WGFD collars area deer for study

A helicopter swoops down in pursuit of a deer near Hwy 189 in Uinta County earlier this month as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department works to collar does for a highway study. (HERALD PHOTO/Mark Tesoro)

EVANSTON — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently collared deer in southwest Wyoming as part of a program to study the animals’ movements. A contracted helicopter team piloted by New Zealander Dave Rivers and several crew members were used to net the deer. A total of 51 deer were scheduled to be collard in the area around Evanston and Kemmerer. This will provide wildlife managers with the information necessary to develop future mitigation strategies for wildlife vehicle collisions to increase highway safety and reduce collision mortality of wildlife.

Although the weather wasn’t great, the team took to the skies and could be seen working just off the Kemmerer highway on Saturday, March 13.

“This is the first time we’ve ever collared deer with GPS transmitters in this area,” said WGFD Biologist Jeff Short from Bridger Valley. Quite a few years ago there was some work with VHF radio collars in the area, but not with GPS units, he added.

“The study is only on does,” said Gabe Rozman, research scientist from the University of Wyoming, who was on hand for the project. Rozman, who’s only been in Wyoming about two months and is from Israel, said “There’s certain things that [have] grown on me about Wyoming that at first I was taken aback by. Actually, this lack of people and openness is such a great thing.”

When asked about the state of the deer herd in the area, Short said, “We’ve had three bad winters over a four-year period, and our deer numbers are really low right now.”

As the helicopter swooped in and landed just off Hwy 189 to refuel, Short said of the crew, “Pretty much from Christmas to the end of March they [are just] nomadic — they live out of hotels, travel around and net-gun deer and whatever else.”

The helicopter team also worked projects in Bridger Basin, Cokeville, Big Piney and Rock Springs recently. The team works as fast as it can to locate, net and collar the deer.

“Most shots (from the net gun) are about 15 to 20 feet away,” said Kevin Coates , one of the “muggers” on the helicopter crew from southeast Alaska. Coates has been capturing wildlife on helicopter crews for nearly eight years. The pilot gets as close as possible to net the fleeing deer, then the mugger jumps out to subdue the deer with a blindfold and hobble. The deer is then fitted with a numbered GPS collar, a quick blood and stool sample is collected, then the deer is released. There are several muggers on the chopper, so each one will take care of one deer once dropped off. The pilot will then come back to pick up each of the muggers.

“The study will provide valuable information on the number of deer crossing Hwy 189 and the I-80 corridor, as well as the proportion and number of deer using the existing underpasses,” Short said. “It will provide managers a better understanding of how effective the I-80 right-of-way deer fence is in keeping deer off the interstate and how it may be affecting movements. The study will also provide important data on mule deer mortality and migration movements.”

Partners in the deer collaring project were Knobloch Family Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation and Muley Fanatic Foundation, along with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

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