The Wyoming Migration Initiative: A Coalition Designed to Inform Decisions and Connect Science to the Public

Cooperative Research Unit Corner

The Wyoming Migration Initiative: A Coalition Designed to Inform Decisions and Connect Science to the Public

The Wyoming Migration Initiative is a model for catalyzing science-based conservation and management of wildlife corridors. Founded in 2012 as a project of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the initiative collects data needed to effectively conserve migratory wildlife. The Wyoming Migration Initiative also produces risk assessments for managers and stakeholders, and uses multimedia storytelling to promote public understanding of large mammal migrations.

Collared ungulate

Epic animal migrations are an iconic part of the vast intact landscapes of the American West, and an important contributor to its cultural, hunting, and conservation heritage. Wyoming and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are home to open spaces and abundant ungulate populations, many of which still maintain their long-distance seasonal migrations.

Yet, migrating ungulates are struggling across the western US, with populations down for several species. Hooved animals face pressure amid accelerating land-use change, industrial and housing development, recreation on public lands, fences, and increasing traffic.

Identifying and prioritizing migration routes for land-use planning and conservation has taken on a new urgency. For example, nearly every state and federal agency that manages wildlife in Wyoming ? and many conservation groups and land trusts ? list ?conserving ungulate migration routes? as a priority.

The Wyoming Migration Initiative?s new GPS tracking data has highlighted that many wildlife corridors in Wyoming and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem traverse ? and therefore rely on ? lands managed by private landowners, the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

Managing to protect these corridors is an essential part of the BLM?s multiple use mission. Migration research is key, because it can often identify narrow corridors that cut across public and private lands.

?Seeing these migration corridors mapped across the Wyoming landscape opened our eyes to how important the BLM lands are to maintaining the health of this landscape, including the wildlife that are the most visible part of the ecosystem,? says Jim Lyons, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Lands and Mineral Management at the Department of the Interior. ?This research, and the beautiful way in which it has been displayed in pictures and through film, is providing the information public land managers and private land owners need to work together to mitigate some of the threats.?

A group of diverse stakeholders representing varied interests has emerged in Wyoming to put migration science into action to maintain key corridors.

?The coalition that has sprung up around this new migration data has been great to see,? said Muley Fanatic Foundation president Josh Coursey. ?We have been involved since the beginning, because we know this data will allow us to fund science-based habitat projects and policies that can best benefit mule deer herds and the migration corridors they require over the long term.?

At least ten studies are underway to assist efforts to enhance ungulate numbers and habitats. ?Our goal is to educate decision-makers and the public about the incredible migrations of Wyoming?s ungulates, and the role of research and current management efforts in advancing their conservation,? said USGS research scientist Matt Kauffman, director of the Wyoming Migration Initiative and the leader of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

The ONB features articles from Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units across the country. Working with key cooperators, including WMI, Units are leading exciting, new fish and wildlife research projects that we believe our readers will appreciate reading about. This article was written by Matt Kauffman, USGS, Unit Leader, Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, working with Gregory M. Nickerson, writer and filmmaker, University of Wyoming.

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Photo Credit
Mark Gocke, Wyoming Game and Fish Department
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November 10, 2016