Wyoming Migration Initiative studies, protects corridors
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — The University of Wyoming’s Migration Initiative has made waves in the field of migration research, mapping some of the longest and most famous corridors in the country — and protecting those corridors through education and conservation efforts.
Wyoming Cooperative Research Unit Leader Matthew Kauffman said Wyoming has emerged as a leader in this field.
“We have some of the most intact landscapes and, now, some of the most well-documented and most impressive migrations in the west that are still intact,” Kauffman said. “The work that’s been done — both in terms of research and conservation and policy — around these corridors has become sort of an example of how you map and understand and conserve corridors around the West.”
He added, much of this is thanks to Wyoming’s unique cultural history and environmental setting.
“Wyoming is unique in that we still have a lot of long distance migrations because there’s so few people in the state,” Kauffman said. “And so, it’s been kind of a focus for wildlife research at the University of Wyoming for over a decade. About five years ago, we realized there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm for conserving these corridors around the state.”
The initiative represents an effort to turn that research into action, the Laramie Boomerang reported .
“So, there was all this new research, but it wasn’t really getting in the hands of the people that were either doing the work on the ground or making policies to manage corridors,” Kauffman said. “So, we created the Wyoming Migration Initiative as sort of a means of amplifying work that we were doing — myself and other researchers — around migration corridors in Wyoming.”
The initiative aims to conserve migrations by doing research, while also developing new tools and methodologies that allow land managers to identify important corridors.
“We (also) have a really strong focus on public education — helping people understand why these corridors are important and some of the threats that they face,” Kauffman said. “It’s been very successful on all those fronts.”
Migration is important, Kauffman said, because big game herds cannot prosper if they stay in one location all year.
“Migration is essentially the solution these animals have to live in Wyoming’s landscape of mountains and plains,” he said. “And it allows them to essentially get the best of both worlds — to be up in the mountains in the spring and the summer when there’s great forage production up there, but then when the snows come, they migrate out of the mountains into the valley.”
Many corridors run through or next to small communities, meaning residential or rural development can impede the routes animals take from one location to another, Kauffman said, adding energy development can also impact animals on the move, though it is unlikely to completely block a corridor.
“If you lose your migration corridor, you get stuck on one seasonal range and it’s really hard,” he said. “When that happens to a migratory herd, they tend to suffer, they tend to decline in numbers and sometimes that leads to extirpation.”