Ed Arnett

May 4, 2017

Mule Deer and Pronghorn Migration Corridors Are Still Overlooked When it Comes to Conservation

After a winter spent traversing the West in search of green food, big game species are on their way back to your favorite hunting spots—if they can make it

As we shed our extra woolen layers, pull tarps from our boats, and head out to turkey blinds and our favorite fishing holes, big game species like mule deer and pronghorn antelope across the West are moving from their wintering grounds to summer ranges in massive annual migrations. Their ability to make the trip, survive the elements, navigate man-made barriers, and find enough food along the way dictates whether these critters will be around come opening day, but thousands of miles of migration corridors have been more of an afterthought in the conservation equation.

Here’s why this doesn’t add up.

Following the Food

Big game animals can live in some of the harshest and most remote areas in the West, but only if they can move freely across the landscape at key times of the year to access nutritious food. Each spring, these animals gradually move from their low-elevation wintering habitats toward summering areas to follow the “Green Wave”—the swaths of lush green grass and forbs emerging as the snow recedes. In the fall, these critters follow the same general path back, as snow covers their food and drives them lower and lower into wintering habitat.

Their ability to move across the landscape to find food is why the West has such large and flourishing herds of big game. But migration is tough on animals and many barriers can threaten their ability to move freely. Fences, highways, housing developments, and oil and gas development can change animal movement patterns or close off migration corridors altogether.

Big game animals need big landscapes. That’s why conserving all habitats they use—including their migration corridors—is vital for big game populations. It doesn’t matter how much work we put into maintaining or restoring mule deer summer range if critters starve, perish, or become unhealthy along the way. Therefore, conservation planning has to look at the big picture when it comes to balancing other uses of the land with the needs of migrating animals. This also means working with private landowners and public land managers to achieve the goals for migrating big game—great conservation work by a private landowner could be all for naught if adjacent public lands aren’t managed in a compatible way to meet those goals.

migration corridors
Image courtesy of Jon Nelson/Flickr. Top photo courtesy of Sara Domek.
Filling the Data Gap

State wildlife agencies and their biologists know how important migration corridors are, yet only some have detailed information about where they exist. Worse yet, few agencies have any information on the threats these animals face along their journeys. This makes the conservation and management of big game animals difficult, at best.

In Wyoming last year, the Game and Fish Commission took some unprecedented steps to protect vital migration corridors by developing an assessment strategy to determine threats to animal movement and shape recommendations on necessary conservation actions. The first assessment of its kind was recently completed by biologists studying the Sublette mule deer herd as they migrated from the Red Desert to Hoback, Wyoming. It builds off prior work by the Wyoming Migration Initiative and field biologists who helped identified 11 segments of the 150-mile-long migration route these mule deer traverse each spring and fall. Once finalized, the new assessment and its recommendations should provide a roadmap for conserving this particular migration corridor.

Big game animals need big landscapes, and securing migration corridors is vital for their survival. Click To Tweet
Balance in an Uncertain Era

Both President Trump and Secretary Zinke have pledged to follow the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, and we remain hopeful that both will do great things for wildlife during their tenure in office.  A good first step would be to carefully examine what’s working and what’s not, rather than roll back previous policies and actions that could enhance wildlife habitat, protect migration corridors, and properly mitigate the unavoidable impacts of development. And Executive Orders could just as easily be used to do positive things for fish, wildlife, and overlooked habitat in areas where outdoor recreation jobs are just as critical as energy jobs. (Take a look at where outdoor recreation stacks up with other industries in the Outdoor Industry Association’s most recent report, and you’ll see why we have a mandate to balance all the many demands on America’s public lands and waters.)

We don’t yet know how conservation will be affected in the coming months and years, but the TRCP has always believed that energy development, responsible grazing, and the many other vital uses of our public lands can be balanced with the needs of fish, wildlife, and sportsmen and women.  One thing we do know is that we don’t want to be migrating out to our favorite hunting spots only to wait for mule deer or pronghorns that never show.

7 Responses to “Mule Deer and Pronghorn Migration Corridors Are Still Overlooked When it Comes to Conservation”

  1. Kian Daniel

    Please follow through and make a positive impact on the migratory corridors of ALL animals in the United States.
    Thank you,

    Kian Daniel

  2. Teresa Fleener

    This is an issue that we in the West have been trying to emphasize for decades. People love the big animals at the National Parks and Monuments, but fail to realize that they do not stay there year long. We need a public education program then we can educate the government bodies.

    • David Wall

      Public-private collaboration is key! In Oklahoma only 3% of the land is public(wish it was more), but the public-private partnership is strong and most landowners are conservation minded. Pasture Rotation, No-till, legal pesticides and herbicides and crop rotation are crucial to preserve our soil, water and wildlife as well as protecting our land and wildlife.

  3. Diana Stransky

    These animals must be considered at the local planning level, when “civilization” encroaches on their need to move to survive..As well as underpass or overpasses to ensure their ability to navigate busy highways. We must all give a little so they can survive.

  4. Patrick Johnson

    Winter range habitat restoration is crucial for the survival of these herds. The number one reason for population decline is winter range habitat fragmentation and degradation.

  5. David Wall

    Continued mass immigration will be demise of these migration routes. Studies show that 70% of urban sprawl is due to population growth which 80% of it is driven by immigration. Call on President Trump to lower immigration, protect public lands and fund wildlife habitat improvements.

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Kristyn Brady

April 27, 2017

Rinella and Western Governors Receive Top Honors for Conservation Achievement

Meateater‘s Steven Rinella, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper were celebrated for their leadership and advocacy to advance policy outcomes for wildlife and access

At the ninth annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner last night, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated three honorees for their leadership in ongoing collaborative conservation efforts and advocacy: Meateater host and author Steven Rinella, Republican Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming, and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

The gala event, held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., brought together policy-makers, outdoor industry innovators, and conservation group leaders. Tucker Carlson, host of FOX News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, served as co-masters of ceremony and set the tone for the evening with their opening remarks on the inclusive, non-partisan nature of hunting and fishing. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made closing remarks emphasizing the value of America’s public lands.

Rinella received TRCP’s 2017 Conservation Achievement Award for his demonstrated willingness to raise awareness about habitat and access issues while spurring hunters and anglers to take action. His outreach to fans and readers about Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s H.R. 621, a bill that would have disposed of 3.3 million acres of America’s public lands, was integral to rallying opposition on social media that ultimately pressured Chaffetz to withdraw the bill.

“Steven Rinella is not only an excellent ambassador for hunting and fishing, he’s dedicated to advancing conservation so that our sports can prosper long-term,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “His influencer status makes Steve the ultimate sportsman’s role model, and his willingness to use that platform to bring clarity to complex policy issues and urge rank-and-file sportsmen to become informed advocates is incredibly meaningful to the American conservation movement.”

After accepting his award from Sen. Martin Heinrich, a 2016 Capital Conservation Awards honoree, Rinella restated his commitment to demystifying the public land transfer issue, and other conservation imperatives, for the average sportsman. “I grew up within a couple of miles of the Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan, and as a kid it was as if that public land just appeared there for me to use—I never thought about why, or how it was a part of a great American legacy of conservation,” he said. “I work to open the eyes of guys like me, who just never thought about it before. It’s not an easy to poem to write, but it’s critical.”

Governors Mead and Hickenlooper were presented with the 2017 James D. Range Conservation Award—named for TRCP’s co-founder, a conservation visionary, and presented to one Democrat and one Republican each year—for their collaborative efforts to help restore sagebrush habitat as co-chairs of the Western Governors’ Association Sage Grouse Task Force. They are the first state governors to receive the award, which is typically given to one Democrat and one Republican in Congress.

Gov. Mead shared credit with his task force colleagues and cited Wyoming’s unique outdoor-recreation-driven economy and future generations of outdoorsmen and women as his inspiration. His award was presented by Jim Ogsbury, executive director of the Western Governors’ Association.

Gov. Hickenlooper accepted his award from Sen. Michael Bennet and addressed the many benefits of public lands for Coloradans—including hunting and fishing access—and “the magic” of the simplest outdoor experiences.

Learn more about the TRCP’s Capital Conservation Awards here and here.

Watch Steven Rinella’s acceptance speech here.

Julia Peebles

April 25, 2017

Reversing Land Loss and Improving Fish Habitat in the Bayou

TRCP hosted reporters in Louisiana to showcase the benefits of sediment diversion projects (and to catch our limit of keeper redfish!)

More than 25 years ago, Captain Ryan Lambert navigated a winding maze of bayous and bays to bring clients from the lodge at Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, Louisiana, to prime saltwater fishing and duck hunting areas. Today, he can point the bow of his boat south and barely turn the steering wheel at all.

To prove just how quickly land is being lost in Louisiana’s hunting and fishing paradise, Lambert pulled out his phone and showed me a photo he snapped of his GPS screen on a recent trip to productive redfish waters. It showed his boat sitting on land, but he certainly hadn’t run ashore. His electronics just can’t keep up as land is eroding and being swallowed by sea level rise all at once.

Image courtesy of Captain Ryan Lambert.

Solutions are in the works, and I was visiting my colleague Chris Macaluso to view one of them, a sediment diversion project planned for the Barataria Basin before doing a little fishing on the east side of the Mississippi River. Outdoor and environmental writers and TV hosts from across Louisiana were also there to witness the drastic consequences of cutting off the sediment supplies to the marshes of the Mississippi, the primary culprit in the loss of nearly 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands.

The brown, murky water blocked us from seeing the floor of Barataria Basin, which is covered by loose soils made of rotting vegetation, rather than the layers of sediment once deposited by annual spring flooding of the Mississippi. The resulting land loss threatens species like pintails, teal, redfish, and speckled trout, which has implications for our days afield and on the water.

This diversion project aims to reverse this land loss and improve habitat for the species we love.… Click To Tweet

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project aims to reverse this land loss and improve habitat for the species we love. It was approved in 2012 by the Louisiana state legislature as part of a comprehensive plan to restore Louisiana’s wetlands and protect coastal communities. With 75,000 cubic feet of water and sediment diverted every second during high-river periods, the benefits from this diversion would be swift—reinstituting fish and waterfowl diversity, especially for game species like largemouth bass, redfish, speckled trout, teal, and gadwalls, and providing a buffer from catastrophic storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

But the environmental review process is delaying construction, just as the Louisiana coast is more vulnerable than ever. So, the need to expedite the environmental permitting procedures is essential to reversing land loss and improving fish habitat.

fish habitat Louisiana redfish

Several reporters and I stuck around long enough to experience what could be the future of Barataria Basin for recreational fishermen. On the east side of the Mississippi, I was hauling fish after fish into the boat after only one or two casts. Where it was tough to imagine (never mind see) fish in the basin’s straight, murky corridors between the barges, these marshes and inlets were hiding all sizes of specks and redfish. Within a few hours, I’d caught my limit—15 redfish over 16 inches, with one over 27 inches, and 25 speckled trout.

But days like this are at stake where marshes are critical to the coastal ecosystem and yet disappearing at an alarming rate. It’s critical that projects like the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion move forward.

VIDEO: Catch the segment of our tour from the Paradise Louisiana television show here. 

Kristyn Brady

April 24, 2017

Sportsmen Look to Secretary Perdue to Champion Conservation That Works for Rural America

The Georgia quail hunter will oversee $5 billion in conservation funding on private lands, which benefits farmers, ranchers, wildlife, clean water, and sportsmen

In an 87-11 vote, the U.S. Senate has officially confirmed Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia and an avid sportsman, to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he’ll oversee land and water conservation on private lands and operation of the U.S. Forest Service. Hunters and anglers are optimistic that Perdue is up to the task of serving our rural communities and our natural resources well.

“As a hunter and angler, Secretary Perdue understands the importance of wildlife conservation,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “He has a record of working in a bipartisan fashion to advance innovative land conservation programs, increase water conservation, and restore longleaf pine forests. We look forward to working with Perdue on critical issues facing USDA, including protecting America’s grasslands, expanding successful farm bill conservation programs and wildlife initiatives, and reducing nutrient runoff to improve water quality.”

Perhaps most importantly, Perdue will contribute to the debate around the 2018 Farm Bill, the legislative vehicle that drives approximately $5 billion in annual conservation spending on private lands. Voluntary, incentive-based programs authorized by past farm bills have been widely successful, helping to prevent the Endangered Species Act listing of the greater sage grouse and contributing to cleaner waters in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are eager to begin working with Secretary Perdue to implement good conservation programs on working farms and ranches,” says Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist at Delta Waterfowl. “The next farm bill will provide great opportunities to come up with solutions that work well for our nation’s producers, sportsmen, waterfowl, and other wildlife.”

Besides the Forest Service, Perdue will direct many of the other federal agencies with a major role in conservation, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. Almost immediately, Perdue will need to defend his department’s budget and staff against cuts from congressional appropriators.

“With record demand from agricultural producers for the technical assistance and financial certainty that USDA programs offer, Secretary Perdue already has his work cut out for him, but sportsmen and women are also depending on his leadership in rural counties that are economically reliant on outdoor recreation, like hunting and fishing, that gets a boost from habitat improvements on private lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which came out in support of Perdue early on.

“These programs cannot survive proposed budget cuts, especially when critical functions at the USDA, including wildfire suppression in national forests and conservation planning assistance for landowners, are already chronically short on funding,” says Fosburgh. “Sportsmen and women call on Secretary Perdue to strongly defend the USDA against budget cuts and support long-term, practical investments in natural resources management on public and private lands.”

Joel Webster

April 20, 2017

Public Lands Are Managed to Balance Many Uses, But That May Change

New under-the-radar administration policies would alter public land management, and this has major implications for hunting and fishing

Efforts to dispose of public lands may grab headlines, but a subtle shift in the management of public lands could present an even greater risk to the future of hunting and fishing. With the spotlight shining brightly on recent proposals to sell off our public lands, the White House and the Department of the Interior quietly set policies in motion last month that have the potential to change the way our public lands are managed.

In tandem, Executive Order 13873 and Secretarial Order 3349 would initiate a few specific processes that could change the way public lands wildlife habitat is valued and managed, especially when it’s at odds with energy development. All Americans—including sportsmen—depend on energy resources, but we want to see development carried out in a balanced way, not at the expense of fish and wildlife habitat or our best hunting and fishing areas.

There are absolutely ways to ensure all of the above, but these orders have the potential to put at risk the critical balancing act carried out by the BLM and other federal agencies. Here’s how.

“Would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.” Image courtesy of Cameron Davidson. Top image courtesy of Bob Wick/BLM.
Diluting Pro-Habitat Policies

Mitigation has long been used to accommodate development in ways that avoid or minimize impacts on important resources like wildlife habitat, and then compensate for unavoidable impacts. Mitigation has been used to avoid or minimize the fragmentation of mule deer winter range from energy development, for example.  In some cases, if habitat suffers while accommodating energy development, funds from resource extraction are then put back into conservation of habitat, there or elsewhere.

These executive and secretarial orders eliminated the existing department-wide policy for mitigating impacts to wildlife from development on public lands. They also set a process for evaluating, replacing, or eliminating agency actions taken to implement mitigation. Without good mitigation policies, assurances for fish and wildlife get thrown out the window and accountability for maintaining habitat becomes an afterthought, rather than a requirement.

Energy development should be balanced & not at the expense of fish & wildlife habitat... Click To Tweet
Vaguely Referencing ‘Burdens’

Second, these two orders establish a process for all federal agencies—including the BLM—to review all existing policies to identify potential “burdens” on energy development. The agencies have been ordered to make recommendations for changing or rescinding policies to remove those burdens, though what exactly constitutes a burden is subject to interpretation. Could it be that managing world-class big-game habitat or outstanding wild-trout streams are perceived as a burden to an energy developer? And, if so, would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.

Reviewing policies in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary regulations and increase efficiencies is one thing, but sportsmen and women will not support actions that undo the fish and wildlife conservation achievements our community has worked for decades to achieve. We are hopeful that a balance can be found.

“Would balanced land management as we know it be altered so that developers can do as they please without being ‘burdened’? Only time will tell.”
Keeping Public Lands Public is Not Enough

At TRCP, we’re on the front lines to sound the alarm on sweeping threats to public lands, like H.R. 621 and other legislative attacks. But it’s not enough to keep public lands in public hands if wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation do not rank with energy development or other uses of the land. Executive Order 13873 and Secretarial Order 3349 were introduced with little fanfare, and with so much of the sportsmen’s community focused only on the most outrageous and obvious public land issues, low-profile actions like these are more likely to fly under the radar and become foundational policies.

Don’t let that happen. Not every threat will come with a catchy hashtag or fit nicely on a bumper sticker, but your voice will be just as critical in the fight against these subtle policy moves. And TRCP will be there to let sportsmen and women know when there’s a chance to take action.

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