Coming cold may limit forage for area wildlife
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 26, 2013
Elk, bison, deer and other grass-dependent animals will soon feel the effects of the recent warm spell.
As temperatures reached nearly 40 degrees at the end of the week, moisture returned to the snowpack. While the spate of warm temperatures didn’t immediately result in less accessible forage, a cooling trend foreseen for early next week will impact wildlife herds, Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Doug Brimeyer said.
“In general terms, the sub-zero temperatures have removed a lot of the moisture out of the snow,” Brimeyer said. “Now with the warm weather, the snow has a lot more moisture. Once it gets cold, the snow will become crusted, and that will limit forage availability.”
Brimeyer completed a forage assessment on the National Elk Refuge on Friday with refuge biologist Eric Cole. Animals on the refuge were having little difficulty hoofing and nosing their way to greenery, he said.
“It appears that they’re still finding adequate forage,” Brimeyer said. “They’re dispersed across the refuge and on slopes east and north of the refuge. They’re also being seen into Grand Teton park.”
On the Bridger-Teton National Forest, elk are also grazing with little difficulty in the Curtis Canyon and Flat Creek areas, Brimeyer said. That the animals are dispersed and feeding away from the bottoms is a good thing, he said.
“It’s saving the forage on the valley floor,” Brimeyer said.
Farther east, into the Gros Ventre drainage, the wildlife forage situation is not as promising. Game and Fish officials made the call to begin distributing supplemental feed at three Gros Ventre feedgrounds around the first of January, after elk herds started heading toward the refuge, Brimeyer said.
“We’ve had some moisture in December that locked up forage at the ground level east of Jackson,” he said.
It’s tough to say when feeding will begin on the elk refuge, Brimeyer said.
“I think it’s all going to depend on the weather and the snow conditions,” the Game and Fish biologist said. “As of right now, things are looking pretty good.”
Supplemental feeding on the refuge began on Feb. 2 last year. The average feeding start date over the course of the past decade is Jan. 26.