Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has recommended four priority migration corridors to the Department of Interior for protection at the agency's request.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced in a Monday press release that the department will begin the next steps in the conservation of these big game migration corridors and winter ranges in 11 western states.
"When it comes to wildlife and habitat conservation, we all know that animals go where animals want to go, and more often than not that's dependent upon natural features like watersheds, rather than whether land is owned by the BLM, state, or private landowners," Zinke said in the statement. "Which is why we are starting to manage habitat at a bigger landscape scale. My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this feedback will help identify and protect migration corridors for iconic big game species like elk, mule deer and antelope. We’ve already seen early success working with the State of Wyoming, and now I’m looking forward to working with 10 more states to protect even more habitat.”
All 11 western states identified their priorities to the department. The feedback ranged from identifying routes, to impediments to migration, to what the state and department could do to address the impediments.
In Montana, FWP identified these areas: the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex to the eastern side of the Rocky Mountain Front; Yellowstone National Park to the Paradise Valley; the Pintler Mountains to the Big Hole, Bitterroot and Upper Clark Fork river drainages; and the Canadian border to Fort Peck Reservoir.
"Identifying these corridors was really simple," said Greg Lemon, bureau chief for communication and education at FWP. "We've been working on habitat protection in these areas for decades. So our efforts will continue ..."
A common risk and threat identified in every state submission was wildlife/vehicle collisions, according to Interior. In every state, highways (and in some states railroads) create a barrier to big game migration, impeding genetic exchange among wildlife populations and access to better winter range or create direct mortality.
Beyond highways, other threats/risks to corridors and winter range that multiple states identified include: invasion of noxious weeds (five states); exurban and suburban development (five states); fencing creating a barrier to movement (four states); recreation timing during sensitive times (four states); and habitat destruction caused by feral horses (three states).
Only one state identified energy development; another specifically oil and gas development; and two states identified wind and solar development as threats/risks. Action on state-identified risks/threats are underway, according to the Interior, which pointed to Zinke's deferment of leases and innovative lease stipulations in Wyoming as an example.
In Wyoming, the Game and Fish Department has advised the Bureau of Land Management to keep surface oil and gas drilling disturbance out of an important 150-mile long mule deer migration corridor, according to a Casper Star Tribune story. But the state agency has no real authority on BLM lands.