Birder tilts at windmills

Speaking on behalf of birds at Roundhouse windfarm industrial siting hearing was intense experience

The 120 turbines of the Roundhouse wind farm will spread between I-80 and the Colorado border (indicated here as the Larimer and Weld county lines) and from Highway 218 to I-25 (red line on the east side).
The wind farm includes the Belvoir Ranch owned by the City of Cheyenne (yellow), Wyoming State Land (dark blue–each square is 1 square mile) and private land (light blue). The Big Hole, located on the Belvoir south of the railroad tracks, is under The Nature Conservancy conservation easement and will have no turbines.

Published July 5, 2019 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle as a guest editorial, “Participating at the Roundhouse hearing was an intense adventure”

By Barb Gorges

            The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society agrees clean energy is needed. However, wind energy is deadly for birds when they are struck by turbine blades.

            Beginning last December, CHPAS discussed its concerns about the Roundhouse Wind Energy development with company, city and county officials. The 120-turbine wind farm will extend from Interstate 80 south to the Colorado state line and from I-25 west to Harriman Road.

            The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council hearing for the approval of the Roundhouse Wind Energy application was held June 13 in a quasi-legal format.
          Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society filed as a party, preparing a pre-hearing statement. The other parties were the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Division, Roundhouse, and Laramie County, also acting on behalf of the city of Cheyenne.
            We all presented our opening statements. Then the Roundhouse lawyer presented her expert witnesses, asking them leading questions. Then I, acting in the same capacity for CHPAS as the lawyer for Roundhouse, cross-examined her witnesses. One was a viewshed analysis expert from Los Angeles, the other a biologist from Western EcoSystems Technology, the Cheyenne consulting firm that does contract biological studies for wind energy companies across the country.
            Then CHPAS presented our expert witness, Daly Edmunds, Audubon Rockies’ policy and outreach director. Wind farm issues are a big part of her work. She is also a wildlife biologist with a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming.
            We were rushed getting our testimony in before the 5 p.m. cutoff for the first day because I was not available the next day. I asked permission to allow Mark Gorges to read our closing statement the next day, after the applicant had a chance to rebut all the conditions we asked for.
            The seven council members chose not to debate our conditions. Some conditions were echoed by DEQ. But it was a hard sell since Wyoming Game and Fish Department had already signed off on the application.
            Here are the conditions we asked for:
1) Some of the recommended wildlife studies will be one and a half years away from completion when turbine-building starts in September. Complete the studies first to make better turbine placement decisions.
2) Do viewshed analysis from the south and share it with adjacent Colorado open space and natural area agencies.
3) Get a “take permit” to avoid expensive trouble with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if dead eagles are found.
4) Use the Aircraft Detection Lighting System so tower lights, which can confuse night-migrating birds, will be turned on as little as possible. This was on DEQ’s list as well.
5) Use weather radar to predict the best times to shut down turbines during bird migration.
6) Be transparent about the plans for and results of avian monitoring after the turbines start.
7) Relocate six of the southernmost turbine locations because of their impact on wildlife and the integrity of adjacent areas set aside for their conservation value.
            The second half of the hearing dealt with county/city requests for economic impact funds from the state. The expected costs are from a couple hundred workers temporarily descending on Cheyenne requiring health and emergency services.
            At the June CHPAS board meeting, members approved staying involved in the Roundhouse issue. The Roundhouse folks have a little mitigation money we could direct toward a study to benefit birds at this and other wind farms. There is a Technical Advisory Committee we need to keep track of. And we need to lobby to give Game and Fish’s recommendations more legal standing so they can’t be ignored.
            It’s too bad I don’t watch courtroom dramas. The hearing would have been easier to navigate. But everyone—DEQ employees, the Roundhouse team, council members, hearing examiner, court reporter—was very supportive of CHPAS’s participation. They rarely see the public as a party at these hearings. I just wish we could have had one or more conditions accepted on behalf of the birds.

Barb Gorges is the most recent past president of the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society which represents Audubon members in Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties.      

Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society took a tour of the Belvoir Ranch fall 2008. This photo looks northwest from the rim of the Big Hole. Photo by Barb Gorges.
On the southernmost edge of the Belvoir Ranch sits the rim of the Big Hole. This is the view to the south, into Colorado’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space. Concentrated nocturnal songbird migration through this area can be seen with weather radar (see a previous post about BirdCast). It is not known if the 499-foot-tall Roundhouse wind turbines will be visible from below. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wind farm on the Belvoir Ranch

Be careful what you wish for: wind development on the Belvoir Ranch has its downsides

The prairie is green June 11, 2016, on Lone Tree Creek on the Belvoir Ranch, 10 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

This edition of Bird Banter was published Feb. 10, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

            This month marks the 20th anniversary of my first Bird Banter column for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. I wrote about cool birds seen on the ponds at the Rawhide coal-powered plant 20 miles south of Cheyenne,

            This month’s topic is also connected to Rawhide. It’s NextEra’s 120-turbine Roundhouse Wind Energy Center slated partly for the City of Cheyenne’s Belvoir Ranch.

           Roundhouse will stretch between I-80 south to the Wyoming border and from a couple miles west of I-25 on west 12 miles to Harriman Road. The Belvoir is within. It’s roughly a two-to-three-mile-wide frame on the north and west sides. All the power will go to Rawhide and tie into Front Range utilities.

            The 2008 Belvoir masterplan designated an area for wind turbines. In the last 10 years I’ve learned about wind energy drawbacks. I wish the coal industry had spent millions developing clean air technology instead of fighting clean air regulations.

            We know modern wind turbines are tough on birds. Duke Energy has a robotic system that shuts down turbines when raptors approach ( Roundhouse needs one—a raptor migration corridor exists along the north-south escarpment along its west edge.

            But in Kenn Kaufman’s new book, “A Season on the Wind,” he discovers that a windfarm far from known migration hot spots still killed at least 40 species of birds. Directly south of the Belvoir, 125 bird species have been documented through eBird at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and 95 at Red Mountain Open Space. Both are in Colorado, butting against the state line.

           Only a few miles to the east, Cheyenne hotpots vary from 198 species at Lions Park to 266 at Wyoming Hereford Ranch, with as many as 150 species overall observed on single days in May. With little public access to the Belvoir since the city bought it in 2003 (I’ve been there on two tours and the 2016 Bioblitz), only NextEra has significant bird data, from its consultants.

            There are migrating bats to consider, plus mule deer who won’t stomach areas close to turbines—even if it is their favorite mountain mahogany habitat on the ridges. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department can only suggest mitigation and monitoring measures.

            There are human safety and liability issues. The Friends of the Belvoir wants a trailhead on the west edge with trails connecting to Red Mountain and Soapstone. Wind turbines don’t bother them. However, during certain atmospheric conditions, large sheets of ice fly off the blades–“ice throw.” Our area, the hail capital, could have those conditions develop nearly any month of the year.

            The noise will impact neighbors (and wildlife too) when turbines a mile away interfere with sleep. Disrupted sleep is implicated in many diseases.

            Low frequency pulses felt six miles away (the distance between the east end of the windfarm and city limits) or more cause dizziness, tinnitus, heart palpitations and pressure sensations in the head and chest. The Belvoir will have bigger turbines than those on Happy Jack Road, reaching 499 feet high, 99 feet higher.

            A minor issue is the viewshed. In Colorado, the public and officials worked to place the transmission line from the Belvoir to Rawhide so that it wouldn’t impact Soapstone or Red Mountain. What will they think watching Roundhouse blades on the horizon?

            Because this wind development is not on federal land, it isn’t going through the familiar Environmental Impact Statement process. I’d assume the city has turbine placement control written into the lease.

           The first opportunity for the public to comment at the county level is Feb. 19. And in advance, the public can request to “be a party” when the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council meets to consider NextEra’s permit in March.

            NextEra held an open house in Cheyenne November 28. They expect to get their permits and then break ground almost immediately. This speedy schedule is so the windfarm is operational by December 2020, before federal tax incentives end.

            It doesn’t seem to me that we—Cheyenne residents—have adequate time to consider the drawbacks of new era wind turbines—for people or wildlife. Look at the 2008 Master Plan,  Is it upheld by spreading wind turbines over the entire 20,000 acres, more than originally planned? People possibly, and wildlife certainly, will be experiencing low frequency noise for 30 years.

            At the very least, I’d like to see NextEra move turbines back from the western boundary two miles, for the good of raptors, other birds, mule deer, trail users, and the neighbors living near Harriman Road. The two southernmost sections are already protected with The Nature Conservancy’s conservation easement.            

           What I’d really like to see instead is more solar development on rooftops and over parking lots in Cheyenne. Or a new style of Wyoming snow fence that turns wind into energy while protecting highways.

Bioblitz participants look and listen for birds along Lone Tree Creek on the Belvoir Ranch June 11, 2016. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.

Sage grouse captive breeding success doubtful

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Greater Sage-grouse. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 10, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Critics of sage grouse captive breeding doubt it will succeed.”

Note: The American Ornithological Society’s spelling is “Greater Sage-Grouse.”  The Associated Press style when the full name is not used is “sage grouse.”

By Barb Gorges

Over the eons, the greater sage-grouse figured out how to prosper in the sagebrush.

It’s not an easy life. Some years are too wet and the chicks die. Others are too dry with few leaves, buds, flowers or insects and the chicks starve. Some years there are too many hungry coyotes, badgers and ravens.

Every spring the sage grouse go to the meet-up at the lek, the sage grouse version of a bar [To find where to see sage grouse in Wyoming go to grouse-Management/Sage grouse-Lek-Viewing-Guide]. The males puff out their chests vying for the right to take the most females, then love them and leave them to raise the chicks on their own.

Experienced hens look for the best cover for their nests. They teach the young how to find food and avoid predators. In fall, every sage grouse migrates to winter habitat, 4-18 miles away.

In the past hundred years, obstacles were thrown in the path of sage grouse, including in their Wyoming stronghold where sagebrush habitat can be found across the whole state except in the southeast and northwest corners.

The low-flying birds collide with fences, vehicles, utility lines. The noise from oil and gas operations pushes them away. Sagebrush disappears with development.

Each state is responsible for all wildlife within its borders. But if a species heads for extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service steps in. Since 1985, the sage grouse population declined 30 percent across the West. It looked like the species might be listed as either threatened or endangered, curtailing oil and gas drilling and other development.

Last month I explained how Wyoming conservationists, sportsmen, the oil and gas industry, agricultural interests and state and local government collaborated on a state plan to conserve sage grouse. However, the current federal administration wants all the state plans to be examined to see if sage grouse habitat can be more densely developed.

Wyoming’s collaborators strongly disagree with the attempt. Public comments were solicited by the Bureau of Land Management through the end of November and the Forest Service is taking comments through January 5 [ In the search area type: Ask Forest Service to Amend Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan.].

Meanwhile, a Wyoming man is hoping to change the dynamics of the sage grouse issue by increasing their population through captive breeding.

Diemer True, of the True Companies (oil and gas drilling, support, pipelines, and seven ranches), and former president of the Wyoming Senate, bought Karl Baer’s game bird farm in Powell.

True convinced the Wyoming Legislature to pass legislation during the 2017 session to allow him and Baer to apply for a permit allowing them to take up to 250 sage grouse eggs from the wild per year and experiment for five years with captive breeding. The idea is that birds can be released, bring up the numbers and maybe allow higher density of development in protected areas.

But no one has been very successful captive breeding sage grouse. No one has successfully released them to procreate in the wild and, if True is successful, he wants his techniques to be proprietary—he won’t share them. He wants to profit from wildlife rather than take the more typical route of supporting academic research.

Gov. Matt Mead signed the captive breeding legislation into law this fall. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission wrote very specific regulations about it, which you can read at

Five permits are allowed, for a total withdrawal of 1,250 eggs per year, but it is doubtful that anyone besides True and Baer will qualify. Consensus among wildlife biologists I spoke to is that True will have trouble finding 250 wild eggs for his permit.

The facility requirements mean True is building new pens separated from the bird farm’s other operations. Despite these best management practices, there’s still a chance captive-bred birds could infect wild birds when they are released.

[The Wyoming Game and Fish Department monitors sage grouse leks every spring to see how successful the previous year’s breeding was. Numbers naturally vary widely year to year. The effects of captive breeding on these surveys will be included when setting hunting limits.]

No one who knows sage grouse well believes they can be bred in captivity successfully. Young sage grouse learn about survival from their mothers. By contrast, the non-native pheasant captive-bred here is acknowledged to be a “put-and-take” hunting target. It hardly ever survives to breed on its own.

We can only hope that this sage grouse experiment will go well. If captive-bred chicks don’t thrive in the wild, there will be some well-fed coyotes, badgers and ravens.

Bioblitz at the Belvoir Ranch

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Jacelyn Downey, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, is getting ready to let a young citizen scientist release a yellow warbler that was caught in a mist net during the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Kids explore nature of the Belvoir Ranch.”

By Barb Gorges

I was delighted to recognize my neighbor at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz last month. She is going to be a senior at Cheyenne East High in the fall and was there with two friends. All three were planning to spend the weekend looking for birds, mammals, herps (reptiles and amphibians), pollinators, macroinvertebrates and plants, to fulfill more hours required for their Congressional Award gold medals.

The weekend could have served for all four award areas: volunteer public service (we were all volunteer citizen scientists collecting data), personal development (the staff taught us a lot of new things), physical fitness (hiking up and down Lone Tree Creek in the heat was arduous), and expedition/exploration (many of us, including my neighbor and her friends, camped out and cooked meals despite being only 20 miles from Cheyenne).

Mark and I have attended other bioblitzes around the state, but this was the first one close to Cheyenne. With all of the publicity from the four sponsoring groups, Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, a record 100 people attended, plus the staff of 50 from various natural science disciplines.

When I asked my neighbor why she and her friends had come, she said, “We’re science nerds.” That was exciting to hear.

2016-7Bioblitz2 Barb Gorges

My neighbor and friends net aquatic invertebrates including dragonfly and damselfly larvae.  A blue and green pollinator trap is set up on the far side of the pond. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were a lot of junior science nerds in attendance with their families. Small children enjoyed wading into the pond along the creek to scoop up dragonfly and damselfly larvae —and even crayfish.

A surprising number of children were up at 6 a.m. Saturday for the bird survey. The highlight was the raven nest in a crevice on the canyon wall, with three young ravens crowding the opening, ready to fledge.

Sunday morning’s bird mist netting along the creek was very popular. Several birds that had been hard to see with binoculars were suddenly in hand.

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Zach Hutchinson, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, discusses the captured bird he is holding in his left hand. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Because it wasn’t at an official bird banding site, the mist netting was strictly educational and the birds were soon released. Several young children had the opportunity to hold a bird and release it, feeling how light it was, how fast its heart beat and feeling the little whoosh of air as it took flight. What I wouldn’t give to know if any of the children grow up to be bird biologists or birdwatchers.

The Belvoir Ranch is owned by the city of Cheyenne and stretches miles to the west between I-80 and the Colorado-Wyoming state line. The city bought it in 2003 and 2005 to protect our upstream aquifer, or groundwater, as well as the surface water.

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Bioblitz birdwatchers head down along Lone Tree Creek at 6 a.m. on June 12 to survey the birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While limited grazing and hunting continues as it did under private ownership, other parts of the master plan have yet to come to fruition: wind farm, landfill, golf course, or general recreation development. It is normally closed to the public. However, progress is being made on trails to connect the ranch to Colorado’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and/or Red Mountain Open Space.

A good landowner takes stock of his property. The city has some idea of what’s out there, including archeological sites. But with budgets tightening, there won’t be funding to hire consultants for a closer look. But there are a lot of citizen scientists available.

The data from the Bioblitz weekend went into the Wyobio database,, a place where data from all over Wyoming can be entered. The bird data also went into

2016-7Bioblitz4 Barb Gorges

A University of Wyoming graduate student and a citizen scientist filter water from the creek to prepare it for DNA analysis. The sample will show what amphibians have been swimming there. Photo by Barb Gorges.  

The data began to paint a picture of the Belvoir: 62 species of animals including 50 birds, 8 mammals, 4 herps, plus 13 taxa of macroinvertebrates (not easily identified to species) and 12 taxa of pollinators (bees and other insects), plus many species of plants. All that diversity was from exploring half a mile of one creek within the ranch’s total 18,800 acres–about 30 square miles.

2016-7Bioblitz3 Barb Gorges

This ground nest seems to have one smaller egg laid by an interloper. Many grassland bird species build their nests on the ground. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The members of the City Council who approved the ranch purchase are to be congratulated on making it public land in addition to protecting our watershed. Sometimes we don’t have to wait for the federal and state governments to do the right thing.  The essence of Wyoming is its big natural landscapes and we are lucky to have one on the west edge of Wyoming’s largest city.

Let’s also congratulate the parents who encouraged their children to examine the critters in the muddy pond and pick up mammal scat (while wearing plastic gloves) on the trails among other activities.

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A Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist introduces a Wandering Garter Snake to a young citizen scientist. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Someday, these kids will grow up to be like my high school neighbor and her friends. Someday they could be the graduate students, professors and land use professionals. No matter what they become, they can always contribute scientific data by being citizen scientists.

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Citizen scientists of all ages learned to identify types of aquatic invertebrates at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lifetime license lends legitimacy to non-native

Ice fishing

A lifetime Wyoming fishing license means never having to worry about having to buy a new one each year, making it easier to celebrate New Year’s Day by ice fishing. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 25, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Lifetime license lends legitimacy to non-native. Wyoming lifetime licenses and conservation stamps also help non-game species prosper.”

2015 Update: We eventually bought resident lifetime fishing licenses and conservation stamps for our sons. Current information for these and other lifetime licenses (small game and game bird) is available at Non-residents are allowed to purchase the lifetime conservation stamp, which is required for all licenses.

By Barb Gorges

I wish I could be a Wyoming native, but some things I just can’t help—such as where my mother was when I was born.

I can’t even claim any Wyoming ancestors because mine decided to establish a Midwestern dairy farm instead of a Wyoming cattle ranch.

Sometimes it seems that to lobby state legislators effectively I should have a Wyoming surname of several generations’ standing. So, how can I prove that Wyoming is where I want to be?

Perhaps I should pin on a list of places I’ve worked or lived: Crook County, Rock Springs, Bitter Creek, Flaming Gorge, a gravel pit west of Green River, Laramie and Casper–besides Cheyenne.

Buying property or financially investing locally won’t impress the natives as any sign of permanence as both are reversible.

But last week I put my money into, and my signature on, two irreversible Wyoming investments: a life-time Wyoming fishing license and a life-time Wyoming conservation stamp.

Available to anyone who has endured Wyoming for at least 10 years, they are economically sensible.

To be honest, though, my annual fishing licenses have not been economical. Last year, for instance, I caught a total of six nice kokanee—in 30 minutes the last week in December at Granite Reservoir.

Being ready to throw a line when the fishing’s hot is part of the cost of being married to a fisherman.

My lifetime fishing license will pay for itself in about 16 years–or less if fees go up. If I move out of state (heaven forbid!) I won’t have to buy an expensive nonresident license.

The conservation stamp, is required in addition to any kind of annual Wyoming hunting or fishing license. Now that the annual fee is up to $10, the lifetime version will pay for itself in 7 1/2 years.

The real benefit in my mind is that presumably lifetime fees are being invested by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to benefit wildlife.

Whatever benefits game species probably will benefit non-game animals. Like birds. (You were wondering how this discussion would relate to birds, weren’t you?)

I visited with Kathy Frank from Game and Fish, and she said this is how things break down:

Lifetime fishing license fees are placed in a special fund invested by the state treasurer. Each year, interest goes to Game and Fish general operations to help even out financial ups and downs. The department otherwise is dependent on annual license fees and is not funded by the state government.

General operations such as law enforcement, education and habitat management directly affect game and non-game species. The Game and Fish staff even includes a non-game bird biologist.

The lifetime conservation stamp fees go into the department’s Wildlife Trust Fund, established just a few years ago. In addition to the fees, the $14 million principal incorporates the former Conservation Fund and income from Game and Fish products like T-shirts.

The trust fund generates around $1 million a year in interest, which is directed to funding two kinds of grants.

Wildlife Worth the Watching grants totaling $100,000 or more each year fund programs that improve people’s appreciation of wildlife. Past grants have paid for projects all over the state such as installing interpretive signs and building nature trails.

The remainder of the interest goes to all kinds of habitat improvement projects.

For you recent immigrants and non-residents, investing in the annual fishing license or any of the other kinds of licenses means you are also investing in the work of the Game and Fish. Part of the annual conservation stamp fee goes to improving hunting and fishing access as well.

Of course, you can always make a direct donation. If it’s more than $1,000, Kathy said, it can be directed to a grant for a particular project.

You can invest in a conservation stamp without buying a hunting or fishing license. People who enjoy non-consumptive uses of wildlife—for instance, drinking in the view of an elk rather than consuming it—don’t pay fees for the privilege otherwise.

The conservation stamp is the perfect way to put your money where you put your camera lens or binoculars.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering just how I can casually flash my new permanent-plastic-lifetime-fishing-license-with-conservation-stamp while leaving messages on the Voter Hotline for my state legislators when I call about wildlife bills.

Perhaps I can figure out how to use it as a name tag next time I visit the Capitol.

Birds featured in calendar

Wyoming WIldlife calendar

The 2015 Wyoming Wildlife Calendar is included in subscriptions to Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s magazine, “Wyoming Wildlife.” Photo of calendar cover by Barb Gorges, photo on calendar cover by Meg Sommers.

Published Dec. 8, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birds are featured in calendar from Game and Fish.”

2014 Update: Wyoming Wildlife magazine’s new editor is Amber Leberman and so the 2015 calendar is formatted a little differently, but still with outstanding wildlife photography, including three months with birds. Call 1-800-710-8345 to see about a copy of the calendar or subscribing to the magazine.

By Barb Gorges

The bright goldfinch on the front told me something interesting was afoot when Wyoming Department of Game and Fish’s 2005 Wyoming Wildlife magazine calendar showed up in the mail recently. I was right. Seven of the 12 months feature birds, and three of those are songbirds.

I also like the pithy comments by the magazine’s senior editor, Tom Reed, which tie each featured species to that particular month, that pose and that species’ status in Wyoming, all with entertaining informality.

Judith Hosafros, assistant magazine editor, is in charge of the calendar project. She said it has mainly been a subscription promotion—give a gift subscription and get a gift—but it’s so popular now, the calendar has been designed to be offered to the public as well. In the future it should be available wherever the magazine is sold. Profits support wildlife habitat acquisition.

Judith had some design help this year, but format decisions, making it 14 by 22 inches when open, using slick paper and including moon phases and the previous and next month on each page, were hers. The calendars were printed by Pioneer Printing of Cheyenne,

Always a very elegant publication, previous calendars have placed in the top four at the Association for Conservation Communication competitions. I think this next year’s will do well also, especially since the photos are less stereotypical.

The bald eagle is standing over its (mostly hidden) dinner, with commentary pointing out how roadkill benefits our national symbol. The obligatory elk picture is of a cow and nursing calf rather than a trophy bull.

The idea of featuring a particular photographer each year started a few calendars ago. This time it’s a team, F.C. and Janice Bergquist, of Saratoga. I recognized them not only because they frequently have work published in Wyoming Wildlife and national birding magazines, but because a few years ago, editor Chris Madson introduced me to them and they generously donated use of many bird images for the Wyoming Bird Flashcard CD project.

Francis began his fascination with wildlife photography around 1976. Janice blames herself for that because a friend helped her pick out his first camera as a present. It was a hobby until Francis retired three years ago—but a hobby that has paid for itself.

The first step was to research magazines and send for their want lists.

“The more you send, the more you get published,” said Francis in a phone interview. The more familiar your name, the more likely publications will call you for particular photos, he added.

Janice has always been involved in the business end and recently has begun taking photos herself, her specialty being butterflies and flowers.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said.

Their son Greg is also getting published, including the cover of the latest Birds in Bloom magazine and the cover of Wildbird sometime this spring.

Wildlife photography becomes an obsession, Janice said, especially in spring with migrating birds. She and Francis are up at daylight and out until 10 or 11 a.m. when the light becomes too harsh. When I called, Francis was out in their yard attempting to shoot a flock of hundreds of Bohemian waxwings.

He hasn’t gone digital yet, he said, since so many publications still want slides. However, they can be scanned if digital is required. When he does convert, Francis expects all of his Canon lenses will fit the Canon digital body. His largest is a 500 mm, onto which he can add a converter to make 700 mm, but Francis thinks anything larger is too heavy. His portable, tent-like blind works well to bring birds close. Within minutes of setting it up, the birds forget all about him.

Most of the Bergquists’ photography is within 100 miles of home, plus a few trips to Arizona, New Mexico and Nebraska. Francis considers himself to be a birder, but doesn’t keep a life list. However, he does keep track of great birding locations, such as the Tucson, Ariz., water treatment plant. He says it looks like a pristine marsh—with viewing platforms.

Give a gift subscription to Wyoming Wildlife ($12.95) between now and January 31 and get a free calendar sent to you. Call the subscription service at 1-800-710-8345.

There’s nothing like sending a bit of Wyoming when I think my friends and relatives have everything else. And there’s nothing like a bit of Wyoming’s wildlife in the kitchen to improve my daily view.

Cardinals are top Christmas card bird


The Northern Cardinal would be one eastern bird species we’d like to see in southeastern Wyoming. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 26, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Cardinals top Christmas cards, if not bird count.”

2014 Update: We keep hoping for cardinals here in southeastern Wyoming.

By Barb Gorges

There’s the Christmas Bird Count and then there’s the Christmas card bird count. As I write this Dec. 19, the tally is two chickadees, six cardinals, a cinnamon teal, five birds of undeterminable species—and two penguins.

Last year I identified Canada geese, blue jays and a junco plus the popular chickadees and cardinals.

The jackpot was provided by an Audubon card sent by Audubon friends featuring a red-bellied woodpecker and a white-breasted nuthatch.

John Hewston, compiler of the Thanksgiving count, has also noticed the northern cardinal seems to be a favorite on Christmas cards, “or of people who select them.”

I think cardinals are so popular because their bright red feathers fit the seasonal color scheme when they are depicted perched in an evergreen.

However, I was surprised to find a cardinal on the cover of this month’s issue of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s “Wyoming Wildlife” magazine.

What was Editor Chris Madson thinking? He’s a pretty astute student of nature and I would expect he’d be aware that cardinals are considered to be rare in Wyoming.

“Rare” is the technical term used in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s “Wyoming Bird Checklist” and rates “1” on a scale of abundance from one to four. The Checklist also identifies the cardinal as a species seen in Wyoming only during spring and/or fall migration.

Of the 28 latilongs formed by the gridwork of degrees of latitude and longitude that biologists use to locate animal observations in this state, the cardinal has only been seen, and without any signs of breeding activity, in seven latilongs, as shown in the “Atlas of Birds, Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians in Wyoming” also published by Game and Fish.

One of those seven latilongs contains Cheyenne. However there is no asterisk to indicate the observation has been scrutinized and accepted yet by the Wyoming Bird Records Committee.

And in the list published by the Cheyenne High Plains Audubon Society, no cardinals have been seen in any of 40 years’ worth of data for the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count.

Cardinals are most abundant in southeastern United States. Thirty or forty years ago I would see them at my grandparents’ feeder south of Chicago, but not at home a mere 100 miles to the north. Since then they have extended their range north through most of Wisconsin.

Cardinals are classified as permanent residents within their range, so the few observed in Wyoming were more likely to be juveniles on a road trip, now that their range extends as far west as the Wyoming-Nebraska border, than birds lost during migration

It appears Chris is another victim of a pretty passerine face. He explained to me that he’d had this particular cardinal in the photo file for several years and kept passing it over for each December issue, because he knew cardinals are not typical Wyoming wildlife.

He took as a sign the submission by a Wyoming photographer of another cardinal that he could finally justify using it on the cover.

Cardinals are also just over our southern border, in Colorado. It’s only a matter of time before they become common residents of eastern Wyoming too, like the blue jay, another formerly eastern U.S.-only species. Chris’s cover choice serves as a heads-up. When you hear that distinctive cardinal whistle, look up.

It would be neat if a cardinal made an appearance for the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count Jan. 4. Why not plan to join in the fun and look for cardinals—and maybe be part of a historic moment?

Other winter birds are drab by comparison, though close examination shows the beauty of their sophisticated, subtle coloration. Why is the chickadee motif nearly as popular as the cardinal? Maybe it’s because their black and white heads make them easy to depict. Or maybe it’s because in cold weather they fluff up into little round balls, multiplying their cuteness factor.

But there’s something even more appealing about a red bird in winter. When snow makes the landscape monochromatic, or as is the case most of the winter in Cheyenne, the snowless landscape is dull, red is a desirable accent. Our eyes are attracted to red-stemmed shrubs, red sumac, red berries and red bows.

How did red become a symbolic color for this time of year? There’s probably an anthropologic answer published somewhere explaining why people have a yen for red in winter. I suspect both our hunter-gatherer ancestors and animals today roaming the land had/have an eye out for the color that could mean dried rosehips or other fruit. Marketers of packaged foods certainly understand the use of the color red.

Christmas card designers no doubt have their own statistics showing the appeal of cardinals. So when you go out today to buy next year’s Christmas greetings on sale, don’t be surprised if the cardinal cards have already flown.

If you missed them, you could still buy cards with a nice winter landscape and ink in a small red dot on a distant tree branch. Everyone will know it could only be a cardinal.

Grouse losing ground fast

Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse are repulsed by the noise of oil and gas drilling. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Nov. 8, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Grouse losing ground fast.”

2014 Update: Type “sage-grouse” in the search box to find more recent columns.

By Barb Gorges

Sage grouse have the misfortune of living directly in the path of natural gas development. In Wyoming, we are talking about the bird known by the formal common name, “Greater Sage-Grouse.”

While some species benefit from human activity—think Norway rat, pigeon, starling, coyote, cockroach—the sage grouse is not one of them.

Matt Holloran was guest speaker at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meeting last month and talked about his studies on the natural gas fields near Pinedale as a University of Wyoming doctoral candidate and now as a consultant with Wyoming Wildlife Consultants.

While much of his talk was still couched in the language used to successfully defend his dissertation, accompanied by graphs and charts, Matt’s findings are clear enough. No sage grouse, much less anyone else, wants to live next to a drill rig or producing gas well, whatever the season.

First, there are, the dancing grounds, or leks, where males perform on spring mornings and females come to observe and decide on a mate. Leks have to be open areas with good visibility, but a little thing like a flyover by a predator like a golden eagle is enough to cancel the show for the rest of the morning.

Matt calculated the success of each lek by the number of males that continued to attend.

During five years of study, it was obvious that the negative effect of drill rigs and producing wells on grouse increased the closer they were to a lek. It also increased the closer the wells were positioned together. Matt even determined leks downwind from a rig were affected more negatively than leks upwind. Noise was the factor.

Also, the closer a road was to a lek and the busier it was, the greater the negative effect. One has to travel more than 5 kilometers away from drilling or wells before leks appear to be unaffected.

Mated female grouse leave the lek to find perfect nesting habitat. They like to lay their eggs under sagebrush where tall grasses also help screen them from predators. They react poorly to drilling, and fewer chicks survive.

Later, when females from disturbed areas share summer habitat with females from undisturbed areas, the former are more likely to die. One of the reasons may be that, having learned to ignore human activity, they are no longer paying close attention to predator activity.

When leks lose male sage grouse, do individuals leave a disturbed area and move to a new area or do they just stop reproducing the next generation?

There aren’t a lot of places for sage grouse to go.

As a range management student 25 years ago, I learned all the techniques for killing sagebrush to encourage more grass for cattle to graze. Fire is especially effective, retarding sagebrush growth for over 200 years in some cases. Sheep, however, are browsers, and since they nibble shrubs, sagebrush isn’t managed the same way for them.

It would be great if we could provide habitat for sage grouse somewhere away from the gas fields. Energy companies are used to thinking in terms of mitigation.

But no one knows yet exactly how to build successful habitat for sage grouse, nor does anyone know exactly how other factors, such as West Nile Virus, predators and drought work together to affect numbers of grouse. Their populations have been declining since the 1960s.

Matt said when peregrine falcon numbers were dropping, all it took was a ban on DDT and the population rebounded. In comparison, sage grouse are a puzzle.

He does, however, have several suggestions. One is to increase the distance between gas field activity and leks and nests, as stipulated by the Bureau of Land Management based on his findings.

Keeping well density to less than one per 699 acres (a little over a square mile) can be done with directional drilling. Multiple wells could share the same site and access road, pumping gas from pockets up to a mile away in all directions, leaving more land surface to sage grouse.

Something as simple as garbage control on the well sites would quit attracting ravens to the area. They eat sage grouse eggs.

Another key to sage grouse survival Matt recommends is that “intact sagebrush-dominated habitats be protected and managed for suitable understory conditions.”

If you would like to read any of the 223 pages of Matt’s dissertation, “Greater Sage-Grouse Population Response to Natural Gas Field Development in Western Wyoming,” email him at and ask for the PDF version. It also includes a summary of other relevant sage grouse studies.

Natural gas is not a renewable resource. I don’t understand the federal government encouraging drilling everything as fast as possible. The resource will just run out faster.

Slower development would give an area of exhausted wells a chance to be reclaimed for sage grouse before new areas are disturbed. And sage grouse are not the only ones to suffer from high speed development. Consider our small western Wyoming towns.

Procrastination is a hallmark of being human, so pessimist (or realist) that I am, I don’t think alternative energy will be given the brain power it needs to find the most inspired solutions until it is absolutely necessary.

Let’s hope it’s not too late for the Greater Sage-Grouse by then.


About Snowy Range moose


A cow moose is alert to hikers following a trail in the Pole Mountain unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 2, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “About Snowy Range moose.”

2014 Update: This is the sidebar that accompanied “Letters from a Moose Hunt,” posted yesterday.

By Barb Gorges

The moose that live in the area roughly west of Laramie and east of Saratoga are part of the Rocky Mountain subspecies known as the Shiras moose. Adults average 600 to 800 pounds and stand 5 to 6 feet at the shoulder.

In the summer, 60 to 90 percent of their diet is willow shrubs, said Eric Wald, a University of Wyoming graduate student. They supplement it with grass, sedges, wildflowers and aspen leaves. In winter if willows run short, they may resort to other shrubs, aspen bark and subalpine fir.

Generally, moose are most active foraging at dawn and dusk. They like to stay cool so on a hot day they go into thick timber or deep willows to ruminate.

A moose’s four-chambered stomach digests woody material so well their winter droppings are like sawdust pellets.

Moose tracks show two toes a little over 5 inches long followed by two nickel-sized indentations made by the dew claws.

Wald estimates the Snowy Range moose population at 150 to 200, but because moose are loners, normal big game herd survey techniques are not accurate.

Wald has radio-collared eight moose to find out more about their seasonal migration patterns and what corridors they use. One young bull this fall used a road and collided with a vehicle.

Moose were transients in the Snowy Range area before 1978 when Colorado transplanted a population to nearby North Park. The young quickly dispersed over the border into Wyoming. In the 1990s the population took off and by 2000, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department set up Moose Hunt Area 38.

This year the area’s quota was 10 licenses for any moose (hunters usually read that as bulls) and 10 licenses for antlerless (cows). Neither category includes cows with calves. The quota was allocated between resident and non-resident preference point and random drawings.

Al Langston, Game and Fish biologist, said odds ranged from 0.21 percent for the 966 residents who applied for the two bull licenses drawn randomly, to 100 percent for the non-resident who was the only one to apply for the preference point draw for the two non-resident antlerless licenses (the other license then went in the resident drawing).

This year a non-resident moose tag cost $1,201 and a resident tag $91. If your name wasn’t drawn, the license fee was refunded and you were awarded a preference point.

If you draw a moose tag, you are not eligible to apply again for five years. But once you have your license, getting your moose is almost a sure bet. Wald said last year’s success rate in Area 38 was nearly a hundred percent, except for the hunter who had a shot at a bull moose but waited for a bigger one.

Moose license applications are taken in January and February. There are a total of 42 other, mostly smaller, moose hunting areas in Wyoming in the western quarter of the state, the Big Horns and the Jeffrey City area. Contact Game and Fish, 777-4600, for more information.