Cold Temperatures, Deep Snow Taking a Toll on Wyoming Wildlife
Wyoming Game and Fish News Release:
Much of Wyoming is experiencing an increase in snowfall and extremely cold temperatures this winter. Wildlife managers across the state are actively monitoring the impact on big game and are seeing increased mortality in some areas of the state.
“Wyoming is used to tough winters, but it has been a while since we have had a winter where severe conditions were so widespread across the state,” said Doug Brimeyer, Wyoming Game and Fish Department deputy chief of wildlife. “Wildlife managers throughout the state are acutely aware of the effects winter is having on big game populations.”
Harsh winters are not uncommon in the West. Wyoming’s big game have faced difficult winter conditions in the past, most recently in 2017. Game and Fish wildlife managers will incorporate winter severity and mortality as they formulate hunting season recommendations for the 2023 seasons.
“Game and Fish has a proven track record of adaptively managing the state’s wildlife through setting hunting seasons that take into account the challenging conditions wildlife face in the winter,” Brimeyer said. “The public is encouraged to attend their regional season setting meetings to learn more about winter loss in their areas.”
At this time, one of the biggest concerns is with public safety as some big game herds cross roads and highways as they move to lower elevations and habitats in search of forage. Research shows that slowing down by just five miles per hour can greatly increase a driver’s reaction time to avoid a wildlife-vehicle collision.
Across the state reports detail early-winter impacts on big game, but much of the winter season’s outcome still remains to be seen. Wildlife managers will have a better understanding of winter impacts and mortality in the coming months.
The Casper Region is experiencing moderate winter conditions in the northeastern portion of the region in Thunder Basin and the Black Hills. In these areas deer and pronghorn populations will likely experience normal winter survival as snowpack and temperatures have been moderate. However, much of the rest of the region is experiencing relatively harsh winter conditions. Areas around Lusk, Pine Ridge north of Casper/Glenrock, northern Laramie Range, southern Bighorns, Rattlesnakes and low-elevation basin areas are experiencing heavier than normal snowpack. Unlike most winters in the Casper Region, snow has persisted on the landscape for the past three months, with the exception of some wind-blown areas.
In particular, mule deer and pronghorn in the Casper and Glenrock areas have the highest potential for above-normal winter mortality, but this will depend on how the March weather unfolds. Currently, it appears collared deer and pronghorn are experiencing normal winter survival south of Casper in the Bates Hole area despite higher-than-normal snowpack and prolonged cold temperatures. While the Casper Region still expects somewhat higher than normal deer and pronghorn losses in some areas, this will heavily depend on weather conditions throughout March and early April.
Click Here for More Information on Other Wyoming Regions.
THE REMAINING WINTER
Game and Fish wildlife managers will continue monitoring winter conditions across the state. Wildlife managers encourage the public to help wintering wildlife by:
- Avoid disturbing wildlife during this critical time. During the winter wildlife survive on a diet lower in nutrition and will migrate to lower elevations where the habitat is better, more available and contains less disturbance to avoid burning unnecessary calories.
- Resist the urge to feed wildlife to help them through the winter. It is natural for people to feel compassion for struggling wildlife, but feeding can result in increased disease transmission and do more harm than good. Deer in particular have specialized digestive systems that are not adapted to hay, apples or corn.
- Leaving gates open where possible to allow unimpaired movement of animals across the landscape, especially along roadways, may reduce potential wildlife-vehicle collisions. This also can help reduce damage to fences and prevent animals from getting entangled and dying. Many landowners have modified their fences to make them more wildlife-friendly by replacing the bottom wire with a smooth wire and lowering the top wire or adding a pole to the top.
- Avoid snowmobiling or recreating on low-elevation winter ranges. Opt for the high country with deeper snow where animals are less likely to be found.
- Motorists should plan to drive slower and pay close attention to animals along our roadways. Wildlife-vehicle collisions occur at a higher rate during the winter months. Research has shown that slowing down, even just five miles per hour, can greatly increase a driver’s reaction time to avoid a collision. This is especially important at dawn and dusk when animals are more active and harder to see.