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UW Researchers Plan Wildlife Captures in March

March 2, 2015
two people behind moose climbing to its feet after capture
Wyoming researchers release a moose after fitting it with a GPS tracking collar to monitor movements and survival. Moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep captures are planned at various sites in Wyoming in March. (Mark Gocke, Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Seeking insights to help moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep populations, researchers from the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners will spend much of March capturing animals on their winter ranges in western and southern Wyoming.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to closely follow the work.

As scientists did during deer captures earlier this winter, researchers with the UW-headquartered Wyoming Migration Initiative (WMI) and personnel from Game and Fish plan to live-tweet the approximately three weeks of research activity and provide Facebook posts about the animal captures multiple times a day.

The tweets will be by WMI Director Matt Kauffman, a UW professor and U.S. Geological Survey scientist. Game and Fish biologists and wardens collaborating on these studies also will tweet from @wgfd. All updates will use the hashtags #wyodeer, #wyomoose, #wyoelk and #wyosheep. Included in the tweets will be maps and data graphics from the forthcoming “Atlas of Wildlife Migration,” a partnership effort with the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab cartographers. The USGS, tweeting from @USGS and @USGSCoopUnits, will help promote the discussion to a broader national audience.

WMI’s Facebook page is at www.facebook.com\migrationinitiative. Game and Fish is at www.facebook.com/WyoGFD. The photos, videos, updates and Twitter feed will be posted to a dedicated WMI webpage, www.migrationinitiative.org/capturelivetweetmarch2015.

“Capture and GPS-collar efforts are the primary tools researchers use to study these iconic animals and their movements,” Kauffman says. “Wyomingites care deeply about these herds and the habitats they occupy, so, it’s a great opportunity for us to give them, and people beyond Wyoming, a closer view of how and why we are doing this research.”

“Many of these studies have been ongoing for several years in remote and hard-to-access areas of Wyoming. They are used to make important decisions about wildlife management,” says Game and Fish logos of USGS and Wyoming Fish and Game departmentsCommunications Director Renny MacKay. “Social media allow us to give the public a new look at this valuable research.”

The eight studies that are part of this month’s field work and the scheduled capture dates, weather permitting, are:

-- Elk migrations into and out of Yellowstone National Park have been of interest for decades, and new GPS radio collar technology has advanced the mapping of these routes. The Wiggins Fork herd near Dubois is the last gap in a detailed ecosystem-wide map of Yellowstone’s elk migrations. To fill that gap, researchers will capture and collar elk north of Dubois starting the week of March 2.

-- Nutrition and behavioral response of moose to beetle-killed forest in the Snowy Mountains. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has transformed forested habitats in this range, with uncertain consequences for one of Wyoming's newest moose herds. Moose will be captured and collared March 5-9 between Centennial and Saratoga to assess nutrition and population growth, and to compare current moose movements to those from a pre-beetle kill study conducted in 2004-05.

-- Researchers will capture deer March 10 near Pinedale to evaluate how habitat conditions and human disturbance affect fat levels of deer wintering on and near the Pinedale Anticline, one of the largest natural gas fields in Wyoming.

-- The nutritional dynamics of the famous Wyoming Range mule deer herd. The March 11 deer capture near Big Piney will continue to look at how many deer this range can support. The next step will be to track fawns to measure survival and cause of mortality.

-- It is unknown how drought affects mule deer as they migrate -- and forage -- from low-elevation winter ranges to mountain summer ranges. This March 12-13 capture between Kemmerer, Cokeville and Evanston will help shed light on whether warming influences summer forage quality and, ultimately, the survival and reproduction of migrants.

-- The March 14-15 capture near Rock Springs will help advance the understanding of the benefits of migration, and guide management and conservation of a spectacular 150-mile deer migration from the Red Desert north of Rock Springs to summer ranges in northwest Wyoming.

-- The March 18 capture of elk between Baggs and Saratoga in the Sierra Madre Mountains is part of an assessment of elk movements before, during and after massive tree fall caused by mountain pine beetles.

-- The interaction of nutrition and disease in bighorn sheep. Pneumonia in bighorn sheep continues to affect their population dynamics, yet it is unknown how ecological conditions affect susceptibility to disease. The March 19-21 capture of bighorns from three herds near Jackson, Dubois and Cody will investigate how nutrition interacts with disease to affect bighorn populations.

Kauffman says the WMI research team -- which also includes UW’s big game nutrition expert, Kevin Monteith; Western EcoSystems Inc. researcher Hall Sawyer; and Yale University biologist Arthur Middleton -- will provide information on the objectives of each study, and what has been learned from ongoing research, through photos, short video interviews, maps and graphics. They also will tweet links to existing papers, reports, news articles, interviews, YouTube videos and other information relevant to each study.

Funding for these projects is made possible through extensive collaborations among state and federal managers, sportsmen’s groups, nongovernmental organizations and private foundations. Additional partner details will be shared through Twitter and Facebook as the work progresses.

The public -- and other groups interested in the research -- are encouraged to add comments via Twitter or Facebook throughout the roughly three-week research effort.


This map shows the locations of big game research involving the capture of animals by the Wyoming Migration Initiative and partners this month.

map of wyoming with capture information on it


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Chad Baldwin

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