A whole suite of conservation planning tools need a refresh to match what we now know
At the TRCP, we’re constantly urging hunters and anglers to speak up on conservation policy issues at every level—from new bills traveling through Congress to revamped land-use plans by the Bureau of Land Management that might encompass your favorite hunting area. Your support on these issues is always critical, but sometimes it’s hard to explain why the nitty gritty process of updating written policies on land management will have a direct impact on you or the places you hunt and fish.
Well, here’s something we can all understand: As new technology becomes available, our society makes choices about how we adapt. We revisit the existing rules, have a debate, and rewrite the rules, if necessary. For example, now that affordable drones can be used for scouting, our state fish and wildlife agencies are grappling with questions about regulating this technology, which could be used to undermine fair chase hunting principles.
Wildlife management on public lands has benefitted greatly from advancements in technology. In particular, our understanding of how and where big game species migrate has grown exponentially in recent years (more on that later.) But this innovation means nothing if we don’t use it to benefit the conservation of big game populations.
The Triple Stakeout
When I was a graduate student researching Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the late 1980s, satellite or global positioning system (GPS) radio collars were simply not available. Back then, researchers had to capture their study animals, fit them with collars made with technology of that era, and follow animals around trying to determine their locations and habitat-use patterns.
Sometimes this meant going to one of three separate high points in the landscape near where you thought the animal was and using a telemetry receiver and antenna to determine the direction of the strongest signal emitting from the animal’s collar. You’d aim a compass in that direction and plot the bearing on a map, and then repeat the process at the other two locations. The place where the three lines intersect was theoretically where your critter was located. Ideally, three different people would be at those locations at the same time, taking bearings to reduce errors in measurement and to account for moving animals far better than one person driving to each point alone.
But times sure have changed.
No Compass, No Fuss
Today, advances in GPS telemetry are remarkable. Scientists merely have to catch the animals they’re studying to fit them with GPS collars that are accurate to within a few feet. No more worrying about triangulating compass bearings and human error—we know exactly where these critters are spending their time. GPS collars can also be programmed to mark multiple locations for each animal over any desired 24-hour period and automatically send this data to the scientist’s computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Scientists now have the capability to build a travel log for the spring or fall journey of each antelope, bighorn sheep, or mule deer. Locations can be easily plotted in a GIS—a computer system for data related to positions on Earth’s surface—to create accurate, detailed maps showing where the animals travelled, how much time they spent in certain areas, and which habitats they preferred during these annual migrations between winter and summer range.
Better Data and New Regs
All of the fancy data and maps in the world would be pointless without adequate policy and management actions to conserve the migration corridors that we now understand are important for big game species survival. We need to use what we’ve learned to ensure that the iconic big game herds of the west can be sustained today and well into the future.
That’s why the state of Wyoming was recently prompted to revise their policy definitions and develop a strategy for conserving vital migration corridors after examining cutting-edge information gathered from a study on mule deer, which were observed to travel 150 miles annually from a place called the Red Desert to Hoback Junction south of Jackson Hole. The revised definitions and strategy will aid the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as they work with the BLM on conserving habitat along migration corridors.
Federal land management agencies are proposing important changes to their own policies, too. The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced changes to its land-use planning rule for the BLM. Where there once was no specific mention of wildlife migration corridors in BLM planning, now there is a proposal to consider them in agency land-use plans. This means that BLM field offices must consider identifying and locating migration corridors early in the process of planning for land use. By doing so, the agency can then work with state wildlife agencies and stakeholders to conserve these critically important habitats. In the old days, migration corridors were not given this kind of attention and may have been damaged, developed, or lost from the landscape, which may have had drastic impacts on big-game herds, directly impacting hunting opportunity and the outdoor recreation economy.
Time for a System Upgrade
Right now, the BLM is revising its national land-use planning strategy. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” the process represents the first substantial improvement of BLM land-use planning in 40 years and has the potential to reshape how the BLM manages habitat, recreation, and access across the West. Sportsmen must actively work to influence this process—and we hope this blog post helps you understand why.
This planning rule will have direct impacts on deer, elk and other big game herds on your nearby public lands, and now that mule deer can literally send scientists mobile notifications of their whereabouts and preferences, it’s time for a policy upgrade based on this new information.
Want to get involved? Visit sportsmenscountry.org and sign the petition today.