Agencies and the public have a clearer view of the challenges facing Wyoming’s herds
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the University of Wyoming released a web map today that highlights current levels of human disturbance in Wyoming’s three designated mule deer migration corridors, including the 150-mile Red Desert to Hoback corridor.
The web map was developed by University of Wyoming’s Geographic Information Science Center in collaboration with TRCP to serve as a resource for both wildlife and land-use managers, as well as the interested public. It incorporates the best available data on migration and disturbance to inform future decision-making when conservation opportunities arise or development is proposed in migration corridors.
“We would like to see this web map utilized as a resource for future decisions as it provides a unique piece of information about the current level of disturbance in these corridors,” said Nick Dobric, the Wyoming field manager for the TRCP. “The mule deer in the Sublette herd, for example, that migrate and winter in the Rock Springs area have been struggling since the early 2000s and are currently 34 percent below their population objective, resulting in the loss of hunting opportunity with shorter seasons and reduced tags. This web map highlights parts of the corridor that could benefit from habitat restoration and where future development could have a big impact on the health of our herds, such as in stopover areas.”
Using the township and range grid system, the web map provides disturbance calculations at three different scales and provides a feature to customize the analysis boundary. The information displayed utilizes publicly available data, including the disturbance layer developed by the state of Wyoming for sage-grouse conservation. Research has consistently demonstrated that anthropogenic disturbances impact mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and other big-game species. One study, conducted in 2020, indicates that migrating mule deer have a disturbance threshold of approximately 3 percent of a landscape’s surface area, dependent upon the size and configuration of development, as well as specific vegetation and migration habitats.
“Wyoming is fortunate to have robust wildlife populations and hunting opportunities, in large part because of our still functioning migration corridors,” said Joy Bannon, Policy Director for Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “Development is essential for our state, but it needs to be thoughtfully planned. As the web map shows, disturbance is relatively limited in most parts of the corridor and with smart planning in the future – it can stay relatively the same so that we can continue to enjoy our incredible wildlife.”
Wyoming has been at the forefront of migration corridor research and conservation for decades. In the 1960s, Frank and John Craighead developed the first maps of elk migrating in and out of Yellowstone National Park. In recent years, the development of GPS technology has revolutionized the field as researchers are now able to document movements in unprecedented detail. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission adopted a migration corridor strategy in 2016 in part due to the growing body of knowledge regarding migratory animals’ behavior and habitat needs. Likewise, Governor Gordon issued an executive order in 2020 to conserve migration corridors while balancing multiple-uses and protecting private property rights. This web map is an additional piece of information for managers and the public to utilize.
Wyoming takes well-deserved pride in its role as a leader in researching and conserving the migration corridors used by our big game herds,” said Josh Coursey, CEO of Muley Fanatic Foundation. “Governor Gordon’s executive order, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s migration strategy, and cooperative efforts between the state and federal agencies like the BLM, all demonstrate a recognition of the importance of this issue, and it is our hope that the web mapping tool will prove useful to those efforts and guide further action moving forward.”