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Harsh Winter Continues: Update From Casper, Wyoming
February 22, 2008.
From the Wyoming Game and Fish Department:
While the recent warmer weather brings some welcome relief for big game animals, severe winter conditions in late winter or early spring could still have significant impacts on herds throughout the Casper region.
The sustained cold in the northeast corner of the state has resulted in steady snow cover since the end of November and wind and cold temperatures have increased energetic demands on wildlife. Snow is crusted in most areas or the ground is covered with ice, making foraging difficult. In addition, forage conditions are generally poor south and west of Newcastle due to drought last spring and summer. But overall big game herds seem to be managing.
"The bottom line is that we are doing OK now, but have the potential for significant die-offs if conditions worsen or last into spring," said Joe Sandrini, wildlife biologist in Newcastle. Deer on wintering areas in the Black Hills appear to be in fair condition and body condition measurements from fall indicated most of these deer went into the winter in fair to good condition.
However, the deer and pronghorn on the Thunder Basin National Grassland were in much poorer shape in the fall and as a result appear to be in poorer condition. Fortunately, significant mortality has not been found or reported at this time.
Elk are doing well, but in some areas they are struggling to find available natural forage. There have been some documented turkey deaths in the northeast part of the state that resulted after the Department covered some grain hay bales in order to prevent turkey damage.
Casper, Glenrock and Douglas
Winter conditions in the Casper area have not been as bad as other parts of the state and, in general, wildlife in these areas entered the winter in much better condition than last year. This is mostly due to the fact that 2007 spring growing season precipitation was greatly improved over the past several years, providing more forage for wildlife. So unless conditions significantly worsen this winter losses of deer and pronghorn should not be too bad, although some fawn mortality may occur.
Forage availability is greatly improved and snowpack has not been heavy. On average, temperatures have been colder this year although snowfall has been slightly less than average. The Casper area has not had extended periods of extremely cold temperatures. However, there are still a few months of winter remaining.
"One or two bad spring snowstorms could change the severity of the winter significantly and could kill a lot of animals," said Justin Binfet, wildlife biologist in the Casper region.
Much the same is true north of Douglas/Glenrock, where there is potential of losing large numbers of deer and pronghorn if spring storms hit with deep, wet snows. Fat indices taken during the fall hunting season showed minimal fat reserves, thus deer and pronghorn entered the winter in a less than optimal condition.
South of Douglas/Glenrock the elk harvested during the December and January season in area 7 revealed most elk had no fat reserves and several hunters reported that their elk were skinny and muscle groups were reduced.
Wild turkeys wintering at Esterbrook are feeling the cold temperatures and snow conditions but seem to be surviving and there are no known winter mortalities at this time.
Niobrara County has had snow cover since the first of December, along with cold temperatures and wind. The snow cover has crusted, making forage availability very tough, especially for pronghorn. Additional snow in January has moved large numbers of pronghorn onto haystacks and irrigated alfalfa fields east of Lusk.
There have been several pronghorn mortalities documented in the last few weeks, and body conditions of existing pronghorn are poor at best. A spring snowstorm or continued snow/cold are a reason for concern for pronghorn populations in Niobrara County. Game and Fish biologists have not observed any hardships for deer in this area but will monitor them over the next few months.
Despite harsh winter conditions, the Game and Fish Department says feeding wildlife is not in the animals' best interest. Concentrating animals in an area for feeding can cause disease to spread rapidly within populations and may encourage predators to move into residential areas. Wild animals also have specific nutrient requirements and improper food can cause sickness or even death.
If a person comes across a large number of dead animals they are asked to contact Wyoming Game and Fish Department at (307) 473-3400.