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July 14, 2023

Wyoming’s 2023 Winter was a Wake-Up Call for the Rock Spring’s Field Office 

Modern habitat management will help the iconic mule deer herd rebound 

If you’re a fanatical mule deer hunter, you’ve heard of the Wyoming Range, or “Mule Deer Factory,” as Randy Newberg calls it. Every spring, mule deer feed into the lush high country of this iconic mountain range after a winter spent amongst the sage with pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, and other wildlife. This year however, the low country refuge around Rock Springs, and other areas across the state, was battered by arctic temperatures and deep snow that covered the sagebrush these animals depend upon to survive. 

The somber views of starving mule deer and pronghorn antelope I passed in early March while driving south to Rock Springs foreshadowed the coming die-off. Roughly 70% of collared does, 60% of collared bucks, and all collared fawns in the herd succumbed to the worst winter in decades. On a recent 80-mile backpack along the length of the Wyoming range, my colleague and Wyoming Community Partnerships Coordinator, Alex Aguirre, shared that he saw just one buck. It will take years for these herds to recover. 

We can’t control the weather, but we can prepare for the snow, rain, and drought that will inevitably come. Right now, mule deer and pronghorn are recovering and preparing for next winter by raising fawns and feeding on the highest quality forage to build critical fat reserves. We want healthy big game populations in Wyoming, which means we need healthy habitat. The TRCP and our partners in Wyoming are committed to ensuring proper habitat management on our public lands, and specifically as a pillar of the Bureau of Land Management’s revised Rock Springs Field Office Resource Management Plan.  

The Rock Springs Field Office covers over 3.6 million acres of varied landscapes in southwestern Wyoming. At the southern end, hunters and anglers treasure opportunities to pursue trophy-class bull elk and cast for native cutthroat trout in the Greater Little Mountain Area. Further north in the Red Desert, lies critical winter range for the longest known mule deer migration, the 150+ mile Red Desert-to-Hoback Migration. I have fond memories of early spring mornings watching dozens of male sage grouse strut and display on lek sites during the spring mating season as herds of pronghorn grazed in the distance along this ancient corridor. The BLM is in the process of revising the management plan for this field office and we expect to see a draft proposal out for public comment this year.  The timing couldn’t be better given all the pressures big game are facing.   

The BLM manages close to 30% of all land in Wyoming and it’s important to note that these public acres are also critical drivers of local economies, providing leasing opportunities for energy development, livestock grazing, and other industries in addition to the key habitats they provide for wildlife. Yet, we must not forget that Wyomingites choose to live and work in this great state because of the abundant wildlife resources and wide-open spaces. Ensuring a resilient future for our recovering mule deer and pronghorn populations, while also facilitating thriving local economies, should not be an either-or proposition. 

I’ve been fortunate to pursue high country mule deer in summer range along the Red Desert to Hoback Migration route and can attest that these animals have grit. It’s been over 15 years since the BLM initiated the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan revision. In that time our understanding of the ecological processes at play on these landscapes has changed dramatically. I want future generations to have the opportunities I’ve had to be humbled by Wyoming’s mule deer. We can achieve that by ensuring that the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan is updated in a timely manner and in ways that respond to the challenges of today – by including policies that conserve crucial habitat for our big game herds for decades to come.  

Photo Credit: Josh Metten

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July 10, 2023

Updated Management Plan for Eastern Colorado BLM Lands Will Benefit Colorado’s Wildlife, Hunters, and Anglers

Backcountry Conservation Areas and other Resource Management Plan updates will ensure conservation of high-quality habitats

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office published their proposed final Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan revision and environmental impact statement for review before a final Record of Decision is signed. The final Resource Management Plan will provide management direction for 666,127 surface acres and nearly 6.5 million subsurface acres of mineral estate in Eastern Colorado for decades to come. The TRCP thanks all the BLM, Department of Natural Resources, and Colorado Parks & Wildlife staff, county officials, and TRCP members, supporters, and partners who have provided invaluable feedback, guidance, and expertise since this plan revision process began in 2015.

These BLM lands are home to elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and wild and native trout, and encompass 487 miles of streams and rivers and popular destination lakes and reservoirs valued by anglers. The updated BLM plan commits to managing 87,400 acres of extraordinary fish and wildlife habitat as Backcountry Conservation Areas, thereby protecting them from fragmentation and development while maintaining important access for hunting, fishing, and other forms of wildlife-dependent recreation and traditional uses of the land.

In these BCAs, the BLM will focus management activities on the conservation and restoration of key habitats, which can include wildfire mitigation work and habitat improvement projects where needed. By improving and protecting habitat, the BLM will support healthy big game herds and hunting opportunities in the region for decades to come.

“For decades the absence of a cohesive guiding framework for administering Eastern Colorado’s public lands and natural resources has contributed to management uncertainty and stakeholder confusion,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The final RMP will allow BLM to respond more effectively to evolving priorities and environmental conditions.”

This proposed RMP also includes a prohibition on renewable energy or oil and gas development within BCAs, and restrictions to oil and gas development in certain key habitats, generally consistent with those employed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Additionally, the plan reflects management actions that local government, community members, and conservation partners in the South Park area cooperatively proposed to balance energy development with habitat conservation to support a diverse local economy.

“We appreciate that BLM has addressed the extraordinary wildlife and streams in iconic South Park separately from the rest of the proposed resource management plan,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “The improvements to the draft reflect most of the priorities that CWF and a coalition of other interest groups developed during a lengthy planning process.”

In Colorado, the BLM manages around 8 million surface acres, so updates to outdated land use plans strengthen the wildlife and outdoors values that the public enjoy.

“The TRCP is hopeful that implementing this revised Eastern Colorado RMP will improve how high-value fish and wildlife habitat is conserved and managed across these landscapes,” said Liz Rose, Colorado Field Representative for the TRCP. “We will continue to track and comment on other BLM planning efforts in-progress, Travel Management Plans, and other BLM-proposed actions to ensure that public lands support healthy, stable wildlife populations and provide quality places for all Americans to hunt and fish.”

BLM’s process includes a 30-day protest period following publication, coinciding with a 60-day Governor’s consistency review. For more information about the current public involvement phase and to find BLM’s Eastern Colorado RMP documents, go to: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/39877/510.

Photo Credit: USFS

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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