Regional Offices > Laramie Region > Laramie Region News > Public input sought on Shirley Mountain elk herd objective

Public input sought on Shirley Mountain elk herd objective

May 19, 2020
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Watch a video about the proposal

Comment on the proposal

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is seeking public comments and input on the Shirley Mountain elk herd objective.
A herd objective is the goal toward which the department manages a big game population. Herd objectives are established through a public review and input process and are set at biologically sustainable and socially acceptable levels. The Game and Fish Department reviews and updates management objectives every five years based on landowner and hunter input, habitat and climate data, and herd unit population dynamics.
The Shirley Mountain elk herd unit consists of elk hunt area 16, encompassing 4,548 square kilometers consisting of 55% federal lands, 35% private ownership, and 10% state lands. The herd unit includes the Shirley, Chalk, Bennett (Seminoe), Freezeout, and Pedro Mountains.

The current mid-winter trend count objective of 800 (±20%) elk was adopted in 2015. Prior to 2015, biologists primarily classified elk in this herd unit from the ground and only sporadically conducted aerial classification surveys. Elk can be difficult to locate and accurately survey from the ground in this herd unit due to inaccessibility caused by winter conditions and topography. As a result, ground classification surveys often produced less than adequate sample sizes that may have been a source of bias in the population estimates.
Since the 2015 objective change, helicopters have been used annually to conduct the elk trend count surveys. This has resulted in more consistent sampling for trend, sex, and age data. A mid-winter survey in January of 2020 resulted in 1,727 elk counted in the herd unit. During this survey, 11 polygons covering open winter range habitat were systematically and thoroughly flown. These polygons were identified as areas with historically high densities of wintering elk. The average number of elk counted during the 2015-2019 trend counts was 1,945. These most recent surveys’ sample sizes were substantially greater when compared to previous helicopter surveys (prior to 2015), covering relatively the same area. The number of elk wintering in this herd unit had been significantly underestimated. Since 2015, bull ratios in this herd unit have nearly met or exceeded the parameters for special management. Under special management strategy, bull ratios are allowed to exceed 30 bulls/100 cows and the proportion of branch-antlered bulls are expected to exceed 66% of the antlered elk harvest.
“Therefore, we’re recommending a mid-winter trend count objective of 1,200 elk for this herd unit, and that the special management strategy be maintained as is,” said Teal Cufaude, Saratoga Wildlife Biologist. “This objective would provide a quantifiable population goal that is considered both biologically achievable and sustainable. The department intends on maintaining liberal cow/calf seasons in order to decrease the elk herd toward this objective, and Game and Fish will continue to seek out opportunities to increase hunting access and improve hunter success within the herd unit,” she said.  
Interested persons can watch a video about this proposal at Comments can be made online at the above web address, or to Wyoming Game and Fish, c/o Embere Hall, 1212 S. Adams Street, Laramie WY 82070.  Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on May 31. Game and Fish personnel will present the final management objectives to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission during their July meeting. 


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