Our Wyoming field rep gets up close with big game species in an exciting capture-and-collar study
Most people, especially hunters, are intrigued by the idea of wildlife captures and studies. The data is critical, but the logistics are mind-boggling. So is the prospect of being that close to a live big-game animal. I get a lot of questions about the captures happening around Wyoming when I mention that I work on wildlife migration for TRCP —when I clarify that I work on policy, I’m usually met with blank expressions.
Well, prepare for my bar stories to get a whole lot more exciting, because a few weeks ago I was able to help out with the captures to help study mule deer and bighorn sheep migration, right here in my hometown of Dubois, WY. I’d seen photos and videos of the process before, but to be there in person with a helicopter buzzing overhead, and to carry and hold down a live animal, was an intense experience.
There’s no shortage of people willing to help the Wyoming Migration Initiative and Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff with these captures, and joining us over the course of two days were volunteers from the National Bighorn Sheep Center, Muley Fanatic Foundation, a local education program called SOAR, The Nature Conservancy, and many other groups. The folks running the show were actually more concerned with keeping volunteer numbers to a reasonable level than not having enough help. It made me wish we had this nice-to-have problem when asking sportsmen to engage in policy decisions.
One of the younger volunteers expressed concern that the captures seem stressful for the animals—you may be thinking the same thing when you watch the video above. A skilled marksman in a helicopter flies over and fires a net gun to capture each animal, which is then blindfolded and hobbled before being flown in mid-air to a field where a bunch of people are prepared to install a collar and take all kinds of samples including blood, fecal, ultrasounds – a whole lot of poking and prodding to a stunned creature.
The important thing to remember is that the information collected helps us study their diseases, body condition, and movements, so captures are invaluable to making sure our wildlife herds stay healthy. Armed with data, wildlife and land managers can make informed decisions to help reduce disease transmission, improve habitat quality, and conserve areas that mule deer are known—not just assumed—to frequent.
This is actually where my work at the TRCP comes in. Based on the best science and data, we’re able to advocate for the places where habitat protections are needed, like migration corridors and stopover habitats, to ensure healthy wildlife herds.
Prior to the use of GPS-collars, biologists had a rough-to-good idea of where herds migrated and identified these areas with only a simple line on a map. With GPS-collars affixed to big game animals, it is now possible to get accurate location and timing data that identifies stopover areas and the full width of the corridor over its entire length, along with being able to model the high-use corridor. Looking at the old routes, compared to the new information, you can see how useful this is for wildlife conservation—less guesswork means more improvements that keep herds healthy.
Joining these captures gave me a new perspective on what it takes to get the data that is so necessary for wildlife conservation. Even though I worked crazy hours as a hunting guide and field biologist in the past, I was impressed by the crew’s stamina in getting all the animals captured and sampled safely, and Dubois was just one stop on their tour. It also inspired me to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure the science gets translated into good policy, so that the stress these animals endure benefits their future.
This is where you come in: We need YOUR help to let decision-makers know that sportsmen want the best wildlife science resulting in strong policy. A few months ago, when the WY Game & Fish Commission was updating their strategy for managing migration corridors, comments and feedback from hundreds of sportsmen really made the difference.
I hope we can count on you and your voice in the future. Policy isn’t as exciting as being out on the hunt or wetting a line, but it’s critical to ensure that our hunting and angling opportunities and wildife health continue to be unmatched throughout the world.