Volunteers Clear the Way for Wyoming Wildlife

https://www.rmef.org/elk-network/volunteers-clear-the-way-for-wyoming-wildlife/

Volunteers from Idaho, Utah and Wyoming removed 1.25 miles of old fencing clearing the way for wildlife to more freely pass through Togwotee Pass in northwest Wyoming. The gathering is a team effort dating back a decade.

“It’s hard to believe for us, but this is the tenth year in a row working with Bob Joslin and the Red Canyon Chapter of the RMEF to facilitate a Shoshone National Forest habitat project,” Joy Bannon, Wyoming Wildlife Federation policy director, told Buckrail. “We are really looking forward to keeping this volunteer day going into future years.”

Biologists indicate mule deer use the area as a migration corridor.

(Photo source: Wyoming Wildlife Federation)

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Below is a news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

https://www.rmef.org/elk-network/below-is-a-news-release-from-the-oregon-department-of-fish-and-wildlife/

Fresh snow had just melted and the scent trail was more than a day old when a yellow Labrador Retriever named Buck went in search of evidence linked to an elk that had been poached on March 19, near Cottage Grove. Time- and snow- work against tracking dogs. Still, Buck was hot on the scent of gunpowder and shell casings. He found casings, also known as brass, among grass and twigs, invisible to the human eye. Three times Buck signaled his handler, Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Senior Trooper Josh Wolcott.

Finding three casings confirmed the story OSP F&W Senior Trooper Martin Maher had heard from two suspected poachers. Five shots had been reported through the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line, five bullets recovered, two elk were down. During his interview with members of the hunting party, the deceptions of that morning came out. First, the teenager claimed he had shot both elk. He had a tag for one, and the other he had shot accidently. However, his tag was for a different unit so it was invalid. Both kills were poaching. The penalties would be severe.

Then another member of the group confessed. He had poached the second elk in two shots, then picked up his brass to conceal evidence of the crime.  They had not anticipated the shots would be reported. Or that they would be approached by Senior Trooper Maher, who would spot the second carcass nearby. And they certainly hadn’t anticipated that Buck, Oregon’s only anti-poaching K-9 unit, would be able to track the scene of the crime to confirm the number of brass casings following an overnight snowfall.

Buck is just one resource in Oregon’s anti-poaching arsenal. The culture of poaching is pervasive and entrenched, as demonstrated by the young elk hunter’s inauguration into the deceptive practice of hiding a wildlife crime.

The Oregon Hunters Association- a stalwart in ethical game practices- and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, both lobbied for stronger legislation and prosecution against poachers. RMEF sent a letter to the governor and legislature in support of the funding. Additionally, RMEF provided first-hand testimony.

In January, The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) launched a new anti-poaching education and awareness campaign to teach Oregonians how to recognize and report poaching. Because of Oregon’s vast land and water areas, assistance from the public is the only hope for unearthing crimes- and crime scenes- that are all too easy to bury.

That’s where Buck comes in. Buck locates gunpowder residue, human scent and evidence trails that troopers would not find visually. Sometimes that scent leads to additional evidence. Sometimes the scent itself marks a specific location.

Earlier this year, OSP F&W troopers served a search warrant on a residence in Roseburg. Residents were suspected of poaching various bird and game species in the area. Troopers suspected the evidence had been burned or buried. Or both. They were right. When Wolcott gave Buck the “Show me,” command, the dog surveyed the area by scent and found remnants of a burned turkey carcass and feathers in a fire pit. They found deer bones in burn barrels. They thought they were done, but Buck signaled a find to Trooper Wolcott, in front of an old overturned boat.

“We could smell something bad,” Trooper Wolcott said, “It smelled like old rotten insulation.” Buck gave the signal that he had found what he was looking for. Trooper Wolcott and OSP F&W Trooper Jason Stone started looking. They found a partial decomposed buck deer under a blue tarp under the transom of the boat.

Buck started his career with OSP F&W and Senior Trooper Wolcott in 2018. He was donated to OSP F&W by the Portland non-profit Oregon Wildlife Foundation (OWF). OWF members had started a fund to purchase an anti-poaching K-9 unit. Wolcott was selected to pilot the program and was paired with the gangly yellow Labrador. They completed training in Indiana at the Canine Resource Protection School and began working as a team in May of 2019. Buck proved his worth immediately.

Their first assignment as an anti-poaching team was a saturation patrol during pronghorn antelope season on Hart Mountain in Eastern Oregon. Trooper Wolcott positioned himself on a high plateau and glassed the ridges and valleys around him. He saw a pair of hunters aim for and kill an antelope buck. He continued watching, waiting for them to tag the animal. They didn’t. He watched as one of the pair started hiking out of the kill zone. Wolcott knew what would come next: The man would return with a four-wheeler, they would load up the animal and be gone. He suspected they would try to get away with the animal without tagging it because either they didn’t have tags and were poaching from the start, or they had tags, but would high-grade. High grading, also called trading up, is when someone kills an animal, but delays tagging it in hopes of getting a larger one later. In those cases, the smaller animal is often hidden and left to waste.

When Trooper Wolcott saw the man leave the site in a hurry, he knew the race was on. He got in his pickup, started the engine and looked for a road that would take him nearest the kill site. But he was unfamiliar with the territory and had to loop around, then hike in to where he thought it was. When he got there, 30 minutes had passed and there was no sign of the men, the antelope, or a four-wheeler. He thought he had lost them, and was going to give up, but Buck started signaling that he was on a scent. Wolcott followed Buck more than a mile across two ridges and another canyon, eventually finding the kill site. Both men were loading the antelope onto a four-wheeler. It had been over an hour and the antelope still had not been tagged. When the men saw Wolcott and Buck, they placed a tag on the antelope. Wolcott cited them for failure to immediately tag their animal.

Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Troopers, like all OSP Troopers, visit schools, hospitals, senior centers and other institutions to educate the public about their work.  Trooper Wolcott and his K-9 anti-poaching partner, Buck, were getting ready for a meet-and-greet with kindergartners at a local grade school when the teacher and principal pulled the trooper aside. They said something traumatic had happened to one of the students a couple nights before. The police had gone to his house and interviewed his parents about illegal activities. Dogs had been brought in and searched the premises. As a result, his parents were taken into custody. It had been an emotional time. The student might not react favorably to a dog or law enforcement. Be ready for anything. The Senior Trooper nodded his head. He understood.

The small boy walked forward slowly, eyes cast down, hands by his side. When he neared the dog, he stopped. Dog and boy looked at each other somberly, then the boy slowly stretched his hand out toward the dog. Buck tilted his big yellow head and sniffed the boy’s hand. What happened next stunned Josh and the teacher.

Buck and the boy leaned in toward each other. As they did the boy gently broke his somber composure. He smiled a little, then wrapped both arms around the dog’s big neck and spoke into a droopy yellow ear.

“Good dog,” he said, “You’re a good dog,” backing away another step, “I love you Buck.”

Buck and Trooper Wolcott will continue as a team, barring the unexpected, until Buck reaches retirement age, which is about nine years old. Part of Buck’s assignment, along with all Oregon State Troopers, is community development and relationship-building. A larger part is paws-on-the-ground nose work to detect poaching.

It can be difficult to find the scene of a crime with no visible evidence. For Buck, it is a game.

“He has the best job a dog can have,” says Trooper Wolcott, “He’s doing what comes naturally to a dog like him and then he gets to play.”

Buck has the long back, deep chest and drawn flank of an athlete. He circles the field, making his way lightly through thick grass and low brambles, floating smoothly over the terrain. Legs swing with pendulum precision. He cruises efficiently, neck stretched forward, head gently swaying back and forth to sample the wind.

Buck meanders with purpose. His ability to find something by scent rather than vision makes it possible for him to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time than traditional search methods. For example, when troopers need to find shell casings in a grassy field, they can bring in several people, line up and walk the area in a grid pattern using metal detectors. Or they can bring in Buck to cruise the field, pick up the scent, and locate the shell casings.

When Buck catches the scent, it looks like a fish on the end of a line.  His grace changes to chaos as he whips his nose high in the air, holding it in place to catch the scent. His body flails behind, changing direction in mid-air. Then its game on. He plunges to the ground and runs his nostrils along the turf like a vacuum, sucking up every morsel of scent. He is thorough if not methodical, sampling grass here, ground there, and the wind constantly. When he finds the scent- and he does find the scent- he signals by stopping, sitting, and then looking over his shoulder expectantly at Trooper Wolcott.

The Payoff

For Buck, the payoff for a job well done is straightforward: Play time with Trooper Wolcott. Buck switches from working the case to retrieving a ball in an instant. Watching Buck switch from working dog to playing dog is a transformation exemplary of perfect work-life balance. He has mastered the art of compartmentalization. When he runs fast after the ball, every ounce of his purpose dedicated to the chase, he demonstrates what it means to live in the moment.

(Photo source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

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Pennsylvania Unveils New CWD Response Plan

https://www.rmef.org/elk-network/pennsylvania-unveils-new-cwd-response-plan/

Below is a news release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided public comment in favor of the plan.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a new plan for battling what many consider the biggest wildlife-management challenge of the 21st century.

And it’s counting on hunters to help put it into action.

Acting at its quarterly meeting, the agency’s Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a new Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan. It focuses on prevention, surveillance and management of CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease caused by misfolded proteins – called prions – that affect white-tailed deer, elk and other cervid species.

CWD was first detected in Pennsylvania in a captive deer facility in 2012. It was found in free-ranging deer just a few months later.

In the years since, it’s expanded both geographically and in a growing percentage of the deer infected with CWD.

That’s not good for anyone. Too much remains unknown about CWD and how it may impact humans, agriculture, and Pennsylvania’s deer and elk populations.

But what’s clear is the Game Commission’s mission, which is to “manage Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.” So it’s taking additional steps to mitigate the effects of the disease.

The resulting response plan is not the Game Commission’s creation alone, though.

The Game Commission sought public input on the plan over a five-month period from September 2019 through February 2020. It received 447 comments. Scientific experts from other agencies and organizations also contributed.

Those comments led to substantial changes to the plan. Accordingly, the Game Commission put a revised version of the plan out for a second round of public review in the spring.

The public, agencies, and organizations submitted an additional 438 comments. Those were incorporated into the final version of the plan ultimately accepted by the Board of Commissioners.

“Development of this plan was truly a collaborative effort,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “Our wildlife-management staff consulted with many of the nation’s leading CWD experts from both the public and private sectors. Agency staff also took into account the many, many comments we received from passionate deer hunters all across the state over a months-long public comment process.

“The result is a plan that’s based on the very best available science and puts our hunters first in line when it comes to opportunities to manage this disease.”

National sportsmen’s groups focused on deer and deer hunting praised the document for melding science with the passion of hunters.

“The PGC has gone the extra mile when it comes to informing people about CWD and why it’s so important that the disease is managed to protect the future of Pennsylvania’s precious wild deer resource,” said Nick Pinizzotto, President and CEO of the National Deer Alliance

“In addition, the agency made it a priority to get input on the plan from experts across the country who have various experiences dealing with the issue, which is a sign of strong leadership. We fully endorse the agency’s effort to manage CWD, working closely with hunters, who will be critical to the plans successful implementation.”

“CWD will require a stronger working relationship between the Game Commission, hunters and landowners than any other deer-related issue has previously or likely will in the future,” agreed Kip Adams, Director of Conservation for the Quality Deer Management Association.

“There haven’t been a lot of victories with CWD, but the agency’s plan to make hunters the key part of the solution is critical to its success. We fully support that the plan is science driven and complemented with enhanced public engagement.”

While there’s a lot that remains uncertain about CWD, containing the disease where it already exists and keeping prevalence rates low is critical. And right now, the best available science suggests that the only practical way to reach those dual goals and address CWD on the landscape is by reducing deer abundance.

Hunters can contribute by participating in Enhanced Surveillance Units. They are areas around certain high priority CWD-positive animals. Samples collected within an ESU will determine the extent of infection in areas at the leading edge of disease expansion.

Hunters will have increased opportunities to harvest deer in ESUs. That doesn’t equate to eliminating deer herds. The response plan calls for reducing deer numbers in ESUs by only one additional deer per square mile. That’s one deer for every 640 acres – or 485 football fields worth – of landscape.

The commission will also manage CWD within Containment Zones, small areas immediately surrounding a new, isolated CWD detection. Harvests there will be carried out with landowner cooperation in an effort to remove deer that may have come in contact with that newly discovered CWD positive deer.

Together, the samples collected in Enhanced Surveillance Units and Containment Zones will allow the Game Commission to assess CWD and adequately monitor the effects of management actions, with the goal of slowing and hopefully stopping the spread of CWD.

“Samples are key to the success of this program,” said Dr. Lisa Murphy, Co-director of the Wildlife Futures Program and Resident Director of the PADLS New Bolton Center. “A top priority of the Wildlife Futures Program, a collaborative program between the Game Commission and Penn Vet, is providing fast and accurate CWD test results.

“One of our primary goals is to prepare our staff, laboratory space and equipment so that we can provide hunters and the Game Commission with quick turn-around times on testing so decisions can be made in a timely manner.”

The response plan outlines some additional strategies meant to control CWD.

For example, it proposes a ban on the movement of high-risk parts – brains, spinal cords and spleens – from what’s called the state’s CWD “Established Area.” That’s where the disease is established on the landscape and where CWD is unlikely to be eradicated.

The intent is to reduce the movement of CWD prions from higher-prevalence areas to lower-prevalence areas within Disease Management Area 2.

No one strategy will solve the state’s CWD problem in a short time period. Effectively mitigating the disease’s effects will require a consistent long-term effort.

“Chronic wasting disease is a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s hunting heritage, the biggest we’ve faced in our lifetimes,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission President Charles Fox. “The fight ahead of us will be a challenging one.

“We’re committed as an agency to doing everything we can to win this battle for the whitetails we hold so dear. But we can’t do it alone. We need the help of all Pennsylvanians, and especially our deer hunters, to help manage our deer herd as well as this disease.”

Fighting CWD is not a lost cause, experts agree. But it will require collaboration between wildlife managers and stakeholders to sustain the state’s hunting heritage and protect Pennsylvania’s deer and elk for current and future generations.

“The Game Commission’s CWD Response Plan represents new hope for Pennsylvania to contain this disease where it already exists and minimize new outbreaks,” said Krysten Schuler, wildlife disease ecologist at the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab. “We’ve seen what happens in other states choosing the ‘do nothing’ approach. CWD not only expands geographically, but disease prevalence rates within deer herds climbs exponentially.

“That doesn’t have to be Pennsylvania’s future. If the commission and hunters partner now to support disease response actions, deer and deer hunting can both continue to thrive in Pennsylvania for the long term.”

(Photo source: Pennsylvania Game Commission)

 

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Forest Thinning to Benefit Wyoming Wildlife Habitat

https://www.rmef.org/elk-network/forest-thinning-to-benefit-wyoming-wildlife-habitat/

Below is a news release from the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest, Pinedale Ranger District is continuing progress with the Skyline Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project this summer.  The project is a 2,247-acre project, designed to reduce and remove hazardous fuel loading along Skyline Drive including the Sylvan Bay Summer Homes, Fremont Lake Campground, Elkhart Park, Kelly Park, and White Pine Resort.  Contract and Forest Service crews are thinning trees and piling the debris to be burned at a later date.  Firewood and timber products are one of the outcomes of this project.  The project objective is reducing the risk of a high intensity wildfire in these high use areas while increasing the safety of the public and firefighters in the event of a wildfire occurrence.   The project also enhances wildlife habitat, recreation, timber product (timber sales), forest health, and site visibility along roadways.

Currently two timber sales are occurring near the White Pine Ski area along Skyline Drive. These areas are posted with signs, motorist and recreationalist are asked to stay out of these areas and allow crews to work safely.

The tree thinning piles along roadways can be found along Skyline Drive from Kelly Park to Elkhart Park. Larger firewood diameter material was left un-piled within 40-feet of the roadway to allow the public the opportunity to gather firewood.  Firewood permits are $7.00 per cord and may be obtained by calling the Pinedale Ranger District at 307-367-4326. Other areas of firewood are currently being felled and mechanically piled in several different areas.  These areas are otherwise inaccessible to the public due to no legal routes for vehicles and/or steep or rocky terrain. Forest Service crews are working in the area presently and will have several cords of firewood made available to the public when the crews are finished. Social media will be utilized to broadcast the location and times of firewood area availability.  These areas will be gated and will have Forest Service personnel at the entrances to offer guidance and maps along with checking wood permit tags. Please stay tuned to the Bridger-Teton National Forest Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BridgerTetonNF) and Twitter (@BridgerTetonNF) pages. Some firewood areas will be made available by mid-August, as other locations are completed more areas will be made available through the fall months.

This project has been supported and funded by multiple partnerships with the USFS including Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust, Mule Deer Initiative, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Forest Service and NRCS Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership supported through the Sublette County Forest Collaborative.

(Photo source: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)V

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