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Researchers Capturing Moose, Elks, Mule Deer, Bighorn Sheep This Month

Researchers from the University of Wyoming (UW), the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other partners are working together this month to capture moose, elks, mule deer, and bighorn sheep on their winter ranges in western and southern Wyoming as part of their research to assist the animals' populations. Personnel from the UW-headquartered Wyoming Migration Initiative and the department plan to live tweet throughout approximately three weeks of research activity and write Facebook posts about the animal captures, so the public can follow along.

The tweets will be from WMI Director Matt Kauffman, a UW professor and U.S. Geological Survey scientist; Game and Fish biologists and wardens collaborating on the captures will tweet from @wgfd. All updates will use the hashtags #wyodeer, #wyomoose, #wyoelk, and #wyosheep, and the tweets will include maps and data graphics from the forthcoming "Atlas of Wildlife Migration," a partnership effort with the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab cartographers. USGS tweets will be from @usgs and @USGSCoopUnits.

WMI's Facebook page is www.facebook.com/migrationinitiative, Game and Fish's is www.facebook.com/WyoGFD, and photos, videos, updates, and a Twitter feed all will be posted to www.migrationinitiative.org/capturelivetweetmarch2015.

"Capture and GPS-collar efforts are the primary tools researchers use to study these iconic animals and their movements," said Kauffman. "Wyomingites care deeply about these herds and the habitats they occupy, so it's a great opportunity for us to give them, and people beyond Wyoming, a closer view of how and why we are doing this research."

"Many of these studies have been ongoing for several years in remote and hard-to-access areas of Wyoming. They are used to make important decisions about wildlife management," Game and Fish Communications Director Renny MacKay said. "Social media allow us to give the public a new look at this valuable research."

USGS' news release said these eight studies are part of the field work:

  • GPS radio collar technology has advanced the mapping of elk migrations into and out of Yellowstone National Park, which have been of interest for decades. The Wiggins Fork herd is the last gap in a detailed ecosystem-wide map of Yellowstone's elk migrations, so researchers will capture and collar elk north of Dubois starting this week.
  • Nutrition and behavioral response of moose to beetle-killed forest in the Snowy Mountains. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has transformed forested habitats in this range, with uncertain consequences for one of Wyoming's newest moose herds. Moose will be captured and collared March 5-9 between Centennial and Saratoga to assess nutrition and population growth and to compare current moose movements to those from a pre-beetle kill study conducted in 2004-05.
  • Researchers will capture deer March 10 near Pinedale to evaluate how habitat conditions and human disturbance affect fat levels of deer wintering on and near one of the largest natural gas fields in Wyoming.
  • The nutritional dynamics of the Wyoming Range mule deer herd will be assessed through a March 11 deer capture near Big Piney to look at how many deer this range can support. The next step will be to track fawns to measure survival and cause of mortality.
  • It is unknown how drought affects mule deer as they migrate and forage from low-elevation winter ranges to mountain summer ranges. A March 12-13 capture between Kemmerer, Cokeville, and Evanston will help shed light on whether warming influences summer forage quality.
  • A March 14-15 capture near Rock Springs aims to help advance the understanding of the benefits of migration and guide conservation of a 150-mile deer migration from the Red Desert north of Rock Springs to summer ranges in northwest Wyoming.
  • A March 18 capture of elk between Baggs and Saratoga in the Sierra Madre Mountains is part of an assessment of elk movements before, during, and after massive tree fall caused by mountain pine beetles.
  • Pneumonia in bighorn sheep continues to affect their population dynamics, but it is unknown how ecological conditions affect susceptibility to disease. A March 19-21 capture of bighorns from three herds near Jackson, Dubois, and Cody will investigate how nutrition interacts with disease to affect bighorn populations.

The WMI research team includes a UW big game nutrition expert, Kevin Monteith; Western EcoSystems Inc. researcher Hall Sawyer; and Yale University biologist Arthur Middleton.

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