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Laramie – “If agencies and other stakeholders want to continue to enjoy and sustain the herds we have today, we have to sustain and take care of their migration routes,” stated Western EcoSystems Technology Research Biologist Hall Sawyer during the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission public meeting, held in Laramie on Oct. 5-6.

Sawyer and others presented their positions regarding potential updates in Commission recommendations for gas and oil development in and near big game migration routes.

“Migration promotes abundance, and this is true worldwide,” he explained. “Migratory populations always outnumber non-migratory populations.”

In the past decade, scientists used new tools to understand big game migration patterns and document how animals move across the vast and diverse landscapes of the West.

New tools

“Two things have been game-changers for us in the research community, and the first one, helicopter net-gunning, allows us to capture animals in remote regions that would otherwise be inaccessible,” Sawyer explains.

Secondly, he identified GPS technology as a game-changer in migration science.

“With just one study, we can end up with hundreds of thousands of locations from dozens of animals. This was just unthinkable only a decade ago,” he continued.

With new technology, scientists are better able to determine how animals move between seasonal feeding grounds, including specific routes and resting patterns.

“We can estimate the width of migration routes and also the intensity of use within those routes, or where those animals spend the most time,” Sawyer noted.

Wildlife Division Deputy Chief Scott Smith added, “There are a lot of new details that this research is describing for us to use as land managers. We think that it’s important to embrace this emerging science and update our management recommendations appropriately.”

Defining habitat

Smith also defined a number of terms used to describe big game migration, including migration routes, corridors, stopover areas and bottleneck.

Routes are paths used by individual animals, and corridors are areas across the landscape that whole herds use to move between seasonal habitats.

“Stopover areas are localized areas that ungulates use to rest and feed during fall and spring migrations,” he stated.

Sawyer explained that differentiating stopover habitat from other parts of the migration route is important from a biological management perspective because animals rely on those areas for forage during their migration.

“We now view migration corridors as critical habitat, just like winter range. Mule deer, for example, spend 95 percent of their migration time in these stopover habitats,” he said.

Bottleneck points also impact migrating herds.

As Smith noted, “A bottleneck is any portion of an ungulate migration corridor which physically or behaviorally constrains the animals during migration.”

Bottlenecks may be created by natural means, such as geological features, or by human impacts, such as highways or other barriers.

Multiple use lands

“Most of these migration routes occur in multiple use landscapes that support a variety of uses, such as energy development, livestock grazing and recreation. Anything we can do to better prioritize where our management conservation efforts could be aimed is beneficial,” Sawyer remarked.

Smith asked the Commission to consider oil and gas development constraints and requested that the terms “stopover” and “bottleneck” be added to current mitigation policy.

“This is emerging science that has been collected over the last 10 years, and we are trying to adapt to what we see the science is telling us,” stated Smith.

After Smith and Sawyer presented their arguments, representatives from various interests spoke about their positions in regards to the draft proposal distributed at the meeting.

Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna commented, “As we have seen from the research, human activity and development undoubtedly has some impact on the migration corridors that are important to all of us.”

Yet, the weight of those impacts is still being debated, he argued.

Additional data

“While the proposed changes only apply to public land, given the land ownership patterns that exist in this state, from checkerboard to isolated private parcels, activities that are restricted or allowed on public lands necessarily impact what can reasonably be done on private land,” explained Magagna.

He noted that restrictions for one type of land use often set the precedent for further restrictions in other land uses as well, including livestock grazing, and therefore current regulatory standards should be considered sufficient until more solid data is collected.

“We would encourage the Commission to continue to work in a flexible manner with all interests to make whatever adjustments are necessary and reasonable to be sure that we protect these valuable wildlife corridors,” he said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lander – At a July 10 ceremony, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) recognized landowners from across the state of Wyoming for their efforts in promoting wildlife.
    “The Landowner of the Year award is presented to Wyoming landowners who have demonstrated outstanding practices in wildlife management, habitat improvement and conservation techniques on their properties,” says the WGFD. “These landowners also cooperate with the WGFD to provide access to hunters and anglers on their properties.”
    After being nominated by department staff members, award recipients are selected by regional leadership teams for their accomplishments. Landowners from seven regions in Wyoming were recognized at a dinner held July 10 in Lander.
    From the Casper region, Tim and Dawn Pexton of Indian Creek Ranch south of Douglas were recognized.
    “The Pextons work very hard to perpetuate quality management practices on their ranch. Their excellent stewardship is reflected in the richness of wildlife present on their property,” WGFD comments. “The conflicts that sometimes arise with wildlife are met with a positive attitude by Tim and Dawn.”
    Additionally, WGFD notes that the Pextons allow hunting access to maintain populations.
    Pitchfork Ranch of Cody, owned by Lennox Baker and Greg Luce and managed by Dan and Darcy Morris, received the Landowner of the Year award from the region.
    “Pitchfork Ranch’s stewardship of the land and its resources as well as the ranch’s strong support of wildlife make Dr. Lennox Baker, Greg Luce and Dan and Darcy Morris very deserving of this award,” explains WGFD.
    In addition to providing year-round habitat for big game species, Pitchfork Ranch works to provide access for hunting through the WGFD Private Land Public Wildlife Program.
    In the Green River Region, the Little Sandy Grazing Association received the WGFD award for their support of sagebrush and aquatic habitats.
    The WGFD also cited sage grouse research efforts of the Little Sandy Grazing Association as being award-worthy, saying, “This area supports one of the highest densities of sage grouse in the West. The research conducted in these areas monitors sage grouse mortality along fence lines and helps determine effective methods to reduce mortality.”
    Preston Ranches of Bedford received the award for the Jackson and Pinedale region due to their support of the elk feedground program, participation in the Private Land Public Wildlife program and work to facilitate fish spawning.
    Gene and Lola Russell, owners of Russell Ranch in Glendo were honored with the WGFD Landowner of the Year award in the Laramie region.
    “The Russell family has long been an active supporter of wildlife management and their generosity is second to none when it comes to allowing access to their private lands for hunting,” the WGFD notes. “Their 13,000-acre ranch west of Glendo is home to pronghorn, mule deer, elk, mountain lion, wild turkey and numerous other game and non-game species of wildlife.”
    From the Lander region, Diamond D Cattle Company of Dubois, owned by Jeff and Susan Sussman and managed by Reg Phillips, was honored for their cooperation with various agencies, which has resulted in efficient and effective livestock and wildlife management practices on the ranch. Hunting is also utilized on the ranch.
    “The Sussmans, Reg and all the ranch hands are always professional, courteous and cognizant of wildlife issues,” adds WGFD.
    Don and Pete Meike, owners of Meike Ranch in Kaycee, received the award for the Sheridan region.
    “Perhaps one of the greatest contributions made by the Meike’s is providing access to hunters,” comments WGFD, adding that hunters on the Meike ranch harvest more than 100 big game animals each year.
    The Meike Ranch also provides habitat for a wide array of species, from big game to turkey, Canada geese, sandhill cranes and pheasants.