Harsh winter impacting Wyoming wildlife, increased mortality rates expected in some areas - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Harsh winter impacting Wyoming wildlife, increased mortality rates expected in some areas

(Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

CASPER, Wyo. — Winter conditions in the Lander Region have been impacting wildlife in the area and this is expected to continue.

“Given the early onset and continued presence of severe, harsh conditions, increased mortality of fawns and older-age adults is expected for deer and pronghorn,” the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Lander Regional Office said on Jan. 29. “[S]imilar to last year the country south of Green/Crooks mountains is ‘snowed up’ and experiencing severe harsh winter conditions (extreme cold and strong winds). Several thousand pronghorn were reported ‘packed up’ against I-80 on the north side of the interstate west of Rawlins in the Red Desert herd unit by a local rancher.”

“Between 300-500 pronghorn have repeatedly gotten inside the I-80 right-of-way fences west of Fort Steele while moving westward from Walcott towards Sinclair.”

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Their presence near the interstate has resulted in “several dozen” pronghorn dying in collisions with vehicles.

“More than a dozen [pronghorn] have been documented lost to drowning while attempting to cross the North Platte River prior to ice-up,” Game and Fish adds. “Deep snows have pushed several hundred elk north to the UP railroad and I-80 on the Red Rim/Daley Wildlife Habitat Management Area, a movement not seen since the 2011-12 winter.”

“While strong winds have exposed the tops of browse on many winter ranges, most are still covered with crusted snow, again making movements and foraging difficult. Last year, similar conditions were prevalent starting in February and March compared to initiating in November and December this winter.”

Areas around Dubois have also seen increased snow cover compared with average years since Nov. 2019.

“There is still bare ground and feed available but the existing snow cover has crusted and is making foraging and movement for big game in the area more difficult,” Game and Fish says.  “Snowtel data from the area indicates snow water equivalent at monitoring sites is generally above 120% of median values, again indicating dense, crusted snow cover.”    

“The Riverton and Lander areas have experienced more harsh conditions with persistent crusted snow cover and cold temperatures since at least Thanksgiving (-17oF in late October).  Winter ranges outside of the Riverton/Lander valleys have snow and what there is has crusted over making movements and foraging more difficult; though in the past two weeks winter habitats on the Lander front of the Wind River mountains and those in the Twin Creek and Beaver Creek areas have opened up considerably.”

Game and Fish go into further detail on conditions throughout the Lander Region in their release.