Game & Fish Commission agrees to fund migration corridor research

WYOMING – The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission held its November meeting last week in Casper. The volunteer board voted on several major topics and had other substantial discussions related to Wyoming’s fish and wildlife.

The commission voted to approve 12-month licenses for fishing, small game, game birds, furbearers and conservation stamps. This came after a change in state law in 2018 allowing licenses not to expire at the end of the calendar year, but to expire 12 months from the date of purchase with the goal to be more customer friendly.

The commission also approved a fee to help Game and Fish offset costs of license purchases made with a credit card.

After a survey of Wyoming hunters the commission directed Game and Fish to draft a hunting regulation related to fair chase and new technologies. This would:

  • Allow traceable arrows to better track wounded prey.
  • Prohibit smart rifles, which are rifles that lock onto a target.
  • Prohibit enhanced sights for archery.
  • Mandate that hunters follow up on a shot to determine if an animal is wounded or killed.

This draft regulation would still have to go out for public comment in the coming months and the commission would have a final vote on the potential changes in April 2019.

Traceable arrows are becoming more and more popular. The technology may soon be legal in Wyoming. (Breadcrumb Bluetooth)

There was another significant discussion about migration corridor policy. Ultimately, the commission approved an additional $25,000 to evaluate existing GPS data. The research will shape guidelines to help determine the amount of surface disturbance inside a mule deer migration corridor that impacts mule deer use. The results will be used to guide further Game and Fish recommendations to land management agencies.

At this meeting the commission also approved Mule Deer Initiative projects for 2019. These involve six of Wyoming’s mule deer herds and would enhance more than 100,000 acres of key habitat and further research about mule deer movements. This is the 4th year of the commission’s Mule Deer Initiative, which is a significant investment in helping stem a west-wide population decline of the iconic species.

What is a big migration corridor?

A migration corridor is the pathway big game—like mule deer, pronghorn, elk, moose or bighorn sheep—use to travel from summer range to winter range. Wyoming is home to some of the longest big game corridors in the nation and they help make the state unique.

Multiple animals must use the same route or pathway for it to be considered a migration corridor. Wildlife migrations to winter ranges begin in October and they return to summer ranges beginning the following April.

Will Schultz

In Wyoming, corridors are crucial for the well-being of wildlife, so the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, along with research partners, study these bi-annual journeys to ensure corridors continue to function as important habitats in the future.

It wasn’t until the last several years that biologists could confidently plot the migration corridors big game animals, like mule deer, were hoofing it on using nearly identical routes. Projects like the Mule Deer Initiative and the University of Wyoming’s Migration Initiative helped fit deer with GPS collars and sparked a plethora of geographic data collection showing how deer migrated. In turn, that data revealed places where migration was challenging due to issues like bottlenecked passageways or roadway barriers and an increased threat of collisions with vehicles.

According to WGFD staff biologist Will Schultz, some migration corridors in Wyoming are classified as “vital habitats” under the department’s Corridor Strategy. With this designation, the Game and Fish, in consultation with stakeholders, conducts a risk assessment that land managers and others can use to evaluate development and identify conservation measures. Even if an area is designated, the public is still able to hunt, watch wildlife and recreate on those landscapes.

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