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New Maps Document Big-Game Migration Corridors Across Western U.S.

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Conservationists hope new migration-route maps will help state and federal agencies reverse the trend of declining mule deer populations in Wyoming. (Needpix)
Conservationists hope new migration-route maps will help state and federal agencies reverse the trend of declining mule deer populations in Wyoming. (Needpix)
November 19, 2020

LARAMIE, Wyo. -- Wildlife managers across the West have a new tool when it comes to protecting iconic big game.

A new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides detailed maps of GPS-tracked migration routes for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, moose and bison.

Matthew Kauffman, a USGS wildlife researcher, professor at the University of Wyoming, and the report's lead author, said stakeholders from conservationists to transportation agencies have long realized it's critical to understand how big game move across Wyoming's landscapes.

"[They] are ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work to enhance and maintain the connectivity of these migration corridors," Kauffman observed. "And now they have a tool that can guide that on-the-ground work."

Development across the West, from energy production to expanding suburbs, has created roadblocks on routes used by wildlife for thousands of years.

Kauffman stated the new maps provide a blueprint for helping animals get back on track. Conservationists are hopeful the maps also can be used to monitor and limit the spread of contagious diseases, such as chronic wasting disease.

Kauffman added the research confirms migration is how most animals earn their living in western states.

Baby greens sprout up in lower elevations in early spring, and as temperatures rise, mule deer and other ungulates ride what Kauffman calls a green wave into higher elevations where their favorite food pops up next.

Climate change also is impacting migration. Longer and more severe drought has altered when and where food is available along historical corridors.

"Drought disrupts that green wave, and makes it more difficult for animals to surf," Kauffman explained. "They still try, they do their best given the drought conditions, but they just can't be in the right place at the right time."

The new study builds on more than two decades of research by state wildlife agencies including GPS tracking-collar data, mapping more than 40 big-game migration routes in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Kauffman verified the maps are available to state and local agencies, and other stakeholders working to keep migration corridors and animal populations viable in Wyoming and across the West.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY