Wyoming is known for its vast and inspiring open landscapes, the unbending work ethic of its citizens and for the species and livelihoods that these two characteristics help support.
We are also known for our approach to wildlife management – fusing together diverse viewpoints and science through collaborative processes that result in meaningful conservation of wildlife species and their habitats while sustaining economic drivers.
Our intact big-game migration corridors are valuable and worthy of such a conversation. We, as Wyomingites, once again have an opportunity to come together to find solutions that work for our state and our citizens.
Over the past decade, Wyoming Game and Fish and the Wyoming Migration Initiative, in partnership with other wildlife organizations, have done an admirable job of defining the location and importance of big-game migrations in the state. Big game in the West routinely move seasonally across the landscape, chasing green forage and avoiding deep snow. Some migrations in the western part of Wyoming follow long and complex pathways, passed on from one generation to the next.
Migrating big game routinely cross private and publicly owned lands on their yearly travels. Migration data collected through the years clearly show the importance of privately owned ranches to migrating big game.
Identifying migration routes and corridors is one thing; managing and maintaining them is another. Ranching and industry organizations are becoming concerned about what the “designation” of a migration corridor might mean to their lands or operations. Lack of communication creates uncertainty and concern for affected parties, and hinders conservation of our wildlife resources.
It’s time for all affected parties – Game and Fish, landowners, ranchers, industry, county commissions and conservation organizations – to come together and work collaboratively to conserve migration corridors, while also meeting the economic needs of ranches, industry and rural communities. Conservation and management plans arising from productive discussions among knowledgeable landowners, industry and wildlife professionals will be better informed, supported and enduring than resource decisions made through imposed legislation or court rulings.
It is essential in the process to recognize and support the important role landowners are already playing in conserving wildlife movement. We need to flip our approach to conserving corridors. Instead of looking first for threats, let’s start by looking at what is working. Why are wildlife using that piece of land? What is going right there? Then let’s figure out how to support what is working.
Currently, when a wildlife corridor is designated, it is often received as bad news by affected landowners because they fear restrictions, regulations, increased public scrutiny and potentially litigation. Instead, we need to recognize the benefits of working lands, treat landowners as valued partners and find ways to support rather than penalize landowners for providing that habitat.
This can mean a whole suite of things – from simple recognition and appreciation to management flexibility, regulatory assurances, risk mitigation, economic benefits and a greater voice in wildlife management decisions.
While much has been learned about migrations, there is more to learn. By implementing an adaptive management approach, conservation plans can be developed based on the best available knowledge, regularly revisited and improved, as needed, over time. Although collaborative management can be challenging, it remains the best pathway to ensuring plans that are broadly supported.
We appreciate Gov. Mark Gordon’s determination to strike a balance among the needs of the various interest groups, while resolving to conserve our big-game resources. This is an opportunity to work together. Our wildlife, economy and way of life depends on it.