GREEN RIVER - Last month, Wyoming Game and Fish Department game wardens conducted increased law enforcement efforts on southwest Wyoming crucial big game winter ranges, with the goal to thwart the illegal collection of shed antlers before the May 1st antler season opener.
Mountain View Game Warden Dustin Kirsch said the increased efforts were to protect the wintering herds of elk, deer, antelope, and moose from unnecessary harassment on the winter range.
“Protection of these big game herds on the winter range between January 1 and April 30 of each year is crucial in our efforts to help them during these critical time periods,” Kirsch said. “Big game animals, especially deer and antelope, are normally stressed during winter and spring periods, and are subject to weight loss and higher rates of mortality during this period. Disturbance of big game animals during winter and early spring time periods decreases their chance of surviving and reproducing successfully. This is why the antler collection regulation was initiated in 2010.”
Three individuals from Big Piney were the first violators to be apprehended with a collective total of 10 shed antlers in their possession on public lands. In the Kemmerer area two individuals are awaiting charges of collecting shed antlers in the big game winter range located near Miller Mountain west of LaBarge. One individual was apprehended collecting shed antlers in the Cumberland Flats near Evanston off of Highway 189. Kirsch said through the use of fixed wing aircraft and several other tactics, 11 individuals were caught with 34 antlers in their possession on public land located in the Leroy Basin west of Mountain View. Charges are pending on all individuals who were apprehended this spring.
“We are hopeful these task force efforts show the sporting public who are waiting until May 1 to collect shed antlers that this is a serious problem and we are doing something about it,” Kirsch said. “Without the increased enforcement efforts wintering big game animals will continue to suffer harassment during their most critical time of need. Use of these winter range task forces will be increased in coming years until this type of illegal activity stops.”
The department has spent a lot of time and manpower studying the shed antler issue since 2000. Antler hunting is perceived as a significant disturbance problem for wintering big game in some areas of Wyoming where conditions such as easy public access, harsh winter weather conditions, and big game concentrations magnify levels of antler hunting activity and related wildlife disturbance. These areas are typically found in western, southwestern, and south-central Wyoming.
Under the current regulation, shed antler gathering is prohibited on most public lands west of the Continental Divide between Jan. 1 and Apr. 30. Public lands in the Great Divide Basin are excluded from the regulation. Public lands include federal lands and lands owned or administered by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. The regulation will not affect most winter ranges in Teton County, which are already off limits to antler gathering from December through April. The regulation was made possible by legislation (W.S. 23-1-302) in the 2009 legislative session that gave the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission authority to regulate and control the collection of shed antlers and horns of big game animals west of the Continental Divide.
“It is very important that the public understands the definition of the word ‘collect’,” Kirsch said. “Collect means to search for, locate, stockpile, or possess shed antlers and horns of big game animals on public land or attempt to search for, locate, stockpile, or possess shed antlers and horns of big game animals on public land. This definition is greatly misunderstood by the general public and has put numerous individuals on the wrong side of law, due to their misconceptions.”
Kirsch says that, overall, the regulation regarding the collection of shed antlers has been met with overwhelming public support.
“We contacted a number of people during these winter months that were aware of the regulation and were proactive in utilizing the department’s Stop Poaching Hot Line,” Kirsch said. “There were many game wardens involved in this task force and we thank the general public for being so supportive of this shed antler regulation. Without their support, this regulation would not have the effect it does in protecting wintering big game animals.”
(Contact: Lucy Diggins (307) 875-3223)