From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 13 - March 29, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Mule deer season, permits might be reduced

by Julia Stuble

The Wyoming Game and Fish is proposing a reduction in the length of the hunting season and the number of nonresident permits for the Wyoming Range mule deer herd. The herd, whose numbers are declining due to loss of habitat and drought-induced poor quality forage, has been the subject of a study showing that the population on the Mesa’s winter range dropped by 46 percent last year.

The agency wants to improve the buck-todoe ratios and the quality of the bucks. About 200-300 fewer bucks will be taken next fall, said Bernie Holz the Jackson/Pinedale Regional Wildlife Supervisor in a statement, due to the shortened season and limited permits.

In region G, which encompasses the Wyoming Range, the nonresident quota will be dropped from 1,000 to 800, and the hunting season one week shorter. Improved buck-to-doe ratios do not necessarily increase population numbers on the ground, pointed out Pinedale/Jackson Wildlife Management Coordinator Scott Smith.

“We’re trying to put 200-300 more deer on the winter ranges by decreasing the buck harvest,” Smith said.

But there is a catch, he noted. “The wild card is whether or not those animals can make it through winter and be available for hunters next fall. At this point, with the habitat conditions, that’s unknown,” explained Smith.

“The key issue with the mule deer right now is habitat,” said Gary Amerine, a Wyoming Range outfitter and organizer of the group Citizens to Protect the Wyoming Range. “In my mind, we’re at a crossroads. If something isn’t done, there is a possibility that we can lose this mule deer resource, which we’re famous for.”

Amerine said he believes there is a “multitude” of reasons the mule deer herd is in trouble, including highway mortalities, drought, oil and gas development and an influx of people in the area. “I think it’s time for sportsmen’s groups, the Game and Fish, the BLM to sit at the same table to decide what we can do,” he commented. Of the Game and Fish’s plan to reduce buck take and the season, Amerine said it was a short-term “Band-aid” fix.

“I don’t think we can talk about increasing population numbers until the habitat issue is worked on,” he asserted. Last fall, the Game and Fish took a muchapplauded and rare stance against the Bureau of Land Management’s predilection for approving exceptions for oil and gas activity in the mule deer critical winter range. The poor quality of forage on the range, due to a longterm drought, was the agency’s reason for standing against additional disturbance to the herd.

Amerine noted that reducing the season and numbers of permits are “the only management tools the Game and Fish has,” and called for an interagency, perhaps industryfunded, approach to habitat improvement. Depending on Congress’s approval, a Game and Fish spearheaded initiative called the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative could bring millions of federal dollars toward habitat improvement projects. However, this initiative is still in its infancy and a timeline for getting projects on the ground is unknown.

On Tuesday, Questar Corporation’s government affairs manager Charles Greenhawt told the House Natural Resources Committee that the company would spend a total of $1 billion on limiting the impacts on wildlife of its development on the Pinedale Anticline field. Greenhawt noted that the proposed supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Anticline, which could approve over 4,000 new wells, will be more environmentally-friendly than plans before. Methods like directional drilling and produced liquid pipelines would leave more acreage undisturbed for wildlife, Greenhawt asserted. Rollin Sparrowe, a resident of Daniel and board member on the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance argued that leasing in the West is “not being done right,” and that lands are being developed in sensitive areas without proper evaluations on the impacts to wildlife.

“I would give up hunting for a year if I knew it would make the next year better,” Amerine proposed, “But you have to go back to habitat. That’s the one way to increase these herds.” “I want to see our deer herds come back to the quality and quantity we’re famous for,” he concluded, noting that habitat improvements would be essential for that turn around.

The Game and Fish has hosted one public workshop already, in Alpine, where Smith noted there were two different viewpoints. “What we mainly heard last night [at the meeting] was the people supported the idea of trying to increase the number of bucks and their quality,” Smith said. A workshop will be held in Pinedale, on Monday, April 2 at 6 p.m. at the Library, and another in Jackson the night after, at 7 p.m. at the Teton County Extension building. Then, the comments will be compiled and sent to the Game and Fish Commissioners at their April meeting, where the final decision will be made.

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