News / The summer field season

From the Director

The summer field season

by: Brian Nesvik, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department

The best way to get an accurate count of black-footed ferrets is to wait until a late-summer night. Once darkness completely envelops the prairie dog towns they inhabit, these nocturnal mammals pop out from their burrows. Biologists can see them in the night’s shroud scanning with a spotlight, searching for the ferret’s distinctive green eyeshine.

Surveying for these endangered critters isn’t easy. It takes several days at each location to complete the tasks — counting, capturing some ferrets and giving them vaccinations for plague and canine distemper. Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife managers have to become nocturnal, too, switching their working hours and sleeping during the day, sometimes spending weeks on the road. This type of on-the-ground, daily work is exhausting, but it’s also exhilarating. This is the summer field season. 

The summer is the best time of the year for Game and Fish to spend extra time outside on projects like these, and it’s no secret why. The weather is the best for the bulk of our field work. This year, like others before, Game and Fish will be busy. 

Many nongame animals, like black-footed ferrets, are most active in the warmer months so there’s lots to study in a short timeframe. Additionally, some of this work was suspended last year to limit the spread of COVID-19 and the unknown impact the virus could have on wildlife. This year, our nongame group is back afield to count ferrets in Meeteetse and Shirley Basin, monitor bat populations across Wyoming and survey raptors over the Thunder Basin National Grassland, among many other projects. Nongame work is important. Game and Fish manages more than 800 species of fish and wildlife, and spending time conserving the tiniest and uncommon creatures is still our duty. 

The hottest months also are more favorable for habitat projects. One high priority is treating invasive grasses during the summer in an effort to quell their spread to new areas. The herbicide treatments biologists use must be applied pre-germination, and for plants like cheatgrass, that means before the fall so the seeds won’t grow when they hit the soil. Warmer weather also makes it more feasible to do treatments for aspen forests that mule deer rely on, like prescribed burns and conifer removal. This work happens at high elevations with bulky equipment, so passable roads are important. 

We’re also getting a start on some construction projects in the warmer months when the dirt is soft and moveable. As usual, we’ll be replacing fences across the state with wildlife-friendly designs to help keep animals on the move. In Cody, our subcontractors broke ground on the new regional office. That work will take about a year to complete. Game and Fish also will be starting on the basics for our employee housing project in Jackson on the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area. Both these infrastructure projects are important so we are able to serve the local communities and meet the ever-expanding wildlife management needs. 

Finally, there is nothing better than summer fish stocking and surveys. The 10 Game and Fish hatcheries and rearing stations across Wyoming spent all winter raising fish and growing them to a size suitable for stocking. Some of the fish we plan to stock this year will be catchable and some will be meant to grow bigger in their destination water for next year. Annually, we stock over 450 waters with nearly 5 million fish of both cold and warm-water varieties. Additionally, fisheries biologists spend significant time monitoring native and naturally reproducing populations. During a recent sampling effort with our Green River fisheries biologists at Flaming Gorge, I learned firsthand that trophy lake trout are doing quite well.

If you see our red shirts in the field this summer, say hello and introduce yourself. We’re always excited to talk about our work and share how it makes a difference for Wyoming.

- WGFD -

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