Wyoming Game and Fish 2019 Year In Review

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CHEYENNE — The most notable events in 2019 for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department feature one important component – you. As Game and Fish reviews the year, it is clear the public is actively involved in the conservation of more than 800 species of fish and wildlife that call Wyoming home.

“Our most notable events this year were inspired by our strong partnerships with the public,” said Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik. “2019 started with the launch of our strategic plan to guide our work – a plan you helped shape. We’re glad to work together in Wyoming to conserve our wildlife, fish and outdoors to enjoy now and in the future.”

The following is our look back on 2019: 

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Game and Fish hosts chronic wasting disease public engagement process
Game and Fish continued to focus efforts on managing chronic wasting disease (CWD). In April, Director Brian Nesvik appointed 31 people to the chronic wasting disease (CWD) working group. The group included members from a diverse range of backgrounds, professions and interests from across Wyoming to develop recommendations to revise Game and Fish’s CWD management plan. Those recommendations are now available and comments will be accepted through Jan. 15 online through the CWD Feedback portal.

Director launches Inspire a Kid
Director Brian Nesvik launched the “Inspire a Kid” initiative to connect youth and families to Wyoming’s wildlife to build the next generation of conservationists. The initiative asks people to find ways to engage youth with the tremendous outdoor opportunities in Wyoming. As part of the roll-out the Inspire a Kid webpage launchedwhere anyone can go to find ideas and events to take part in nature and conservation. 

“The website is a tool to help families realize the incredible Wyoming outdoor resources,” said Ashley Leonard, Game and Fish conservation education coordinator. “We want to give families easy plans for getting outside more often while maybe learning a new skill or discovering a different way to have fun in a familiar outdoor space.”

The website is updated monthly; check back frequently for events and activities. 

Wyoming continues to guard against aquatic invasive species
Wyoming remains free of the two highest-priority aquatic invasive species – zebra and quagga mussels, thanks to efforts from watercraft users to undergo inspections. In 2019, 51,513 watercraft inspections were conducted for invasive plants and animals, including zebra and quagga mussels. This included 4,197 inspections on watercraft considered to be high risk for transporting AIS, and of those 539 required decontamination to eliminate the potential for AIS transport. Since watercraft inspections began in 2010, over 426,500 inspections have been conducted.  Game and Fish continues to place a high priority on keeping the state zebra and quagga mussel free. An infestation could affect many water users including municipalities, agricultural operations, fisheries and power generation facilities.

Additionally, Game and Fish began to develop rapid response plans that would be used if a new AIS is found in the state. Drafts of the plans will be out in 2020 for public review. 

Funding generated for Dry Piney roadways projects 
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission invested to reduce collisions between wildlife and vehicles. In July, the Commission committed $1.25 million toward installing wildlife underpasses along US 189 in southwest.  The Wyoming Transportation Commission matched that commitment, working together to help reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve safety.

“Wildlife-vehicle collisions endanger our citizens, cost millions of dollars in property damage and waste our important wildlife resources,” said Patrick Crank, Game and Fish commissioner.

The funding will be used toward the first phase of the Dry Piney project, which is expected to cost approximately $5.5 million. During the first phase, crews will install underpasses and fencing along a 5-mile stretch of US 189 between mile markers 86 and 90. 

The Wyoming Department of Transportation was awarded $18.18 million in Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) funds to financially support subsequent work in the Dry Piney corridor. The work will consist of additional underpasses with fencing. 

Between mile markers 77 and 105, about 117 collisions are reported annually. 

The state looks to protect ungulate migration
The migration corridors of species like mule deer and pronghorn in Wyoming are some of the longest in North America. Game and Fish, the Wyoming Governor’s office, landowners, industry, other researchers and the public have continued to invest in projects to protect and study the migration routes of big game animals. Governor Mark Gordon formed the Migration Corridor Advisory Group to develop recommendations to improve the state’s policies related to maintaining the functionality of big game migration on lands that are also suitable for other uses. The recommendations begin with an overarching call to pursue an Executive Order to codify a state-based set of policies related to big game migration corridors and the industries, economies and private landowners that enhance, overlap and grow from Wyoming’s world-class migration routes.

The Game and Fish Commission also approved $560,000 for ten projects to support mule deer populations across Wyoming. These are habitat and migration projects developed through the Statewide Mule Deer Initiative. This funding advances the initiative that has been ongoing for over a decade. The projects slated for the coming year would benefit nine herds of mule deer and improve 1.2 million acres. 

Super tag raises $1 million
Sales from Super Tag tickets raised over one million dollars in 2019. The Super Tag Raffle includes 10 license drawings, one drawing for each of the following species: bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mountain goat, wild bison, deer, antelope, mountain lion, grey wolf and black bear. The Super Tag Trifecta is one drawing and the winner chooses any three licenses from those offered. Super Tag tickets are $10 each and Trifecta tickets are $30.
The hunter-generated revenue supports programs that address Wyoming’s most pressing conservation issues such as the Wyoming mule deer initiative, hunter safety, Access Yes, law enforcement and chronic wasting disease. 

“Hunters who buy Super Tag tickets are supporting wildlife conservation for all species and are helping future generations of conservationists,” said Brian Nesvik, Game and Fish director. “Because of hunters’ extreme generosity and passion for our wildlife resources, and helping to achieve the million dollar milestone this year, and we say thank you.”

Master Angler launches to recognize trophy-sized catches
To recognize anglers who catch trophy-sized game fish, Game and Fish launched the new Master Angler program. Anglers can pursue 24 eligible game fish. The trophy length requirements were set based on historical Game and Fish sample data and represent Wyoming’s 95th percentile in length for each species. 

“Some of the benchmarks are going to be relatively easy for anglers who know how to fish for a specific species, like rainbow trout in Seminoe Reservoir. But others will be much more of a challenge because they are less common in Wyoming and grow slowly here, like sunfish,” said Mark Smith, Game and Fish assistant fisheries management coordinator.

This year, Game and Fish validated over 400 submissions to the program.

More women head outdoors for hunting and fishing
More women are hunting and fishing in Wyoming according to recent Wyoming Game and Fish Department license trend data. Over the last ten years, women’s participation in hunting has increased 30.5% and 14.4% for fishing. 

“Women are starting to see hunting as an activity that is accessible to them,” said Kathryn Boswell, Game and Fish hunter and angler participation coordinator. “And, it comes with a certain pride in putting healthy food on the table and knowing exactly how it got there — something I think all hunters regardless of gender can relate to.”

Access Yes celebrates 20 years
2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Access Yes program that is dedicated to providing access to private lands for hunting and fishing. The program has resulted in hundreds of thousands of hunting and fishing days for thousands of outdoor lovers from around the world. 

“Fifty percent of Wyoming is private land, mostly owned and managed by the state’s residents. We would not have the abundance and diversity of wildlife we enjoy without the contributions of of private landowners,” Director Brian Nesvik said. “Many kids harvest their first antelope or pheasant on one of these areas, and many anglers cast a line year after year on Access Yes waters. These opportunities are nearly as valuable as the wildlife and fish that inhabit them.”

Donations to Access Yes directly pay for access easements, not operating expenses of Game and Fish access programs. For every dollar donated, Game and Fish can pay for access to 3.1 acres.

WildLIVE
Game and Fish debuted the first in a series of wildlife web cameras to connect people to the Wyoming outdoors from anywhere. Called WildLIVE, the cameras give viewers an up-close look at the lives of wildlife. Videos are collected from multiple locations across the state. The one camera at Speas Fish Hatchery, located outside Casper, ensures viewers can get a peek at a portion of the millions of fish the department raises and stocks annually in Wyoming waters. 
The wildlife camera feeds are online now and are updated frequently.

Coming in 2020
Game and Fish will continue with year two of implementing the department’s strategic plan. For more information visit: https://wgfd.wyo.gov/About-Us/Strategic-Plan.

Sara DiRienzo – WGFD