Randall Williams

December 17, 2020

Big Game Migration Success Stories in 2020

In a year marked by hardships, this conservation opportunity gave sportsmen and women reason to celebrate

It should come as no surprise that conserving the seasonal habitats and migration corridors used by big game herds across the West was a top priority for conservationists and state and federal agencies in 2020. With all the news generated by this issue in the past year, it’s worth revisiting some of achievements made possible by dedicated agency staff, outspoken sportsmen and women, and elected officials who follow the science when it comes to fish and wildlife.

Speaking Up

Public opinion shows strong support for this important work: according to polls conducted this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an overwhelming majority of voters in both Oregon and Nevada—around 90% in many instances—agreed on the need for new conservation measures to safeguard migration corridors. Likewise, these respondents would like to see wildlife highway crossings prioritized as a means of facilitating big game migration and keeping motorists safe.

So too, does this work have the strong support of wildlife professionals. In New Mexico and Colorado, groups of scientists, former agency leaders, and other natural resource experts penned letters to their respective governors thanking them for the progress made already and urging them to show continued leadership on this issue.

Secretarial Order 3362

Big game migration gained prominent attention across the West when the Department of the Interior issued Secretarial Order 3362 in February of 2018, directing federal agencies within the Department to prioritize habitat quality in Western big game winter range and migration corridors. 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.

In August of this year, the Department released a report on the progress made since the enactment of S.O. 3362. Most impressively, 11 Western states have received $6.4 million from the Department to address state-defined priority research projects and the mapping of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn migrations and habitat use. Additionally, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Partners for Fish and Wildlife programs have provided nearly $10 million, matched with more than $30 million from other partners, for habitat improvement and fencing projects.

Among the most notable of these efforts was the release in November of Ungulate Migrations of the Western United States: Volume 1, a USGS report that maps more than 40 big game migration routes across Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming. These maps will provide critical guidance to state and federal agencies as well as various other stakeholders as they work to conserve these important habitats and the big game herds that depend on them.

Montana

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s work to conserve and enhance seasonal big game habitats reached a significant milestone late this year with the release of a strategic plan on wildlife movement and migration developed in close consultation with landowner and conservation groups. The document both clarifies how big game migration is already prioritized in the agency’s ongoing management and also identifies areas where this work can be further strengthened. Much of the strategy’s strength comes from its recognition and emphasis on the ways in which private landowners and working lands are central to this conservation opportunity. All things considered, sportsmen and women should be encouraged by the state of Montana’s leadership on this issue and the spirit of collaboration that has guided the agency’s work.

Wyoming

In February of 2020, Governor Mark Gordon signed an executive order prioritizing the conservation of big game migration corridors. The EO followed recommendations from a citizens’ advisory board tasked the previous summer with deliberating various strategies to address the threats to the corridors on which Wyoming’s big game herds depend.

Since that time, sportsmen and women in the Cowboy State have continued to work with the governor, state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders to see Gordon’s order implemented successfully.

In November, Governor Gordon announced the formation of the first local working group for the Platte Valley mule deer corridor in southeast Wyoming. The group had its first meeting in mid-December and the TRCP will be reaching out to Wyoming hunters in the new year to engage in the process.

Photo by Wyoming Migration Initiative.
Oregon

Oregon has developed an action team on migration made up of around a dozen conservation groups working to advance Secretarial Order 3362 and other priorities in the Beaver State. Over the summer, the team organized an interagency migration meeting to bring together more than 30 participants and discuss strategies for reducing barriers to migration and maintaining big game populations in Oregon.

Oregon’s newest underpass for wildlife crossings, near Gilchrist, on Highway 97 was completed in August of this year. The directional fencing, which relies on private funding, is expected to be installed in spring of 2021 to complete the project. To date, almost $800,000 has been raised out of the $900,000 required. Around $185,000 of that money was funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Department of the Interior through S.O. 3362. Another crossing project is in the works as well on Hwy 97 just south of Sunriver and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Idaho

In 2020, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the state’s sportsmen and women continued to build a strong foundation for the future of migration management in the state.

A year ago, the Department, with financial support from multiple partners, secured conservation easements on the private lands where wildlife crossing structures will be built along Highway 30 in southeast Idaho. The crossing structures are slated to be built in 2025, but the easements are a critical step to maintaining the connectivity for 6,000 mule deer.

In September, IDFG released the latest version of its migration action plan, which lays out the state’s long-term priorities.

Finally, in December of this year, the Army Corps of Engineers collaborated with the Department and considered sportsmen input when deciding not to construct a new mountain bike trail in crucial winter range that supports about 3,700 mule deer near Boise.

Colorado

Following Governor Jared Polis’ 2019 executive order to prioritize migration corridor conservation, Colorado Parks & Wildlife released a status report in May of 2020 that provides the public with the best-available science regarding Colorado’s migratory big game populations. The report also details ongoing research and identifies areas for further study, as well as makes recommendations to address various threats to big game migration in the state.

In the fall, after a lengthy process to revise its mission, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved a slate of new regulations that, among other things, now direct the agency to safeguard migration corridors against negative impacts that might result from drilling and exploration. Operators will be required to consult with Colorado Parks & Wildlife when proposing development within big game migration corridors and will be required to prepare mitigation plans that maintain the functionality of these habitats.

 

Top photo by Gregory Nickerson and Travis Zaffarano/Wyoming Migration Initiative.

One Response to “Big Game Migration Success Stories in 2020”

  1. Ken McCall

    Thank you TRCP for reporting on this positive news for ungulate migration across the west. I’m in Oregon where we are behind other western states with migration though working hard to catch up. The Gilchrist under crossing completion was our latest milestone, funnel fencing planned in 2021. Good news for our ungulates and driving public. Ken mcCall VP, Oregon Hunters Association

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Randall Williams

December 11, 2020

Amidst a Flurry of Recent Actions, Another Significant Land-Use Plan Is Released in Alaska

The TRCP commits to seeing hunting, fishing opportunities maintained in BLM’s Central Yukon plan

Today the Bureau of Land Management released a draft resource management plan that—when finalized—will guide future public land management decisions on 13.1 million acres of public lands in central and northern Alaska for the next 15 to 20 years.

“The outcome of this process will have big implications for recreational and subsistence hunters, anglers, and trappers due to the Central Yukon planning area’s enormous acreage and unique qualities,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “From the boreal forests and river valleys of Interior Alaska to the towering Brooks Range and vast tundra of the Arctic, these public lands provide the type of wild, backcountry opportunities that many sportsmen and sportswomen dream of experiencing someday.”

The Central Yukon planning area stretches across approximately 56 million acres, extending from the northern border of Denali National Park and Preserve to the Arctic Ocean. The region’s diverse wildlife habitat supports several caribou herds including the Western Arctic—the largest herd in Alaska and an important food source for many rural communities—plus Dall sheep, brown bears, black bears, muskoxen, moose, and furbearers. The Brooks Range is revered among sportsmen and sportswomen for its remarkable solitude and world-class hunting, trapping, fishing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities.

The release of the draft RMP is a key step in the public process of land-use planning, which helps determine how fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and resource development are balanced in a particular area. The Central Yukon RMP presents five different management approaches and names one option—Alternative C2—as the agency’s preferred alternative.

“The BLM needs to conserve important habitats in the Central Yukon planning area in order for future generations to continue to enjoy our hunting, trapping, and fishing traditions,” said Leahy. “This planning process still has a long way to go before it will be completed, and the TRCP is rolling up our sleeves to engage with our members, local stakeholders, and agency partners to ensure that the final plan reflects our shared conservation goals.”

The 90-day public comment period begins December 11, 2020, and is slated to close March 11, 2021.

 

Photo: BLM Alaska via Flickr

Blueprint for Big Game Migrations Promises to Lay a Solid Foundation for the Future of Montana’s Herds

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.

Kristyn Brady

December 9, 2020

House Passes Water Legislation with Far Reaching Habitat Benefits

The two-year bill will help agencies and communities use more natural solutions to infrastructure challenges like erosion and flooding

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its Water Resources Development Act—a two-year bill that authorizes water conservation and enhancement projects—with provisions to help address dangerous algal blooms, combat invasive species, fund Everglades restoration, and smooth the way for more natural infrastructure projects across the country.

“Beyond authorizing important conservation initiatives and renewing investments made in recent years, this water resources package helps us prepare for a future where the answers to some of our biggest challenges—like sea-level rise, coastal land loss, and extreme weather fueled by climate change—also pull double duty to improve fish and wildlife habitat,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “House lawmakers have proven that they not only value fish and wildlife resources, but they also see the clear economic advantages of investing in nature-based solutions that provide multiple benefits.”

Unlike traditional “gray” infrastructure, natural or nature-based infrastructure solutions mitigate threats—including floods, erosion, sea-level rise, and land loss—but also benefit fish and wildlife. For example, wetland restoration projects reduce the risk of dangerous flooding in our communities but also boost waterfowl habitat, improve water quality for fish, and provide sportsmen and women with places to hunt and fish.

The Act passed last night contains at least nine provisions to help the Army Corps of Engineers and local partners prioritize these kinds of nature-based solutions. For more detail, read our letter signed by 12 groups and sent to House leadership ahead of this week’s vote.

The Act also includes essential authorities, approvals, and clarifications necessary to continue the restoration of habitat and water quality in the Everglades through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and other restoration programs. Continued progress in these efforts will be essential to restoring clean, healthy water flows into the Everglades, which would revitalize fish and wildlife resources and the outdoor recreation economy in one of the world’s top fishing and hunting destinations.

Click here to watch a video Q&A about the latest on Everglades restoration.

 

Top photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via flickr.

Marnee Banks

December 8, 2020

Sportsmen and Women Call for a Robust Conservation Reserve Program

Hunters and anglers thank Chairman Peterson for supporting private lands conservation

Hunters and anglers are reiterating their support for increasing the number of acres enrolled in a national conservation program.

This call to action comes on the heels of the effort by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) to increase the Conservation Reserve Program acreage to 50 million acres.

“On behalf of the millions of sportsmen and women who depend on the conservation reserve program to hunt and fish, we support the Chairman’s commitment to ensuring its future,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “CRP is essential to restoring wildlife habitat, preventing erosion, and improving water quality. That’s why we need a robust enrollment effort to ensure landowners can take advantage of this important program.”

Currently at a three-decade low of 20.7 million acres enrolled in CRP, the administration of the program is at a crossroads. Just two years ago, Congress increased the program’s acreage cap from 24 to 27 million acres in order to grow landowner interest. In the time since, significant changes to rental rate formulas and incentive reductions have diminished the interest of landowners to utilize the program.

“The Conservation Reserve Program is essential for supporting wildlife, healthy habitats, and the hunters and outdoor enthusiasts who count on both to sustain our wildlife heritage. With discussions around 2023 Farm Bill starting, it’s clear that a failure to fully enroll Conservation Reserve Program acreage would only compound the issues facing America’s wildlife,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We and our peer sporting and conservation organizations are committed to working with incoming House Agriculture Chairman David Scott, Ranking Member Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, Senators Debbie Stabenow and John Boozman on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure this crucial program meets the needs of landowners and wildlife for decades to come.”

“Given the incoming Administration’s focus on climate change, the deep-rooted grasslands created through CRP is another example of the environmental stacking opportunity the program delivers,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “CRP, which is part of the working lands ecological and economic safety net, helps sequester carbon in soil, improve water quality and soil health, while strengthening rural economies and creating habitat for the wildlife we cherish.”

For more information about the benefits of the CRP, head to CRPWorks.org.

Read about four ways the Biden Administration can strengthen the program here.

The groups voicing their support for the Conservation Reserve Program are the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Delta Waterfowl, National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever-Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Wildlife Management Institute.

Top photo by Anthony Hauck.

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WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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