Wildlife faring well this winter
Below average mortality is predicted for pronghorn and mule deer throughout most of the Pinedale region
by Wyoming Game & Fish
February 18, 2010
Winter and wildlife. In a state like Wyoming the severity of the winter often determines the immediate fortunes of the game species for the coming year. If the winter of 2009-2010 is any indication, wildlife should be entering the spring in good shape. As always, there has been and will be some winter loss but unless conditions drastically change, big game populations in most corners of the state should make it through the winter in good condition. However, game managers caution that more spring rains or snows are needed if the range is to be able to sustain the habitat improvements resulting from the moist conditions of the previous year. In general, it is an open winter in most parts of the state and the animals are getting through the cold months in very good condition.
Even though much of the state received good moisture a year ago, wildlife managers say more is needed. In the Laramie Region, snow cover is 88 percent of average with more snow in the western portion of the region. Early fall snow coupled with below normal temperatures resulted in considerable stress for big game animals, but big game entered the winter in generally good shape owing to improved range conditions during summer and fall. Temperatures moderated in January and so far, weather related mortality for deer and antelope has been minimal.
In the Lander Region, precipitation was exceptional across all portions of the region in the spring and summer of 2009. This resulted in very good forage production with wildlife in very good condition entering the winter. During October, there were several early winter storms that deposited more than a foot of snow across the region. But, warming trends resulted in bare ground by late November. This was followed by a series of snowstorms and extremely cold temperatures in December. In mid January, temperatures moderated somewhat and big game are wintering very well. Wildlife managers caution that continued cold and additional snow could result in higher than normal mortality, but to date, the animals are in good shape.
The Casper Region also had extremely cold temperatures in December, but as of January, increased big game winter losses are not expected. There have been several heavy snow storms but, high winds have blown clear many of the traditional big game winter ranges and access to forage is good. In general, wildlife entered the winter in good condition. For the third straight year, substantial spring moisture was received during the growing season resulting in excellent forage production throughout the region which greatly benefits the over-winter survival of deer and pronghorn.
Wildlife in the Sheridan Region is wintering well. There was extreme cold in December with snow accumulations, but milder temperatures in January coupled with strong winds have opened up much of the country. In January, much of the region remained free of snow with some accumulations in the foothills. There have been some reports of dead deer and antelope during the periods of below zero temperatures in December. Forage conditions going into the winter were quite good due to healthy plant production during the 2009 growing season. Future heavy snows coupled with extreme cold could impact the wildlife, but at this point, big game animals do not appear to be unduly stressed. In western Wyoming, the Cody Region is in good shape. Spring and summer moisture was above normal last year, and as a result, there was good growth of important forage plants on winter ranges. November temperatures were above normal and December was very cold, but there was very little snow which left the winter ranges open with food easily available to wildlife.
The Jackson Region had a mild weather pattern for November, December and early January. There were a few cold snaps with overnight temperatures in the minus 20s, but these conditions were short lived. Currently, wildlife is well dispersed and utilizing available native ranges. Forage on the National Elk Refuge has been ample and supplemental feeding was started last week. The big concern is that snowfall has been extremely light and if there is not substantial accumulation for the remainder of the winter and early spring, there will be less than ideal forage conditions for the coming year.
In the Pinedale area, snow cover is minimal on big game winter ranges resulting in vast acreages of available forage. Temperatures moderated in January with daytime highs in the 20s and lows around 0 degrees. There has not been significant accumulation of snow since December and based on present forage availability, below average mortality is predicted for pronghorn and mule deer throughout most of the region. As with Jackson, a concern is that the lack of snow could impact forage production for the coming year.
Most of the Green River Region had cold temperatures in November and December with little snow accumulation. Temperatures were average in January and most of the winter ranges are open and animals are in very good condition overall. An exception is the Little Snake River Valley near Baggs which had significant cold temperatures in December along with snow. Since that time, temperatures have moderated somewhat and snow levels have diminished. Barring severe weather in late winter and early spring, deer and antelope should make it through the winter in good shape.
Throughout the state, most areas are reporting below average snowpack. According to the Game and Fish, good snowpack is important for water storage, but moisture is also needed in lowland winter ranges during the spring and summer growing season to continue good growth for important forage plants. Time will tell whether or not this will be the case for 2010.