all be attributing to limited population growth in this herd.
Wildlife managers are concerned over the continued declines in the Whiskey Basin Bighorn Sheep Herd. While most of the herd falls on the west side of the Winds in the Lander Region, the Pinedale Region does manage a portion of the herd (Hunt Area 8) and is seeing similar low numbers of lambs and overall numbers.
(Photo source: Wyoming Game and Fish Department)