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Report: Open Migration Routes Critical for Big Game Health

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Tuesday, October 11, 2022   

A new Pew Charitable Trusts report tapping mountains of GPS collar tracking data and other science offers a roadmap for protecting big game in Wyoming and across the West.

Joy Bannon, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said the study confirms migration is a critical survival tool for mule deer, elk and other ungulates. Migration helps animals find shelter in winter, and catch the green wave of sprouting vegetation in springtime.

"These animals are moving to follow the groceries," Bannon explained. "Just like humans, when we're fed, and we have enough water, we have more energy, we're stronger. And in this case they can have the ability to get pregnant, have healthier young, and then also, of course, survive the winters."

The study found when migration pathways are blocked or disrupted, animal populations tend to decline. Fencing, roadways, residential development and energy and mineral operations can block, alter or fragment migration routes and limit access to habitat animals rely on. Climate change also is disrupting growth patterns of vegetation at key locations and times of year.

The report offered conservation strategies for wildlife managers, land stewards, transportation officials and policymakers.

Matt Skroch, project director of U.S. public lands and rivers conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts and the study's author, said migrating animals are vital for Wyoming's iconic natural landscapes and ecosystems, but they're also really important for humans.

"They support multibillion-dollar outdoor recreation industries, tens of thousands of jobs throughout the West, and their persistence and health into the future really matter," Skroch outlined.

The report's recommendations include increasing GPS mapping data to find specific migration obstacles, and bringing landowners and other stakeholders together to clear corridors. Ranchers can switch to virtual fencing for cattle, allowing wildlife to pass through.

Bannon noted building more underpasses and overpasses can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.

"They're up against quite a lot, from subdivisions to habitat fragmentation to roads," Bannon pointed out. "7,656 big-game animals are killed every single year in Wyoming."

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts Environmental Group contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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