Seeking to protect migrating mule deer herds, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is proposing some new restrictions for the 2019 hunting season in Upper Shoshone and Clark’s Fork areas. The proposals — which will be open for public comment over the coming weeks — include shorter seasons, limiting some hunts to private property and a reduced number of tags across the Big Horn Basin.
Herd sizes have been much smaller than Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists’ objectives — as much as 50 percent lower than desired. The proposed changes represent much needed protections for the herds, said Corey Class, Cody region wildlife coordinator for the department.
Proposals include reducing general seasons by seven days, reducing limited quota licenses by as much as 50 percent and cutting 200 nonresident licenses in the Region F hunt area — which includes parts of the North Fork, South Fork and Clark’s Fork. Some antlerless hunts will be redirected to private property to give relief to migrating herds as well.
The reduced number of tags represents a large drop in revenue for the department as well as area businesses that rely on hunter spending. It will have an impact on budgets, Class said, but “at the end of the day, we have to make biological decisions.”
The proposals will be open for discussion at a season-setting meeting at the Park County Fairgrounds’ Heart Mountain Hall, set to run from 6-8 p.m. Monday.
Two February scoping meetings seeking to gauge hunter support for needed changes drew 150 hardcore hunters in Powell and Cody.
“Given how important these herds are to the communities and the data we’ve been seeing over the past few years, we felt it was important to have the additional meetings prior to making our recommendations,” Class said.
A large percentage of those in attendance agreed overall herd size and mature buck numbers were concerning. Feedback in the field and at the meetings gave area biologists the endorsement they felt they needed for changes to protect migrating herds.
One of the main concerns from hunters is an assurance that, if population objectives improve, the department will increase license sales in the future. But Class said it could be several years before herd sizes return to healthy numbers. “We’ll reevaluate the herds in a few years to see what kind of progress we’ve made,” Class said.
Two additional limited quota hunts, of 25 tags each, have been proposed in the Upper Shoshone, to help offset the proposed shorter season.
“We tried to make everybody happy,” Class said.
The proposals aren’t written in stone and there are still opportunities to be heard in the process. Public comments will be taken until April 1, including online and at the season setting meeting in Powell and another at the Cody library on March 28. Ultimately, the Game and Fish Commission will make the final decision on the proposals during its April 23-24 meeting in Riverton.
At Monday’s open house at the fairgrounds, local Game and Fish personnel will be available to talk about not just mule deer, but all the 2019 hunting season recommendations for big game, small game and upland game birds in the Big Horn Basin.