Sportsmen and sportswomen urge BLM and Forest Service to manage for this conservation priority
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today released a report on the need for federal land management agencies to amend and revise land-use plans to incorporate the latest science in public land management and take active steps to conserve the West’s big game migrations.
According to the report, “our understanding of the threats to the continued functionality of [migration corridors] has advanced to the point that it can suggest actionable, pragmatic solutions to ensure their conservation. In the meantime, outdated land-use plans are being used every day for on-the-ground management decisions about what can and cannot happen on our public lands.” Citing missed opportunities to complete habitat improvement projects, responsibly site energy development, and manage recreation, the report calls on the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to revise and amend land-use plans to incorporate the latest migration science into their decision making.
“Because so many land-use plans are decades-old and long overdue for an update, we have a real opportunity all across the West to take actions to ensure some of the region’s most iconic wildlife will be enjoyed by future generations,” said Madeleine West, director of the Center for Public Lands with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The science clearly demonstrates that this is an important conservation challenge and also shows what we can do to address it.”
During their seasonal journeys, big game herds move across a patchwork of land ownership and administrative boundaries. The report showcases landscapes in the six Western states of Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado where agency attention to address this issue would make a big difference for big game herds. It also describes how cutting-edge migration science and mapping can inform public land management to conserve elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and other big game species that rely on their ability to move between winter and summer ranges.
“Modern GPS migration data can pin-point within 15 feet where collared animals travel, documenting how wildlife use the landscape and how specific human activity in these habitats affects, for instance, mule deer populations,” said Joel Webster, vice president of Western Conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This migration science can then be used by public land managers to inform and guide their decision making to balance multiple uses of our public lands, be better partners with state and tribal wildlife managers, and cooperate with private landowners.”
But agency-created land-use plans must consider this science in order for it to be incorporated into public land management decisions. Regrettably, most land-use policy and planning tools for federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management haven’t been updated to reflect this growing body of knowledge, even when the agencies themselves have adopted migration corridor conservation as a management priority. Existing federal agency land-use plans—many of which were written decades ago—frequently do not acknowledge wildlife migrations or do so with minimal emphasis. This includes BLM lands in the states of Colorado and Nevada.
“GPS technology, and the knowledge it provides on where and how animals migrate, has vastly improved in the time since land management plans in Nevada were developed,” said Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “Without updates to those plans, in some ways it is as if, despite having a programmable calculator, we are forced to use an abacus. The Department stands ready and willing to bring any and all available resources to assist our valued land management agency partners in this worthy endeavor.”
“Use of the best available science is critical to guide the modernization of land management plans here in Colorado, including the initiation of a statewide plan amendment in partnership with the BLM in the coming year to protect big game movement and habitat on our public lands,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Colorado’s big game herds are a critical component of our state’s identity and economy and we can better protect them with additional research that maps their movements across the landscape.”
Here is what TRCP partner organizations have to say about this work:
“The Mule Deer Foundation works with agencies to advance habitat restoration projects across the West that support mule deer and other species. It is critical that we put this new information to use now, to guide the future uses of our federal lands while protecting key migration corridors and seasonal habitats. By including priorities for migratory habitat restoration and enhancement in land-use plans, the agencies would make it easier for states and NGOs like ours to target restoration work that could provide the greatest benefit for wildlife.”
– Joel Pedersen, President/CEO, Mule Deer Foundation
“Healthy big game herds and intact habitat are essential to sustaining quality hunting opportunities and special outdoor experiences on our public lands. But unless federal agencies incorporate the latest wildlife migration science into the plans that govern how these lands and waters are managed, the seasonal ranges that elk, mule deer, and pronghorn rely on for their survival remain at risk from a variety of threats that could marginalize wildlife populations and compromise future opportunities for outdoor recreation.”
– John Gale, Conservation Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
“Ensuring a positive future for the West’s deer herds starts with conserving their habitat, and the science clearly demonstrates that mule deer need to be able to move unimpeded as they migrate from winter to summer ranges and back again. Without adequate safeguards to secure connectivity between these habitats, as well as funding and priorities for habitat restoration and enhancement, it will become more and more difficult for our deer populations to undertake their seasonal journeys.”
– Nick Pinizzotto, President/CEO, National Deer Association
Photo: Josh Metten