Big game herds in southeast Wyoming are looking healthy as they enter summer, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Despite frigid temperatures and heavy snow in early January, wildlife managers haven’t noticed any significant die-offs, biologist Lee Knox said.
“There was a time period when we were getting a little nervous, that first couple weeks in January,” he said. “We had some really cold temperatures followed by some big snows.”
Shortly after those storms in early January, while he was scouting the location of mule deer for a project, Knox saw more than 4 feet of snow in some places near Elk Mountain, which made him wonder about the prospect of significant mortality.
“But a week later, the wind blew all that country wide open,” he said.
Knox said winter mortality is typical, and this year shouldn’t bring anything out of the ordinary.
“I’m sure that we lost some of our older age classes and younger age classes, but probably not in a significant amount that would be noticed by the public or even during our surveys,” he said.
During surveys conducted throughout the winter, wildlife managers found rising buck ratios and solid population estimates in most herds, prompting an increase in hunting opportunities in the fall, Knox said.
Game and Fish doesn’t conduct specific surveys in the spring, but biologists do talk to land owners and spend time in the field.
“(With) the moisture we’re currently getting and the snowpack we got, if things green up this spring and stay green until the fawns and calves drop in late May/early June, things should be pretty good,” Knox said.
By contrast, conditions in western Wyoming have been very difficult for big game herds this winter, especially mule deer. Surveys of the Sublette and Wyoming Range herds showed fawn mortality of at least 80 percent.
The department has asked the public to give wildlife extra space this spring and has extended closures of some wildlife habitat management areas.
Brian Nesvik, Wildlife Division chief, says all wildlife need space away from people to recover.
“Deer that have survived this winter are in poor body condition and are extremely vulnerable throughout the spring,” he says in a news release.
Knox said the message extends to southeast Wyoming, as this time of year is critical for their health and survival.
“It takes them a while for their digestive systems to switch over to the protein from green and new growth,” he said. “People need to remain cautious about pushing wildlife or disturbing them. Even though it seems nice out, it’s still a while before they’ll start putting on body fat and truly start to recover from the winter.”
While snow and rain isn’t the spring weather most Laramie residents hope for, the moisture is good for wildlife, especially after a few dry months.
“If we have good moisture this spring, if things can get fat and happy, and it doesn’t get too dry, we should be doing pretty good, and we should expect a good fall,” Knox said.