How — And Why — We Track Wildlife

Jun 19, 2020

Credit BLM Wyoming Photo by Mark Thonhoff via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tracking wildlife in Wyoming is no easy task, but the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is working to create comprehensive datasets on the state's animal populations.

Biologists use a combination of methods whenever possible to get the most accurate and useful information including GPS collars, vaginal transmitters, which tell when and where an animal has given birth, and even trail camera photos.

"On the individual level with the collars, that's really important survival information and habitat use information. But if we can get 30 to 40 percent of our population going through these trail cameras, that gives us just that much more confidence in the data that we're using, " Senior Wildlife Biologist Tony Mong said.

Trail camera photos can give a view of the overall structure and diversity in a herd. When viewed during consecutive seasonal migrations, they can give biologists information about the suitability of a herd's seasonal range.

"A lot of times when you deal with satellite technology and GPS, you get a set of data points and it comes to your computer, and you put it on a map and it looks nice. But to be able to actually see what they're doing at that time when they're coming through is pretty awesome," Mong said.

Research has shown that migration routes are affected by things like roads, energy development, and city expansion. But most of this research is fairly recent.

"Here recently, there's been a lot of focus on the migration routes. And that's important. If had we had that information prior to creating a lot of the road systems and a lot of the different fencing systems that we have, we wouldn't have to spend as much time trying to try to fix some of that," Mong said.

According to Mong, this data can also be used to manage habitat for populations that are struggling, like many mule deer herds in Wyoming.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu.