Game and Fish seeks revision of "underestimated" Shirley Mountain elk herd population objective - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Game and Fish seeks revision of “underestimated” Shirley Mountain elk herd population objective

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CASPER, Wyo — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is seeking public comments and input on the Shirley Mountain elk herd objective.

“The number of elk wintering in this herd unit had been significantly underestimated,” said the WGFD.

A “herd objective” is a goal population for big game that is “biologically sustainable and socially acceptable,” according to a WGFD release. Goals are established through a public review and input process. WGFD considers landowner and hunter input, habitat and climate data, and herd unit population dynamics as it reviews and updates management objectives every five years.

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The current mid-winter trend count objective of 800 (±20%) elk was adopted in 2015, before aerial classification surveys via helicopter were widely used to get more consistent data on elk population trends.

Prior to 2015, biologists primarily classified elk in this herd unit from the ground, making accurate surveys difficult due to inaccessibility caused by winter conditions and topography. As a result, ground classification surveys often produced less than adequate sample sizes, according to the release.

The most recent surveys conducted with the aid of helicopters found sample sizes substantially greater when compared to previous data. A mid-winter survey in January of 2020 resulted in 1,727 elk counted in the herd unit. The survey identified a number of areas with historically high densities of wintering elk. The average number of elk counted during the 2015-2019 trend counts was 1,945. 

“Therefore, we’re recommending a mid-winter trend count objective of 1,200 elk for this herd unit, and that the special management strategy be maintained as is,” said Teal Cufaude, Saratoga Wildlife Biologist. “The department intends on maintaining liberal cow/calf seasons in order to decrease the elk herd toward this objective, and Game and Fish will continue to seek out opportunities to increase hunting access and improve hunter success within the herd unit,” she said.  

The Shirley Mountain elk herd unit consists of elk hunt area 16, encompassing 4,548 square kilometers. It consists of 55% federal lands, 35% private ownership, and 10% state lands. The herd unit includes the Shirley, Chalk, Bennett (Seminoe), Freezeout, and Pedro Mountains, according to the WGFD.

Interested persons can watch a video about the proposal here. Comments can be made here, or to Wyoming Game and Fish, c/o Embere Hall, 1212 S. Adams Street, Laramie WY 82070.  Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on May 31. Game and Fish personnel will present the final management objectives to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission during their July meeting.