Tracking project underway for Sheep Mountain mule deer herd

As part of the Sheep Mountain Mule Deer Initiative, a study is underway to track the movement of the Sheep Mountain mule deer herd.

In late February and early March, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department fitted 60 does with GPS collars, which will record a location every three or four hours, allowing wildlife managers to track the animals’ movements over the next two years.

“One of the things identified is how little we know about the movement of these deer,” said Game and Fish wildlife biologist Lee Knox.

Knox said wildlife managers are hoping to identify the herd’s migration routes, winter ranges and fawning grounds. They also want to learn if any herd members spend time in Colorado.

During the capture process, scientists took blood samples so they can learn whether any collared does are pregnant. Knox said they could then find the deer in the summer to monitor fawn survival.

By locating fawning grounds using the GPS collars, wildlife managers can more precisely target habitat improvement projects in areas where they’ll make the most impact.

In 2014, the herd was estimated to have about 5,600 members, with a population objective of 10,000. The Sheep Mountain Mule Deer Initiative is a collaborative, long-term effort to bolster the herd, which occupies an area west of Laramie from the Colorado border north to Hanna.

Wyoming Conservation Corps launches trail crew for veterans

A new program through the Wyoming Conservation Corps put eight military veterans to work last summer in the service of Wyoming’s state parks.

Crews began work right after Memorial Day, working 12 days straight with two-day breaks. They put in 900 hours of work during the summer at state parks including Curt Gowdy, Glendo, Hot Springs, Buffalo Bill and Sinks Canyon, plus Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site, with a focus on trails work.

Their work included flagging new trails and building trailheads, stone staircases, turns for mountain bikes and bridges. They also used chainsaws to remove hazard trees.

“They are given their task, and the whole hitch, for 12 days, is them solving the problem together,” said project coordinator Evan Townsend.

He said the program is unique among veteran programs offered on campus because of its focus on employment.

“We’re straight-up hiring vets and putting them to work,” he said.

Among conservation corps programs for veterans around the country, the Wyoming crew was the first to focus specifically on trails work, as opposed to general conservation projects.

“We are this very specialized unit that moves across the state and can build very complicated trails if need be,” he said.

The Wyoming Conservation Corps was founded in 2006, with the aim of building on the service-minded spirit of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and Youth Corps of the 1970s. Four civilian crews also worked around the state last summer.

Wyoming toad recovery efforts continue

More than 800 Wyoming toads were released around the Laramie River basin in early June as part of continuing efforts to establish breeding populations in the area.

The endangered amphibians were raised to adulthood at the Saratoga National Fish Hatchery and transported across the Snowy Range for release at five sites. The release is part of an updated recovery plan adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Service a couple years ago, the aim of which is to establish at least five self-sustaining populations.

Things are looking up for the toad these days, at least compared to their lowest days in the 1990s.

“It’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster sometimes,” said Doug Keinath, recovery coordinator for the service. “There are some big strikes against them, but there are such signs for hope in the last couple years.”

The toad continues to be plagued by an infectious disease known as chytridimycosis, or chytrid, which threatens amphibians around the world.

However, the toad now has five release sites in the Laramie River basin, compared to three a year ago. And last year, scientists discovered four separate wild breeding events — either egg masses or tadpoles.

“That is more wild breeding than ever since the beginning of the Wyoming toad program decades ago,” Keinath said.

The toad’s best hope, he said, is to establish populations that are resistant to disease.

“The resistant ones will breed in the wild and their offspring will survive better, and eventually, over time, they’ll come out of this,” he said.

Maintenance work conducted on Pole Mountain trails

Volunteers and two Wyoming Conservation Corps crews put in hundreds of hours of work repairing and rerouting trails on the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest in the summer.

Grant funding obtained by the nonprofit group Wyoming Pathways from the Wyoming Recreational Trails Program allowed for the hiring of a professional trail consultant to lead a training workshop, assess the trails and direct the maintenance work.

Crews worked on a number of trails in the area, including Aspen and Turtle Rock, both of which have experienced erosion from snow and rain.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said the project was a good start in addressing the current condition of the trails, which are heavily used by visitors from Laramie, Cheyenne and even the Colorado Front Range.

“There’s just an amazing amount of deferred maintenance and a backlog of maintenance on trails on the national forest,” he said.

Habitat work continues on Pole Mountain

The U.S. Forest Service is in the midst of the Pole Mountain Vegetation Project, a long-term effort to improve the condition of native vegetation on the unit east of Laramie.

Crews conducted prescribed burns last summer to reduce common juniper and encourage aspen growth on a 9,000-acre treatment area. Crews have also felled trees by chainsaw and used machines to grind up vegetation.

The Forest Service is concerned about fuel loading and range health on the unit, said acting forest fuels specialist Jerod DeLay.

Prescribed burns are aimed at clearing out undergrowth while preserving larger trees.

“It really knocks out the smaller diameter, younger pine that’s in our stands,” DeLay said.

Many aspen stands on the Pole Mountain Unit have been hit by disease or overgrown by common juniper. Healthy stands are also heavily browsed by big game such as mule deer and elk. The goal in that case is to encourage new growth and healthier aspen stands.

“If we can get enough of the aspen spread out all over the landscape, we don’t focus deer and elk and moose in one area,” DeLay said.

BikeNet begins construction on new trail system east of Laramie

Almost 10 miles of single-track trails are coming to a section of state land on the eastern edge of Laramie in coming years, called the Schoolyard Multi-Use Development Project.

Construction began in the fall on trails on a section that sits to the east of Jacoby Golf Course. The section is surrounded on three-and-a-half sides by private land while sharing a half-mile border with open space owned by the University of Wyoming.

While almost all the open space east of town is private, the one-square-mile parcel of State Trust Land is managed by the Board of Land Commissioners through the Office of State Lands and Investments. Revenue from such parcels around the state benefits public schools and other organizations.

BikeNet secured a special-use agreement with the Office of State Lands and Investments in conjunction with Albany County. It received $43,500 from the Albany County Recreation Board, which was used for trail design and initial construction.

The club hired Laramie company Wyo Trails to begin construction, and a couple miles were completed this year.

“We really wanted to have a local crew do the trail work,” BikeNet’s Dan McCoy said.

BikeNet envisions a system of multi-use trails designed with sustainability in mind, unlike existing routes on the section, which were created by illegal motorized users and promote erosion.

With a trailhead near the corner of 45th and Crow, the state section trails connect to the new Jacoby Ridge Rural Trail.

Long-term, BikeNet would like to decommission some existing roads that are redundant or causing erosion.

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