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GPS Mapping of Migration Patterns Can Help Protect Wildlife

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A new U.S. Geological Survey report uses GPS technology to track animal movements through 26 corridors, 16 migration routes, 25 stopovers and nine winter ranges. (Wikimedia Commons)
A new U.S. Geological Survey report uses GPS technology to track animal movements through 26 corridors, 16 migration routes, 25 stopovers and nine winter ranges. (Wikimedia Commons)
November 24, 2020

CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Wildlife managers in Nevada and across the West have a new tool to protect big-game animals and other migrating wildlife. The U.S. Geological Survey has a set of detailed maps outlining GPS-tracked migration routes for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, moose and bison.

Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said the report has brought a greater understanding of the long distances animals travel to avoid deep snow, cold temperatures or lack of food resources. He said it will help wildlife advocates and agencies maximize connectivity by keeping migratory corridors clear from human disturbances or physical barriers.

"Year after year after year, these animals can use these exact same trails and routes, some of which are incredibly narrow," Wasley said.

Development, from energy production to expanding suburbs, has created roadblocks on migration routes for years.

Wasley said tracking animals with GPS technology has revealed unique and previously unknown details about their movement. He added because the data was compiled and analyzed independent of state boundaries, the effort has few political barriers to collaboration.

"You know, animals, we like to say they 'talk with their feet' - they tell us where they need to be, and when they need to be there. And we can't we can't put them in those those boxes of jurisdictional boundaries," he said.

Wasley said this technology will be useful not only for big-game animals, but for a myriad of species, including waterfowl and raptors.

The report's author, Matthew Kauffman, wildlife researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey and professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, said stakeholders from conservation groups to transportation agencies have long realized it's critical to understand these migration patterns.

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

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - NV