Interior Announces Grants to 11 Western States for Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridor Scientific Research
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: March 8, 2020

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior has announced another round of $3.2 million in grant funding for 11 western states, bringing the Department’s and other stakeholders’ support of big game species habitat conservation and scientific research for migration corridors and winter ranges to more than $22 million. These grants are a part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to execute on Secretary’s Order 3362, “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.”

“Big game species such as deer, elk and pronghorn contribute to the West’s quality of life and provide hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “These grants will help states further their scientific research to ensure sustainable wildlife populations and improve the ongoing, collaborative, on-the-ground efforts to conserve habitat for these animals for generations to come.”

The funding supports 19 priority research projects chosen by recipient state wildlife agencies to help identify priority corridors or winter range areas, enhance data analysis and mapping and identify movement corridors that either cross or are impeded by highways. The Secretary’s Order directs appropriate bureaus within the Department to work in close partnership with the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming to enhance and improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat on Federal lands

Big game species migrate across thousands of miles of federal, state, Tribal and private lands during their annual journeys. Secretary’s Order 3362 fosters improved collaboration with states and private landowners and coalesces these groups around robust science to more effectively and efficiently target on-the-ground conservation in the highest priority, scientifically-defined migration corridors or winter range areas.

Last year, the Department supported 17 research projects with similar grants that totaled more than $3.2 million. Over the first two years of implementing Secretary’s Order 3362, $6.4 million has supported 36 research projects vital to scientifically identifying migration corridors and seasonal use areas (i.e. winter range). In addition to funding state-defined priority research projects, the Department has made available another $1.4 million over two years to assist state wildlife agencies with big game movement data analysis and corridor mapping, and almost $14.4 million has been matched in partnership-assisted grant funding for direct habitat conservation in support of the Order.

Of the recently funded projects, eight focus on mule deer, six on elk and five on pronghorn.
Examples of state-led research projects include:

Utah

The Boulder Mountain wildlife management unit in southern Utah hosts the highest timbered plateau in North America. The Boulder Mountain mule deer population is migratory, with animals using high elevation habitat on U.S Forest Service (USFS) lands in the summer and lower elevation habitats on the Bureau of Land Management and state lands in the winter. Currently, little is known about migration timing and the locations of migration corridors for mule deer in this area. Population movements appear to be rather complex, as deer that share the same summer range on USFS land have the option to move to over 15 different winter ranges. Research funding will allow scientists to mark 100 mule deer with GPS tracking collars and follow their movements over multiple years in order to describe migratory corridors and determine the relative importance of those winter ranges to the mule deer population.

“Right now, our state is one of the fastest growing in the country. Traffic is increasing; roads are expanding; and new residential and business developments are popping up everywhere you look. All that growth has the potential to impact how wildlife move and migrate. Secretary’s Order 3362 is critical to our effort to understand and preserve big game migrations,” said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Mike Fowlks. “In just two years, we have been able to capture and track the movements of over 300 mule deer and 30 pronghorn in six areas of the state because of this Order. The tracking data from several of those projects is being used right now to plan crossing and corridor easement projects, which is helping maintain healthy, abundant big game populations in the face of all the change that is occurring.”

Idaho

The McArthur Lake area is in northern Idaho and serves as a link between the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains. The area is used as a movement corridor by grizzly bears and wolverine, but the seasonal habitats and movements of elk in the area are not well understood. The funded research project will employ several techniques to assess the habitat movements of the elk. For example, scientists will mark 40 elk with GPS collars to monitor movements and seasonal ranges over 2 years, including interactions with US Highway 95 and railroad crossings. Additionally, they will deploy a grid of 119 trail-cameras across seasonal ranges and along US Highway 95 and railroads rights-of-ways. Data from the research project will allow investigators to determine the causes of radio-collared elk mortalities and to delineate and map elk seasonal ranges, movement routes, and stopover areas.

“Big game resources are highly valued by the people of Idaho, and healthy deer, elk, and pronghorn populations are important for both Idaho’s heritage and economy,” said Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever. “Funding made available through Secretary’s Order 3362 is greatly appreciated for its contribution to furthering ongoing big game management being conducted in support of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s mission and the benefit of Idaho’s citizens.”

Arizona

The area from the Grand Canyon south to Prescott is a top priority for Arizona Game and Fish Department for seasonal movements for pronghorn, elk, and mule deer. This is a large landscape so there is a need to narrow the focus on scientifically defined priority corridors in this area, however necessary data is lacking. The land ownership and public land management responsibilities range from the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and state-owned and private land. Current threats to big game and associated habitats in this area include vehicle-wildlife interactions (i.e. highways), future exurban and suburban development and pinyon-juniper encroachment. The project will deploy GPS collars on 30 elk and 30 mule deer south of I-40. Outputs from this research project will allow Arizona Game and Fish to delineate migration routes/corridors and subsequently provide the focus needed so partners and partnering agencies can conserve priority winter range and migration corridors through habitat conservation and other activities.

“The data obtained from this research will allow us to focus our conservation dollars in the areas that will maximize the continued health of these herds in an ever-changing landscape,” said Director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department Ty Gray.