Capturing the Imagination: The Longest Mule Deer Migration

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Maintaining the integrity of the longest mule deer migration route is essential

By Ilana Williams, staff ecologist
Ilana Williams

Seasonal movements of large animals across vast landscapes have long captivated the human imagination.

Globally, few of these historic migration corridors remain intact enough to be used by migratory animals. So we are fortunate that many of our landscapes in Wyoming are still relatively unobstructed and historic migrations persist here.

In April, researchers from the University of Wyoming unveiled the discovery of a mule deer migration corridor stretching 150 miles one-way from the Red Desert’s Leucite Hills to the Hoback Basin in the Wyoming Range. This is the longest known mule deer migration.

As seasons change, animals move between landscapes, following the highest quality forage across great distances and varied elevations. Herds follow the same route year after year as knowledge of the historic pathways are passed down from mothers to offspring.

The fact that thousands of mule deer are still able to migrate in Wyoming—and in this instance, for a record number of miles—is a testament not only to the adaptability of these animals, but also to the robust habitats and largely undeveloped spaces of western Wyoming.

Scientists at the University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit have developed the Wyoming Migration Initiative to present research about, and bring awareness to, critical migration corridors that exist throughout the state.

A key component of the Migration Initiative is an assessment of this corridor. This migration assessment identified the top 10 threats to the corridor’s continued viability. This report provides a framework that land managers, agencies, hunters, outfitters, conservation organizations, and others can reference as we work together to identify opportunities to safeguard this corridor.

Maintaining the integrity of this migration route is essential to maintaining the health of western Wyoming mule deer populations. Beyond that, this corridor maintains and supports so many of our Wyoming values. We cherish open space, thriving wildlife, and wildlands.

As an ecologist, I am continually inspired by the evolutionary ability of species—in this case mule deer—to adapt and persist. I also know our wide-open spaces and undeveloped landscapes are equally important to the success of these mule deer.

The importance of maintaining this migration corridor is amplified by the relatively new challenges of balancing responsible energy development, a changing climate, and the need to preserve these species that embody the very core of our Wyoming values. By working to protect this corridor we pay homage to Wyoming’s natural heritage and to the marvels that I hope will always continue to captivate our human imaginations.

 

Contact: Ilana Williams, staff ecologist, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307.332.7031 x16, ilana@wyomingoutdoorcountil.org.

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