Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mountain lions, bears top Wyoming Game and Fish agenda

Star-Tribune staff writer

Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners will hear what the public thinks about the Game and Fish Department's draft mountain lion management plan when the board meets in Casper today and Friday.

In addition the lion plan, the commission will hear report on the agency's timeline for development of a black bear management plan, a presentation on the northeast Wyoming sage grouse conservation, and receive the final plan for bird and mammal species of greatest conservation need in eastern Wyoming grasslands.

The commission is also expected to discuss a policy that outlines the department's stance regarding when control of predatory animals and predacious birds is warranted for the benefit of wildlife.

Today's meeting begins at 8:45 a.m. at the Game and Fish Regional Office in Casper.

Game and Fish spokesman Jeff Obrecht said public comments on non-agenda items will be accepted by the commission at 2:40 p.m. today. Friday's meeting will begin at 7 a.m.

Game and Fish biologists believe mountain lion numbers have increased significantly in Wyoming over the past 30 years, and the agency decided this year to draft a first-ever, statewide mountain lion plan to better manage the animal.

The draft plan lays out the management methods the agency would use to sustain mountain lion populations where suitable habitat exists across the state, with varying levels of population densities.

Hunt area management objectives will be developed and evaluated under the final plan based on hunting data.

Agency officials said mountain lions will continue to be managed in Wyoming through annual mortality quotas. But for the first time, the department will look at all mountain lion mortality under the plan, regardless of whether it's caused by legal hunting or not.

Though the agency doesn't have population estimates of the animal per se, biologists say mountain lions in Wyoming have increased dramatically in abundance and distribution. Robust mountain lion populations can now be found in the Black Hills of northeast Wyoming, southwest Wyoming's pinion-juniper country, and in the majority of the state's mountain ranges.

Mountain lions have been managed as a trophy game species in Wyoming since 1974. Hunters killed 181 mountain lions in 2004, down from 213 animals in 2001, according to Game and Fish data.

Predator control

In other business, the commission will hear requests to fund projects from the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

The board was established by the 1999 Legislature to coordinate a statewide predator program, which is administered by a 15-member board.

The board is drafting rules on how it will distribute a nearly $6 million appropriation from the 2006 Legislature for predator management efforts in Wyoming.

Game and Fish officials expect most of those dollars will be spent by county predator management districts for predator control projects that aim to benefit livestock and human health and safety. But they also anticipate that some of the predator control projects will be used to benefit wildlife.

With that in mind, the commission directed the department during a July meeting in Lusk to draft some sort of policy that outlines the agency's position regarding when the control of predatory animals and predacious birds is warranted for the benefit of wildlife.

The department is scheduled to present a draft policy on how the Game and Fish will handle its participation in such projects at 10:25 a.m. Friday.

Reporter Jeff Gearino can be reached at 307-875-5359 or at news/casper/da8880d81f90b2e2872571e100800b13.txt

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