The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will begin two big game animal studies in the Dubois area over the coming weeks. One study will look at migration of the Wiggins Fork elk herd and the other will analyze body condition of the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd. Both studies will involve capturing animals using a helicopter and net gun and are conducted in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Wind River Reservation and area landowners.
Elk migrations into and out of Yellowstone National Park have been a topic of interest for decades. With new GPS radio collar technology, researchers have recently made great strides in better understanding how and when elk move and use habitats throughout the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. The Wiggins Fork elk herd near Dubois, Wyoming is the last gap in this detailed knowledge of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk movements. So to fill that gap, Arthur Middleton from Yale University and the Wyoming Migration Initiative will be capturing and collaring elk north of Dubois next month, starting the week of March 2.
“Fifteen elk will be captured using a helicopter and net gun and the work should be done in just a day or two if weather, and of course elk, cooperate,” says Daryl Lutz, Lander Region wildlife management coordinator. Lutz continues to explain that “once elk are collared their movements across the landscape will be monitored intensively during the spring and fall period to map their movements, document the timing of migrations, and provide insight into their habitat use.”
Many funding partners, including some from the Dubois area, were assembled to complete this project.
The second project will focus on the Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd which has suffered with chronically low lamb recruitment for many years. It is suspected disease issues are the root cause of the poor lamb production but many factors may influence susceptibility to disease. Overall body condition and fat reserves may be key factors in allowing individual animals to combat disease and parasites.
Greg Anderson, north Lander wildlife biologist, explains “the purpose of this study is to collect very detailed body condition information on twenty sheep over the next several years.” Kevin Monteith from the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming will use advanced, portable ultrasound equipment to measure body fat deposition. This information from the Whiskey Mountain herd will then be compared to sheep in other populations including healthy, robust herds and other sheep groups with chronic disease problems.”
Bighorn sheep will be captured south of Dubois in the area between the Wind River Reservation and Sheep Ridge. Weather permitting, sheep captures will likely occur in mid-March.