The beetle kill study is a cooperative study between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service’s Secure Rural Schools Resource Advisory Committee for the Medicine Bow National Forest.
The epidemic of beetle kill within pine forests of the west has been well documented with more than 1.5 million acres of forest in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming affected. Tree mortality has drastically changed the landscape and may impact elk and elk hunters in the Sierra Madre Portion of the Medicine Bow National Forest.
“There is a long list of possible impacts caused by changes due to beetle kill,” says Baggs Wildlife Biologist Tony Mong. “Impacts to elk could include the ability of elk to move through the landscape due to fallen logs and the ability of hunters to access elk hunting areas.”
Mong said that other factors could include increased vegetation regeneration, a loss of hiding cover which may change traditional use areas, increased cripple loss due to tougher tracking conditions, decreased harvest availability by hunters due to fallen trees, and increased degradation of forest ecosystem health and wildlife habitat.
As part of the initial effort to gather information to educate resource managers and the public, Mong said the study is focusing on the movement of elk and hunters in relation to beetle kill downfall using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.
“Twenty-six cow elk were captured and fitted with GPS collars in February of this year using a net gun delivered from a helicopter,” Mong said. “We plan on collecting the elk movement GPS data for several years, which will allow us to begin to understand how beetle kill downfall trees may impact how elk use the forest.”
Mong said it is extremely important for hunters who harvest a collared elk to return the collar to the WGFD. “All the movement information from that elk is housed within the collar. Without the collar, we lose all the information that has been collected,” Mong said.
In addition, Mong will be recruiting volunteer elk hunters during the elk season in hunt areas 13, 15, and 21 to carry GPS units throughout one day of their hunt. This information will allow Mong to analyze areas of high hunter use and areas of little or no hunter use and how that relates to the downfall caused by beetle kill.
“This research is unique because the public is an integral part in the success of the study,” Mong said. “Without the help of hunters we will only get part of the story in regards to the impact of beetle kill. Information gathered from just one hunter will be of little use. It will be the collective hunting effort of all hunters from the study that will provide valuable data. We’re not looking for “secret hunting” spots, just the overall use of the forest.”
Hunters in hunt areas 13, 15, and 21 may be contacted in camp or on their way to hunt either by Mong or other WGFD officials.
“Hunters will be asked to carry the GPS unit for one day during their hunt and the GPS unit will be collected at their camp or may be dropped off at a game check station after their day of hunting,” Mong said. “No information from the hunter will be connected to the GPS unit after collection. Essentially the hunting “track” will be completely anonymous.”
“With the data gathered we anticipate being able to create useful publications and produce web-based information for resource managers and the public,” Mong said. “We also hope to provide information for hunter education coursework in relation to beetle-kill and offer educational presentations designed for hunter groups and other agencies.”