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New Maps Help AZ Manage Big-Game Migrations

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Friday, November 27, 2020   

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. -- Wildlife managers across the West have a new tool at their disposal 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, USGS wildlife researcher 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 Arizona's landscapes.

"And are ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work to enhance and maintain the connectivity of these migration corridors," Kauffman shared. "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 explained the new maps provide a blueprint for helping animals get back on track. Conservationists are hopeful the maps can also be used to monitor and limit the spread of contagious diseases such as chronic wasting disease.

Kauffman emphasized the research confirms migration is how most animals stay alive in western states. New vegetation sprouts in lower elevations in early spring, and as temperatures rise, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and other ungulates ride what Kauffman calls a green wave into higher elevations where their favorite food pops up next.

Climate change is also 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 reported. "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 added the maps are available to state and local agencies, and other stakeholders working to keep migration corridors and animal populations viable in Arizona and across the West.


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