State officials have developed a strategy to guide migration conservation that relies on collaboration and communication
Over the past year, conservation and landowner groups, and other stakeholders have worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to develop a strategy for conserving habitat essential to wildlife migration and movement. Completed in October, the Terrestrial Wildlife Movement and Migration Strategy is a significant milestone in the agency’s work to conserve and enhance habitats that big game animals require during their seasonal migrations.
Sportsmen and women applauded the document as evidence of the shared commitment by state officials, private landowners, conservation professionals, and everyday Montanans who care about the state’s wildlife resources to find common ground and to address cooperatively the challenges faced by various stakeholders.
Big game migration gained prominent attention in Montana when the Department of the Interior issued Secretarial Order 3362, on big game winter range and migration corridors, in November 2018. Since that time, the state and federal government have worked together to conduct research on big game movements and looked to prioritize habitat improvement projects.
The recently completed strategy helps keep the state of Montana in the driver’s seat on the management of resident wildlife within its jurisdictional boundaries. It clarifies how the conservation of seasonal and transitional habitats is integrated into the agency’s existing programs to manage wildlife in the state, with the intended effect of both highlighting the good work already being done by Fish, Wildlife & Parks on this important issue as well as identifying areas where this work can be further strengthened. Among other points of emphasis, the plan highlights ways in which FWP’s organizational structure, scientific research agenda, and existing habitat conservation programs can be tailored to address the management challenges of wildlife migration and movement. At the same time, the document emphasizes the importance of external communications with partners and the general public, working with stakeholders to secure dedicated funding and to advance the overall aims of the strategy, and intergovernmental collaboration with federal agencies, other states, and tribal nations.
Central to the strategy—and much of its strength—comes from the recognition and emphasis of the essential role that private landowners – and working lands – play in this conservation opportunity. Meaningful and substantive engagement with landowners is necessary to ensure that animals such as elk, mule deer, and antelope can move between seasonal habitats. Big game winter range frequently overlaps with working landscapes on private property, and the resulting crop damage and potential for disease transmission to livestock can pose significant challenges to farms and ranches already facing numerous hurdles to success. FWP has committed to work with and respond to the concerns of those directly affected by these issues, and there exists a strong community of conservation-minded landowners in Montana who are eager to work collaboratively with other stakeholders to address these challenges.
As is the case across the country, conservation success stories in Montana have long depended on landowners, conservation groups, and state and federal agencies coming together to achieve shared priorities, particularly when it comes to conserving and improving fish and wildlife habitat. With FWP’s new strategy, a solid roadmap has been established to continue that tradition as big game migration grows in its importance as a top conservation priority. With a change in state leadership coming to Montana in 2021, the TRCP looks forward to working with Governor-elect Greg Gianforte and his staff on this issue and stand committed in the spirit of collaboration that has been driving these efforts to date.