The three-year study began last month with a Wyoming Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flight over the north and south training areas of the almost 80,000-acre military training facility. The flight determined where the herds were and gave a heads up to a contracted firm that specializes in elk netting and collaring for such studies.
On board were a few of the environmental specialists from both organizations armed with keen eyes, GPS devices, pencils, charts and maps to record the locations of herds. That data was subsequently handed over to Native Range Capture Services, a privately-owned wildlife capture company that, over the course of a few days, netted the elk and fitted them with GPS radio collars that will allow biologists to track the animals for three years.
“It went well,” said Amanda C. Thimmayya, the military department’s natural resources manager. “We were able to catch 29 cow elk and fit each with a radio collar, an ear tag, and take a blood sample for brucellosis.”
She said the elk will be monitored several times a day for three years, at which time, the collars will fall off.
“We will then retrieve them to download the data,” Thimmayya explained. “We hope to be able to correlate the movement data with different types of training and see if different types of training impact, or do not impact, elk movement. We also hope to be able to identify important areas where elk may benefit from habitat improvement projects, as well as learn about their general movements and use of Camp Guernsey.”
Robin Kepple, from game and fish, said that agency will analyze the data to “determine habitat selection, define seasonal ranges, migration patterns, identify calving areas and estimate adult survival.”
The Rawhide Elk Herd, Hunt Area 3, within the Rawhide Hills on the Guernsey military base, provides important year-round habitat for the elk, as well as a number of other wildlife species.
“It should be noted,” said Capt. Sabrina Kirkpatrick, the military department’s environmental program manager, “that while the animals are collared, they are still available for hunting. We only ask that the collars be returned to us if they are harvested.”
“This is a great partnership with the game and fish and surrounding landowners to find out more about elk use and movement patterns on and adjacent to the guard camp,” Thimmayya added.
We’ll check back in 2021 to see what they learned.