Wyoming looks at habitat protection for migrating big game

AP News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2016 6:40 PM

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will discuss and could adopt new measures on Thursday to protect big-game migration routes, including areas where antelope and mule deer make some of their species' longest known seasonal treks in North America.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recommends protecting bottlenecks, or areas where the surrounding terrain pinches migration corridors to a couple miles wide or less. Areas where animals stop for periods of time to eat and rest also would be protected.

Of particular concern are mule deer, which have declined by about 40 percent in the last 20 years. Biologists blame habitat loss for the decline.

The plan calls for designating wildlife migration routes. The department would identify threats to habitat along those routes and opportunities for protection.

Habitat loss that couldn't be prevented would be offset by habitat conservation elsewhere.

Many of the areas of concern are east and south of the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Each year, several ungulate species migrate into and out of the ecosystem in pursuit of forage on which to fatten up on in summer and survive through winter. Ungulates are large hooved herbivores including pronghorn — commonly known as antelope — a well as bison, moose, elk and deer. New tracking technology using GPS data has revealed ungulate migration patterns in unprecedented detail.

"Wyoming's migration corridors are critical to maintaining the abundance of big game populations," Game and Fish Deputy Director John Kennedy wrote the commission earlier this month. "It is important that this new knowledge be applied on the ground to improve management and conservation decisions."

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming questions part of the strategy that would limit drilling in designated migration corridors. The oil and gas industry often can work around such restrictions but sometimes can't because of the local geology, the association wrote the commission during a recent public comment period.

The other 62 public comments received and posted online supported the strategy. Of those, 61 were form letters originating from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership that called for no oil and gas drilling in the areas with the most migrating wildlife.