Future for Wyoming’s deer said to be dismal

Declining habitat the problem-

Wyoming energy development is causing a big decline in Wyoming’s deer herds with subdivisions a weaker second cause. The long-term problem is discussed in this detailed article in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. By Shauna Stephenson

I can’t help but think that a lot of ferocious anti-wolf talk by Wyoming politicians had the effect, and was probably intended to pull the wool over the eyes of Wyoming hunters and others.

I just spent a week in Wyoming. The amount of country disrupted by various energy developments is huge. I think natural gas is the worst offender over all.

All that talk how natural gas is the clean burning fossil fuel ignores the fact that it is destructive in its exploration and production.

Drilling for more gas in vast Jonah field, south of Pinedale. Wind River Mountains in the backgroound. Copyright August 2011, Ralph Maughan



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  1. mike post Avatar
    mike post

    Ralph, mule deer appear to be in decline across the entire western landscape, from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, not just in these kinds of energy development areas. Something larger is going on, no doubt negatively influenced by the energy activities, that seems related to human development density. This critter evolved in vast wide open spaces and that habitat is in significant decline everywhere. Of interest is the increase in whitetail populations on the far western edge of their historic habitat as they seem to be moving into mulie habitat and are much more adaptive and successful in areas of human development.

    Humans: the ultimate invasive species….

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      In the past, we have discussed the underappreciated role of two legged predators in some areas. There has also been a lot of drought and destruction (at least in the short run) of deer habitat on rangelands by cattle and fire.

  2. CodyCoyote Avatar

    The analogy I use when illustrating Whitetail deer coming into new territory and displacing Mule deer is the same effect of the smarter more evolved but smaller Cro-Magnon man displacing the larger stronger less intelligent Neandertal.

    We never had Whitetail in northwest Wyoming when I was growing up, just Mulies. Then you started seeing a few Whitetail in the 70’s , like ghosts. They were so rare there was no mention of them in the deer hunting regs. I went to work each fall running the front gate of a huge ranch west of Meeteetse WY in the late 70’s, checking hunters. We started seeing a few Whitetail up bpoth the Greybull and Wood Rivers about then . Even weirder was the occasional hybrid deer that got check through, usually a buck with a Mule deer body but a Whitetail rack and maybe even the tailpiece. A few years later we had Whitetail in all the riverbottom and lower tributary riparian area, and the local mulies were pushed further out. The Whitetail hunting season went from a very strict limited quota 15 licenses bucks only to including the Whitetail in the general ( Any deer) seasons.

    In my corner of Wyoming, ” hayfield” deer of either specie are doing well in numbers … they simply are not hunted hard at all, and fall prey to other mortalities like weather and a few predators. If only northwest Wyoming’s wolfpacks developed a steady diet of deer, since the herds number in the thousands now and definitely need thinning. Humans won;t thin them much , but sure won’ allow the wolves anywhere near them. Oh well….

    We never used to have deer in town, either , but now Cody WY is estimated to have 300 mule deer living in town fulltime or commuting into town. Fawns are being born in town. I regularly take hilarious photographs of deer doing their animal thing in human places. Our Sheltie Collie and my Siamese Flamepoint cat like the deer and interact with them , mutually.

    I cannot speak to the health and numbers of high country Mule Deer in my corner of the state since I quit hunting and guiding over 15 years ago. I think they are doing OK , anecdotally. The problems with falling deer populations and associated development issues that might be causing it are in southwest Wyoming and along the southern border with Colorado as the article states.

    Climate change is definitely in the mix these days , another issue that Wyoming is in denial about….

  3. Alan Gregory Avatar

    Many (many) people in the Northeast just don’t get the connection between habitat quality/size/connectivity and the population health of huntable critters like white-tailed deer. I written column after column for a Pennsylvania newspaper’s outdoors page on this very topic, with hardly a peep out of the readership.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan