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Gift to UW Supports Mule Deer Research

October 27, 2021
woman hiking
Ph.D. student Tayler LaSharr, here with dog Ovis in the Wyoming Range, is the first Muley Fanatic Foundation Fellow at UW. (Rachel Smiley Photo)

A $250,000 gift from the Muley Fanatic Foundation to the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming will support sound science that advances the conservation of mule deer while supporting the growth and development of future leaders in wildlife science.

The gift establishes the Muley Fanatic Foundation Excellence Fund, which will support a graduate student working to further mule deer conservation.

“It is with great pleasure and excitement we make this pledge to a program that has, time and time again, shown exceptional leadership and trailblazing efforts to be nothing short of stellar,” says Joshua Coursey, Muley Fanatic Foundation president and CEO. “The investment to further understand the challenges facing mule deer, the icon of the West, is worth every effort.”

“This gift underscores an incredible partnership with two organizations that walk the walk when it comes to their commitment to sound wildlife management,” says Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “I give the Muley Fanatic Foundation and Dr. Kevin Monteith a lot of credit for recognizing the importance of scientific research and its critical role in conservation. These two organizations are doing it right, combining the passion of a highly respected sportsmen organization with the proven expertise of a world-class research team. It’s partnerships like this that make a difference for wildlife and reflect the model for how we get things done in Wyoming.”

Monteith is an associate professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

“This generous gift from Muley Fanatics will continue to advance the science we have for one of Wyoming’s most iconic species,” Gov. Mark Gordon says. “Wyoming has a long history of leadership in wildlife management and research, and I applaud both Muley Fanatics and the Monteith Shop for continuing their strong partnership in the interest of Wyoming’s incredible wildlife.”

The first Muley Fanatic Foundation Fellow is UW Ph.D. student Tayler LaSharr in her work understanding the effects of severe winters on mule deer. These include population-level effects as well as more insidious, long-lasting effects among individuals that survive such life-threatening events.

“This fellowship will provide funding to continue the work we are doing to better understand how bad winters -- which are becoming increasingly common with the changing climate -- might affect populations of big game, which are an important cultural and economic resource to the state of Wyoming,” LaSharr says. “I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of this project along with Dr. Monteith and many of my colleagues in the Monteith Shop. The Muley Fanatic Foundation has been a primary supporter and collaborator in these efforts, and I’m excited to continue that partnership in the coming years to support one of Wyoming’s important resources.”

This research is being conducted through the Monteith Shop, which is a research group directed by Monteith. LaSharr joined the Monteith Shop in 2015 while she was pursuing her master’s degree, researching the role of hunter harvest on horn size in bighorn sheep across the West.

group of people posing for camera
A reception to celebrate the initiation of the Muley Fanatic Foundation Excellence Fund was held Tuesday night (Oct. 26) at UW’s Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. Among those in attendance were, from left: Kevin Monteith, an associate professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; John Koprowski, dean of the Haub School; Tayler LaSharr, inaugural Muley Fanatic Foundation Fellow and Ph.D. student; UW Provost Kevin Carman; Gov. Mark Gordon; Josh Coursey, president and co-founder of the Muley Fanatic Foundation; Joey Faigl, COO/CFO and co-founder of the Muley Fanatic Foundation; and Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. (UW Photo)

In 2018, after completing her master’s degree, LaSharr began leading the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Project. This project began in 2013 to address the need for research in identifying the factors that regulate the Wyoming Range mule deer population and work to unveil the intimate connections mule deer have with their environment. LaSharr’s research builds on this body of work by understanding how mule deer populations are influenced by and respond to severe winters.

“Not only do the unrivaled efforts of the Muley Fanatic Foundation directly advance the conservation of mule deer but, especially in this instance, their support goes one step further in supporting the generation of knowledge, both immediately and for decades to come,” Monteith says. “By supporting the academic pursuits of a rising star, the Muley Fanatic Foundation Excellence Fund will impact generations to come through the scientific leader and mentor that will result from their contributions.”

“With the initial discussions of establishing and supporting a Muley Fanatic Foundation Fellow, there was no question that Tayler LaSharr should be named our inaugural fellow,” Monteith adds. “Tayler’s passion for science, intellectual prowess, work ethic, and hardy grit and determination, when meshed with her genuine kindness and thoughtfulness, give her the attributes of a world-renowned scientist in the making who will be impactful for decades to come.

“Her current work on mule deer is poised to reveal previously unappreciated nuance of their ecology. What an incredible privilege to be able to honor and recognize Tayler with this title and opportunity, thanks to the Muley Fanatic Foundation.”

The Muley Fanatic Foundation was founded in 2012 by Coursey and Joey Faigl. Since then, it has expanded to 17 chapters across seven states. The Muley Fanatic Foundation has supported numerous research endeavors and has partnered with many groups in Wyoming and beyond to help bring light to mule deer conservation. In addition to mule deer conservation, the foundation focuses on furthering the sport of hunting and keeping sound wildlife management a topic of discussion. The purpose for starting the foundation is to bring awareness and solutions to a species that has declined across the West by nearly 40 percent in the last two decades.

“The dedicated talents of the Monteith Shop and LaSharr are exceptional, and we are confident these labors will provide an intimate understanding of the limiting factors impacting this incredible resource. Twenty-first century conservation is rooted in collaboration and science,” Coursey says. “The aim -- to provide a comprehensive level of science to wildlife managers that will assist a struggling mule deer population -- is needed now more than ever. At the end of the day, we are only as good as the information we have.”

For more information about the Muley Fanatic Foundation, go to www.muleyfanatic.org, or call the headquarters at (307) 875-3133.

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