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Associated Press

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming Game and Fish Department plans to issue fewer moose hunting licenses for Jackson Hole this fall.

The reason is a declining number of moose wintering in the valley. Biologists counted 480 moose in the area last month, down from 815 in the 1998 winter aerial survey.

Game and Fish officials are recommending that 285 moose permits be issued for next season, down from 495 in 1990.

Doug Brimeyer, a Game and Fish wildlife biologist, said the reason for the decline in moose numbers is not entirely clear, but a combination of factors is probably responsible.

He suspects habitat problems are the main reason. Moose get much of their food from young willow stands, many of which are aging after years of wildfire suppression.

Bridger-Teton National Forest fire officials have planned for several years to conduct prescribed burns to foster new willow growth, but timing, the weather and other commitments have not allowed that to happen, according to Brimeyer.

Researchers are also looking at the role of the valley's growing population of grizzly bears.

Joel Berger, a representative of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said he doubts grizzlies have much affect on moose populations, pointing out that the survival rate of moose calves in Jackson Hole is about 90 percent.

Berger instead attributes the decreasing population to a low pregnancy rate among cows, a trend he has been researching.

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The cow-to-calf ratio last winter was 30 calves per 100 cows, down from 39 per 100 the previous winter and 50 per 100 in 1990.

Brimeyer said those numbers require a reduction in hunting licenses. The Game and Fish Department has steadily decreased the number of permits issued for antlered moose over the years, down from 205 in 1990 to the 45 proposed for next season.

Also, it became illegal two years ago to shoot a moose accompanied by a calf because the winter survival rate for orphaned calves is extremely low, he said.

With the decrease in the number of hunting permits, the hunting success rate has also fallen, down from 213 bulls and 180 cows taken by hunters in 1991 to 159 bulls and 48 cows killed last year.

It is possible that this winter's population count underestimated the number of moose in Jackson Hole. Brimeyer said last year's poor forage production may have forced the animals to spread out farther than usual to search for food.

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