WYOMING — A team from the Wyoming Migration Initiative (WMI), along with multiple other non-profits and government-funded organizations have tracked a mule deer doe’s migration patterns since 2016.
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and many other partners, for the first time, have now published a geonarrative of her record-breaking journey. Her 480-mile round-trip journey stretches from the greater Yellowstone ecosystem to southern Wyoming’s Red Desert. That’s the longest documented land migration in the lower 48 states and second only to caribou in North America.
According to the Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, Deer 255 and the rest of the herd follow an annual cycle tied to the spring green-up of plants so that they are always eating the most nutrient- and protein-dense greens, a phenomenon known as “surfing the green wave.”
“Deer strongly choreograph their movements to match the green-up, which means they are migrating for a couple of months, not just a couple of days,” said Matt Kauffman, director of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and the Wyoming Migration Initiative at UW. “These deer rely not only on habitat in their summer and winter ranges, but also along their migration routes.”
Kauffman and his team first fitted Deer 255 with a GPS collar in the Red Desert in spring 2016. Her GPS collar malfunctioned on her Island Park, Idaho before she migrated back to the Red Desert, which left researchers to wonder whether the long trip was a fluke. In 2018, Deer 255 was found and captured again and fitted with a new GPS collar. In the years since she has repeated the 242-mile journey and shorter variations.
The geonarrative was developed to be embedded in the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas that the USGS is creating for President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative.