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Pew bugle-calls on Westerners to help migrating ungulates

A bull elk bugling
Neal Herbert

News brief

The Pew Charitable Trusts published a report on Tuesday laying out the latest science on Western animal migrations, and asking for help to preserve them.

“The report, fundamentally, is a call to action for conserving migrating wildlife that are essential to the ecology of our landscapes in the Western U.S., and also essential for our economics and our cultural identities,” said Matt Skroch, who manages a Pew program to conserve migration corridors.

Pew’s report highlights recent research on the seasonal movements of ungulates like pronghorn, mule deer and elk across the West. That includes GPS tracking data, migration changes among certain herds, and what happens when these ungulates either can’t migrate or have to navigate significantly fragmented routes.

When that happens, Skroch said, “what we see is population decline. And nobody wants that. That means less animals, a degraded ecosystem.”

Fewer migrating animals means less revenue from tourists, recreators and hunters, Skroch said.

They have cultural meaning, too.

“These animals have been a mainstay of North American Indigenous peoples’ food, clothing, and cultural practices for thousands of years,” the report states.

Some of the biggest inhibitors to animal migration also end up directly harming humans, like vehicle collisions on roadways.

“As animals traverse roads during seasonal migrations and at other times of the year, the resulting wildlife-vehicle collisions present substantial hazards and costs for motorists, including roughly 200 human deaths, 29,000 animal injuries, and the deaths of an estimated 1 million to 2 million large mammals, mostly deer, in the U.S each year,” the report states.

It added that these collisions cost drivers, businesses and taxpayers $6 to $12 billion annually.

Beyond roads, the report outlines several known barriers to migration routes, including fences, energy and mineral production, climate change, housing developments and recreation.

Even fenced solar farms can affect where these animals go.

To help animals overcome these barriers, Skroch says there needs to be cooperation across the board, including federal agencies, state governments, tribal governments and even private landowners.

The report noted that there are scientifically proven ways these stakeholders can help, like building wildlife overpasses and underpasses, reducing fencing, incentivizing conservation easements on private lands, and putting certain limits on energy and mineral development.

While these are already being used to some extent, the report calls on more cooperation all along these corridors to preserve these ungulates as they seek out nutrient-dense food and greener pastures year-round.

“The science is clear, and solutions exist. All that remains is for the various stakeholders to embrace those solutions,” the report states.

“When deployed in tandem, science and action can provide a bright future for the migrating wildlife that are emblems—and economic drivers—of the American West.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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