Wyoming County Eager to Reduce Mule Deer Numbers

The Sublette County, Wyo. Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 last week to approve a billionaire’s resort located in the heart of the mule deer migration corridor.

The mule deer population in the United States has been in steep decline for years. These animals are among the most affected by change, pressure and land development, and any impact to their migration patterns can – and usually will – produce devastating effects.

Three of the five Sublette County commissioners, led by Chairman Joel Bousman, couldn’t give a damn less about that. Instead, Bousman and fellow commissioners Sam White and Tom Noble paved the way for billionaire, founder of TD Ameritrade and Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts to build an exclusive resort on his ranch near Bondurant, Wyo. Commissioners Doug Vickery and Dave Stephens, to their credit, voted against the re-zoning.

A look at the mule deer migration corridor in and near Bondurant, Wyo. (Source: Wyoming Game and Fish Dept.)

Why would three of these commissioners vote in favor of something that could very well be the death knell for thousands of wildlife, you ask? Ricketts and his team of lawyers and “experts” convinced them he wouldn’t be able to pay for his ranch otherwise. Ricketts claimed without the resort he’d have to subdivide his ranch into 36 smaller ranches – a decision that, his team says, would result in even more development and habitat loss.

This, of course, is coming from the guy who convinced the City of Chicago to give him tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives to fund a renovation of Wrigley Field. Ricketts is used to swindling local governments, and it’s hard not to question the integrity of commissioners Bousman, White and Noble. To believe a man worth several billion dollars can’t keep his ranch afloat is a slap in the face to actual farmers and ranchers that struggle each year.

To be fair, one luxury resort probably won’t cause an entire mule deer population to die off. But it’s the fact a precedent has been set that should be a cause for alarm. What’s to stop the commission from approving the next development? The genie is out of the bottle, and we’ve never seen it go back in. Just look at Jackson Hole.

Not only will the new resort and zoning laws have a negative impact on mule deer numbers, but it’s expected to create problems for the elk, moose and pronghorn that also migrate and feed through the area. Sublette County and the upper Hoback have long been treasured as a wild place for wild things – it seems that ship has sailed.

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