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Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s 2018 year in review

CHEYENNE - Record-breaking fish, grizzly bears, strategic planning and the Wyoming Outdoor Expo were among the notable events in 2018 for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. But, overall the agency leading conservation of the more than 800 species of fish and wildlife that call Wyoming home had another eventful year.

"This year was especially notable for the partnerships between Game and Fish and the public to manage wildlife and conserve it for the future," said Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott. "This was an eventful year, and it’s due to these great collaborations between the public, partners and Game and Fish."

The following is our look back on 2018:

Building a strategic plan
Game and Fish invested in a public input gathering process to help form a five year strategic plan. This was done by taking an extensive look at what is working well for Wyoming’s fish and wildlife management and what can be improved.

"We wanted to hear from the public and learn what their priorities were for Game and Fish," said Talbott. "The input gathering process involved a scientifically-valid phone survey of 2,558 Wyoming residents and 400 non residents, ten public meetings, ten focus groups, an employee survey and an online forum."

A comprehensive report on this data was compiled and used to start the strategic planning. The plan will support the department’s mission of "Conserving Wildlife and Serving People" that will be completed in early 2019.

Grizzly bear management
Wyoming’s grizzly bears were under state management for the first two-thirds of 2018. State wildlife managers conducted monitoring, handled conflicts and investigated law enforcement incidents during this time. Following extensive public outreach and public comment, the Commission voted on a fall hunting season. However, on September 24, a federal judge in Montana ruled against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and overturned the Service’s action to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the endangered species list. The judge’s ruling came after two temporary orders that suspended the planned grizzly hunts in Wyoming and Idaho for 14 days each. Currently grizzly bears in Wyoming are under federal management again. The State of Wyoming is appealing this decision.

"All law enforcement and management actions involving grizzly bears are again led by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, though Game and Fish is providing assistance as needed as the agency has in the past," said Brian Nesvik, Game and Fish chief of wildlife.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout conservation
In the northwest corner of Wyoming, personnel from the Cody region and the public united to chart future conservation plans for the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Together, Game and Fish and the public participated in a collaborative process and developed a set of specific recommendations for future Yellowstone cutthroat trout restoration efforts in the Absaroka, Beartooth, and Bighorn Mountains. To learn more and read updates, visit the Cody Region Cutthroat Trout Collaborative webpage.

Chronic wasting disease
Game and Fish increased efforts to monitor chronic wasting disease. CWD was first discovered in Wyoming in the mid-1980s. Since that time, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has strived to gain a better understanding of the disease through research and on the ground monitoring.

"In cooperation with other researchers, Game and Fish has evaluated vaccines, considered genetics, assisted with validation of diagnostic tests, and gathered over 30 years of prevalence data," said Game and Fish Wildlife Veterinarian Mary Wood.

This year, Game and Fish joined two collaborative efforts to research management of the disease. One project developed recommendations for strategies that states can use to potentially slow the spread and reduce prevalence of CWD. The other is a study of whether hunting may decrease the prevalence of CWD in deer populations.

Wyoming Outdoor Expo
The Game and Fish Commission invested to bring back the popular Wyoming Outdoor Expo to Casper in May. Over 5,775 kids and adults attended the event to try shooting, biking, fish spawning and other wildlife or outdoor activities. Hosted alongside Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources - through the Office of Outdoor Recreation and Visit Casper, it marked memorable return to the annual event meant to give Wyomingites new skills to explore outside. The Wyoming Outdoor Expo is slated for 2019 in Casper on May 9-11.

Ungulate migration
The migration corridors of ungulates like mule deer, pronghorn and elk in Wyoming are some of the longest in North America. Game and Fish, the Wyoming COOP Unit and other researchers have continued to invest in projects to protect and study the migration routes of big game animals. This year, the Game and Fish Commission approved an additional $25,000 to evaluate existing GPS data which could be used to help shape guidelines to determine the amount of surface disturbance inside mule deer migration corridors that may influence mule deer use.

"The results will be used to guide further Game and Fish recommendations to land management agencies," said Angi Bruce, Game and Fish Habitat Protection Program supervisor.

The Commission also approved Mule Deer Initiative projects for 2019 that involve six of Wyoming’s mule deer herds and would enhance more than 100,000 acres of key habitat and further research about mule deer movements.

Daniel Hatchery 100th year anniversary
Daniel Hatchery celebrated its 100th anniversary of raising fish for the public. Daniel is one of the oldest Game and Fish hatcheries, nestled in a mountain valley between the Wind River Mountains and the Wyoming Range.

"The hatchery site was selected for its perfect 46-degree water temperature and clean, plentiful water source. The initial land was donated by the Pape family in 1917, and more land was deeded from the Boroff family in 1957 which expanded the hatchery," said Bret Barngrover, Daniel Hatchery superintendent.

Today, Daniel holds the captive Colorado River cutthroat broodstock and incubates eggs and rears brook, brown, cutthroat, golden and lake trout, as well as splake, tiger trout and kokanee salmon. About 250,000 fish are produced from Daniel and stocked around Wyoming. Colorado River cutthroat eggs are traded to other states in exchange for other fish species.

Increased interest in WY hunting
Wyoming remains one of the most sought-after hunting destinations in the West. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department saw another increase in hunting applications from both residents and non-residents alike.

"The hunting opportunities in Wyoming are sought after because of the high-quality wildlife, access and the experience with friends and family," Scott Talbott said, Wyoming Game and Fish director. "We thank hunters for their support of Wyoming’s wildlife conservation because they provide the bulk of Game and Fish’s revenue from license sales."

Year of record-breaking fish
Anglers broke three state records for fish in 2018. James Potter Jr. caught a 22.58-pound freshwater drum in Keyhole Reservoir Caleb Salzman reeled in a record largemouth bass at Kleenburn Pond near Sheridan weighing 11.51 pounds and Chris Castleman beat the former state record for the green sunfish with a fish weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces.

Aquatic invasive species
Wyoming remains free of the two highest-priority aquatic invasive species - zebra and quagga mussels. But, New Zealand mudsnails were found in two new locations this fall, the North Platte River near Casper and the Salt River south of Jackson. During the 2018 boating season in Wyoming, agency personnel inspected more than 46,000 boats and decontaminated 460 with 15 having mussels present. Monitoring was done in 70 waters. Additionally, Game and Fish continued to revamp its plan for responding if a new AIS is [truncated for length]