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Western Big Game Benefits from New Tracking Tool

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020   

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey includes detailed maps of Global Positioning System tracked migration routes for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, moose and bison. The tracking tool will help stakeholders, from conservation groups to transportation agencies, understand how big-game species move across the landscape.

Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said the new study maps more than 40 big-game migration routes to provide connectivity among multiple states.

"Wildlife doesn't recognize state borders," said Deubel. "So cross-jurisdictional collaboration when it comes to the management of wildlife, and when it comes to the protection of key wildlife corridors, is absolutely critical."

A poll last year found more than eight in ten residents of New Mexico and Colorado support protecting wildlife migration routes.

Deubel said in the Gila region, all kinds of species are moving between New Mexico and Arizona - but it isn't a seasonal migration. Instead, big-game animals are looking for water.

Forest fires, many due to climate change, also affect big game migration in New Mexico. That's another important reason to maintain habitat connectivity, according to Nicole Tatman - big game program manager with the state's Department of Game and Fish.

"Animals will move out of an area when a wildfire is occurring," said Tatman. "But they'll move back into that area after the fire has gone and maybe rains have come and brought up some green vegetation that they can take advantage of."

In addition to wildfires, drought can make finding that green vegetation harder for big-game animals, according to Matthew Kauffman, wildlife researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Kauffman, the report's lead author, said food is often absent along ancient migration corridors.

"Drought disrupts that 'green wave,' and makes it more difficult for animals to surf," said Kauffman. "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 migration routes in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

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


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