Wyoming Recommending Against Winter Range Exceptions

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With word of requests for exceptions from big game winter range closures by natural gas companies in the Pinedale area, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is recommending the Bureau of Land Management deny the requests based on poor forage production this past summer.

"We've just finished looking at the shrub production data for our winter ranges this past growing season and it is abysmal," said the Game and Fish's Jackson/Pinedale Wildlife Supervisor Bernie Holz. "There is going to be very little forage for those antelope and mule deer this winter and we cannot in good conscience support any additional stress being placed on those animals from gas development activities on crucial winter ranges."

Each year Game and Fish biologists measure "leader growth," which is the new growth on shrubs from the current growing season that browsing animals like antelope and mule deer survive on through winter. Average leader production on sagebrush was only 0.3 inches compared to 1.07 inches the past couple years. The sagebrush data from the Pinedale Mesa showed even less at 0.12 inches.

Mountain mahogany production averaged 0.85 inches as compared to 3.94 inches the past couple years and bitterbrush averaged 2.55 inches of leader growth this year compared to 7.18 inches the past couple years.

"You can see how much difference summer moisture can make, but we just didn't get it this year," said the Game and Fish's Pinedale Habitat Biologist Nick Scribner. "Several of the sagebrush plants we measured this year had zero leader growth on the entire plant. All they did was kick out leaves. And very little seed, if any, was produced by shrubs this year."

The Game and Fish is concerned there could be significant antelope and mule deer winter losses in the Pinedale area, even with average winter conditions, given the lack of forage production.

"Even last year, with the better shrub production, we had a fair amount of deer die over the winter along the Wind River Front," said Scribner. "It figures to be much worse this year considering we only have 30 percent, or less, of the forage production we had the previous two years."