Game and Fish leader pressed on migration designation delays

USFWS photo

CHEYENNE – Pointing to a three-year delay in implementing Wyoming’s big game migration protection policy, some members of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce encouraged wildlife managers to act during the group’s final meeting. 

“We’re missing opportunities,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said at the Dec. 14 meeting in Cheyenne. “It frustrates me to no end to sit here and say, ‘Well, we have to have the best available science.’ We can’t afford the best available science for every single wildlife population or corridor in the state of Wyoming. If that becomes the bar, we’re going to miss a lot of opportunities and we’re going to develop some critical areas for wildlife.”

The Gov. Mark Gordon-appointed taskforce met over the course of two years to guide policy related to hunting opportunity and sportsperson access. Migration corridors were not among the issues the taskforce worked on, although an update to the policy — ordered by the governor — appeared on the agenda for the group’s final meeting. 

Next up in Wyoming’s migration designation queue is the Sublette pronghorn migration, a corridor that’s been known for decades and protected since 2008 in its northern reaches on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Designation of southern sections through the state’s process, however, has been consistently delayed.

History

Wyoming has been a leader in identifying dozens of big game migration routes that weave from its mountains to valleys and plains. The state sought to lead in the realm of protecting movement corridors, too, and from 2016 to 2018 progress was made: mule deer migration routes in the Green River Basin, Platte Valley and the Baggs area were all designated. But in early 2019 industry groups, from oil and gas to woolgrowers, asked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to pump the brakes and develop a process that addresses their interests. Ever since then migration designations have been at a standstill. 

Why it matters

The on-deck migration route awaiting designation is a path used by pronghorn that migrate up and down the Green River basin and beyond — including to Jackson Hole via the “Path of the Pronghorn.” The route is being nicked away by private land development exempted from Wyoming’s migration order. Public land portions, too, are potentially under siege, with threats in the region spanning from major natural gas fields to utility-scale solar energy development. 

Who said what

“I would encourage the (Game & Fish) to be as open as possible on this migration designation, because we’re getting a lot of push from people wanting to know why we haven’t done it yet,” said Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce member and soon-departing Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Pete Dube.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik called the process “a tight balancing act. 

“We don’t want to run this big reg flag that says the Game and Fish is trying to designate the state of Wyoming,” Nesvik said.