G&F: now is the time to give the animals a break

Photo courtesy of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The Wyoming Game and Fish have announced that after two relatively mild winters, western Wyoming is now experiencing more traditional winter conditions with above-average snow in many places and continued cold temperatures that began in early December. Game and Fish biologists and wardens are closely monitoring how big game herds are faring and are reminding everyone to be mindful of these animals as they endure this hardest part of the year.  

Although the department has not seen a significant mortality yet, if winter conditions continue the current trend, the department estimates above-average mortality for both mule deer and pronghorn, according to Pinedale Region Wildlife Supervisor John Lund. 

“Now is the time to give these animals a break to increase their chance of making it through the long winter ahead,” he said.

Here in the Bighorn Mountains, the situation mirrors that of the western portion of the state.

“Winter can be a hard time for wildlife. Maintaining body temperatures in cold and windy weather, and digging through crusty or even soft, deep snow to access forage, requires significant energy expenditures,” Game and Fish Sheridan Region Office Public Information Specialist Christina Schmidt said in an email to Sheridan Media.

Game and Fish wildlife managers have suggested these best practices to help wintering wildlife:

“As pet owners, we can keep our pets from chasing or harassing wildlife. Many dogs have a high prey drive and will chase deer or other animals, sometimes for long distances. Fleeing from dogs uses precious energy reserves and dogs sometimes catch and severely injure or kill deer, especially fawns,” Schmidt said in an email. “Keeping dogs leashed while recreating or keeping your dog safely confined if you have an unfenced yard is safest for dogs and wildlife.”

Leave fence gates open wherever possible to allow unimpaired movement of animals across the landscape, especially along roadways so animals can avoid a potential vehicle collision. This can also help reduce damage to fences and prevent animals from getting entangled and dying. Many landowners have modified their fences to make them more wildlife-friendly by replacing the bottom wire with a smooth wire and lowering the top wire or adding a pole to the top. 

Avoid snowmobiling or recreating on low-elevation winter ranges, but rather opt for the high country with deeper snow where animals are less likely to be disturbed.

Resist the urge to feed wildlife to “help” them through the winter, as it typically does more harm than good. Feeding can result in increased potential for disease transmission, as well as conflicts with people, pets, and traffic due to high densities of animals in developed areas. 

Similarly, protect and make stored hay crops and pet feed unavailable to wildlife, especially alfalfa. While game animals will readily eat these foods, they may not be able to metabolize them, and will often end up dying with a full stomach.

As motorists, plan ahead, drive slower and pay close attention for animals along our roadways. Wildlife-vehicle collisions occur at a higher rate during the winter months and research has shown that slowing down, even just five miles-per-hour can greatly increase a driver’s reaction time to avoid a collision. This is especially important at dawn and dusk when animals are more active and harder to see.

As with other laws and regulations, enforcement and public cooperation are key to effectiveness. Anyone witnessing a wildlife violation may call the Stop Poaching hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP. Stop Poaching tips can also be reported online. Tips may result in a reward and informants can choose to remain anonymous. 

For more information on how to properly live with wildlife you may contact the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sheridan Regional Office at 307-672-7418.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.