Wyoming must protect its migration corridors

Submitted by Franz Camenzind
Posted 2/4/20

Dear Editor:

It’s time to step up and protect Wyoming’s Big Game Migration Corridors. We have long known the importance of winter and summer range, and now we must recognize the third …

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Wyoming must protect its migration corridors

Posted

Dear Editor:

It’s time to step up and protect Wyoming’s Big Game Migration Corridors. We have long known the importance of winter and summer range, and now we must recognize the third element: the land connecting the two — big game’s migration corridors.

Data from the Wyoming Wildlife Migration Initiative has helped produce precise maps of several mule deer and antelope migration corridors that a few decades ago were only broadly identified. As a result, the Sublette, Platte Valley and Baggs Mule Deer Migration Corridors have already received official state designation. Designation of two others is pending: the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Corridor and the BLM portion of the Path of the Pronghorn from the Upper Green River region south to Rock Springs. (The northern portion extending to Teton Park is already a designated National Wildlife Migration Corridor- the first in the nation.)

The importance of migration corridors extends beyond simply connecting winter and summer ranges. Besides a safe passageway, effective corridors also provide forage for the migrants — “trail food” for their journey. They also include “stopover” areas where animals rest, forage and regain energy to continue their journeys, some of which extend for upwards of a 140 miles.

Stopover areas are particularly important during the spring migrations when the much needed nutrient-rich “green-up” vegetation emerges. An often forgotten detail is that these animals are not just migrating to survive for another year, but roughly 90% of the adult females are also carrying, and growing the next generation in their wombs.  They are truly “eating for two” — or three, if bearing twins.

It is well documented that this nutrient-rich, spring forage is critical to the health and ultimately the survival of the soon to be newborns.

These animals aren’t just walking back and forth across the landscape, they are living every day in an intricately choreographed relationship with their environment, the health of which directly connects with their own wellbeing.

It‘s reasonable to ask: Why don’t deer and antelope simply “go around” the obstructions? Research has determined that antelope and to an even greater extent mule deer, have developed a strong fidelity to these corridors, the details of which appear to be passed from one generation to the next by the females. Slowly, over thousands of years of trial and error, these corridor maps have become deeply embedded within each herd’s DNA. As a result, they simply don’t seem capable of quickly adjusting to impediments suddenly appearing upon their landscape.

By officially designating migration corridors, the state gains more leverage when reviewing proposed developments and activities. This can lead to modifications or even denials. This does not mean “no” to energy development. For example, energy companies might be required to move well pads and associated developments away from corridors. In most cases, technology allows the same resource to be extracted by drilling horizontally, a technique that can place the drill pad 4 to 6 miles away. And industry leaders predict that soon they will be able to double that distance. Industry does not have to site well pads within migration corridors. Energy production does not have to stop.

Yes, there will be higher costs that will be passed on to consumers. I for one am willing to spend a few extra pennies per unit of energy purchased if it protects our deer and antelope herds.

I applaud Gov. Mark Gordon’s draft executive order that would designate the two pending migration corridors, and sets forth a process for future designations. It’s a sound effort.

We must remember though, that this order affects only state executive branch agencies: Game and Fish, Agriculture, Environmental Quality and WYDOT to name just a few. It states that these agencies shall exercise their “legal and regulatory authorities to protect and further the annual movement of mule deer and antelope between seasonal ranges in their respective migration corridors.”

The order cannot direct federal agencies, but it does establish a science-based and publicly produced foundation with which to evaluate development proposals and advocate for resource protections.

I do encourage the governor to consider including bighorn sheep and elk migration corridors in the order.

And the governor’s order explicitly “does not apply to actions occurring on private land.”

The economics of wildlife protection support this endeavor. Studies have repeatedly shown that Wyoming’s wildlife contributes significantly to the state’s economy. Whether appreciated through a rifle-scope or spotting scope, wildlife is a sustainable and growing boon to our economy. And recent opinion polls have shown that Wyomingites overwhelmingly support the protection of wildlife corridors.

This is not rocket science; for wildlife to thrive it needs unobstructed, year-round access to sufficient and productive habitat.  To ensure this, we must protect our big game migration corridors.

Speak up for wildlife; send your comments supporting migration corridor protection to renny.mackay@wyo.gov.

Franz Camenzind

Jackson

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