Volume 2, Number 9 - May 30, 2002
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Wildlife harassment discussed
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department had a good turnout for its open house on wildlife harassment and shed antler collection at the Pinedale Library Tuesday evening, with about 30 people attending.
Just outside the doorway to the meeting room, Mike Alrich of Pinedale worked a display table containing petitions in opposition to the state agency's interference with antler collection.
WG&F is considering options to stop winter and spring wildlife harassment, which the agency defines as "any activity that unnecessarily compromises an animal's ability to survive the winter." Harassment includes photography, skiing, snowmobile use, and antler hunting, among other human activities, according to the agency. Possible solutions identified by WG&F include a "limited quota" antler-gathering season, requiring a permit similar to hunting permits; instituting an antler gathering season for certain areas at certain times of the year.
"We don't believe they have the authority to close it unless we let them," said Aldrich at the meeting Tuesday night.
According to WG&F survey information available for review at the meeting, 177 people agreed that there is a detrimental level of disturbance to wildlife on winter range, while 36 people responded no.
When asked what activity cases the most wildlife harassment, the majority of respondents pointed to antler hunting (113), followed closely by snowmachines (111). Four-wheelers netted 52 responses, while wolves and photographers tied with 40. Other responses were across a wide spectrum, from WG&F biologists doing surveys and research (10) to mineral production, drought and overgrazing (each being suggested once).
How the disturbance should be addressed brought a wide range of suggestions as well, with 62 respondents favoring antler gathering seasons; 52 supporting increased law enforcement presence; 44 supporting seasonal vehicle restrictions or closures; 37 favoring antler gathering licenses; 11 favored delisting wolves and seven favored opening a hunting season on wolves to resolve the problem.
The agency had a list of "talking points" for open house attendees to read, which included statements such as: "This is a serious problem. We would not be going through all this if we did not think so."
"We are the right agency to address it," according to the talking points. "In fact, given our mission, it would be irresponsible if we did not."
"The approach we are taking is reasonable, sensible and responsible," according to the agency.
"We do not necessarily want another regulation to enforce and we know the people of Wyoming do not want another regulation on them. We would not be considering it if we didn't think there was a serious problem and it would help fix it."
WG&F Public Information Specialist Mark Gocke said of the people he spoke with at Tuesday's meeting, a minority said they didn't feel there is a wildlife harassment problem. The solutions to the problem were varied, Gocke said, with most people expressing their belief that the current wildlife harassment statute, which applies only to harassment involving motor vehicles, needs to be revised by the state legislature.
Gocke said, "There was also a fair amount of support for allowing game wardens to write citations for motor vehicle violations on federal land."
Gocke said he was surprised that "a handful" of people expressed support for closing entire winter range areas to human presence.
The public responses to the issues presented were varied, Gocke said, which was to be expected, since there is not one clear solution to the problem.
Gocke said that the WG&F Wildlife Harassment Committee will develop its set of recommendations to be delivered to the WG&F Commission at its July meeting. Those recommendations will be done by region, and not statewide, Gocke said.
Anyone interested in providing input is encouraged to contact the agency with their views. Public comment should be mailed prior to May 31 to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Attn: Lucy Diggins, 351 Astle, Green River, WY 82935.
Gocke said that most of the solutions WG&F will consider will involve some sort of additional public involvement, whether it be a WG&F regulation, legislative change to state statute or proposed management change on federal land.
"This won't be their last chance," for public comment, Gocke said.
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