PINEDALE, Wyo. — Dozens of people gathered Tuesday and Wednesday nights in southwest Wyoming to hear updates on the Wyoming Range mule deer herd.
It was the first round of annual meetings after the Wyoming Range mule deer herd plan was unveiled in June.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials told people about new habitat projects, possible new research and changes in hunting seasons that are happening as part of the Wyoming Mule Deer Initiative.
The Wyoming Range herd was identified in 2007 as one of two mule deer herds in the state that needed immediate attention because of its value to the public and its decline in numbers. The current herd objective is 50,000 head of deer and it now has about 36,700, said Scott Smith, the Pinedale wildlife management coordinator.
The causes of the decline are complex and complicated, said wildlife biologist Gary Fralick, especially trying to understand the nutritional content of forage and the impacts any change could have on deer. Last winter was also particularly hard, killing at least 65 percent of the fawns in the Wyoming Range herd.
Officials are flying over the deer and calculating population estimates now. The final population numbers, which will include hunter surveys, will be released in the spring.
Hunters and outfitters were both positive with Game and Fish about possible changes and critical that changes did not go far enough.
La Barge hunter Mike Hawkins said he thinks it’s an excellent plan but worries that the changes won’t happen fast enough.
“I’m worried we’re getting it all lined out and it’s not going to happen,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting in Marbleton. “This process takes so long to get done that I worry it won’t happen in time.”
Since the meetings began on the Wyoming Range herd, officials have hired someone to help monitor habitat changes as well as develop a 10-year plan for improving mule deer habitat on public land. Department officials have scheduled two habitat projects that are ready to go in 2012 and another two are in the environmental approval process, said Jill Randall, a habitat biologist for Game and Fish.
Officials are planning a $500,000 research project with the University of Wyoming to study, among other things, nutrition, habitat and movements of the herd. It will also study if 50,000 deer is a realistic number for the habitat available.
The research project still needs to be finalized and funded, but with the information, Smith believes Game and Fish will better understand the herd.
Officials changed some season closing dates to make them more uniform to prevent too much pressure in one area and distributed information sheets at check stations this fall explaining last winter’s effects.
Star Valley hunter McKay Erickson wondered why Game and Fish officials allow youth antlerless hunts when the population continues to decline. Even if there are a small number of does harvested, he worries it will hurt overall numbers.
Afton hunter Daniel Erickson would like to see Game and Fish do more habitat treatments such as mowing or chemically treating plants to improve mule deer forage.
As part of the Wyoming Mule Deer Initiative, Game and Fish officials will continue to meet with those interested in the Wyoming Range herd each year.