Interior Announces Research Grants to 11 Western States

Interior announced $3.2 million in support of big game species habitat conservation and scientific research for migration corridors and winter ranges.
Interior announced $3.2 million in support of big game species habitat conservation and scientific research for migration corridors and winter ranges.

 SUIndependent.com  by Guest Contributor, March 15, 2020

Interior Announces Grants to 11 Western States for Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridor Scientific Research

In February, the Department of the Interior  announced another round of $3.2 million in grant funding for 11 western  states, bringing the department’s and other stakeholders’ support of big  game species habitat conservation and scientific research for migration  corridors and winter ranges to more than $22 million. These grants are a  part of the department’s ongoing efforts to execute on Secretary’s  Order 3362, “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range  and Migration Corridors.”

“Big-game species such as deer, elk, and pronghorn  contribute to the West’s quality of life and provide hunting and  wildlife viewing opportunities,” said Secretary of the Interior David  Bernhardt. “These grants will help states further their scientific  research to ensure sustainable wildlife populations and improve the  ongoing, collaborative, on-the-ground efforts to conserve habitat for  these animals for generations to come.”

The funding supports 19 priority research projects  chosen by recipient state wildlife agencies to help identify priority  corridors or winter range areas, enhance data analysis and mapping, and  identify movement corridors that either cross or are impeded by  highways. The secretary’s order directs appropriate bureaus within the  department to work in close partnership with the states of Arizona,  California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah,  Washington, and Wyoming to enhance and improve the quality of big-game  winter range and migration corridor habitat on federal lands.

Big-game species migrate across thousands of miles  of federal, state, tribal, and private lands during their annual  journeys. Secretary’s Order 3362 fosters improved collaboration with  states and private landowners and coalesces these groups around robust  science to more effectively and efficiently target on-the-ground  conservation in the highest priority, scientifically-defined migration  corridors or winter range areas.

 Last year, the department supported 17 research  projects with similar grants that totaled more than $3.2 million. Over  the first two years of implementing Secretary’s Order 3362, $6.4 million  has supported 36 research projects vital to scientifically identifying  migration corridors and seasonal use areas (i.e. winter range). In  addition to funding state-defined priority research projects, the  department has made available another $1.4 million over two years to  assist state wildlife agencies with big game movement data analysis and  corridor mapping, and almost $14.4 million has been matched in  partnership-assisted grant funding for direct habitat conservation in  support of the order.

Of the recently funded projects, eight focus on mule deer, six on elk, and five on pronghorn.

Examples of state-led research projects include  the Boulder Mountain wildlife management unit in southern Utah, which  hosts the highest timbered plateau in North America. The Boulder  Mountain mule deer population is migratory, with animals using high  elevation habitat on U.S Forest Service lands in the summer and lower  elevation habitats on the Bureau of Land Management and state lands in  the winter. Currently, little is known about migration timing and the  locations of migration corridors for mule deer in this area. Population  movements appear to be rather complex as deer that share the same summer  range on USFS land have the option to move to over 15 different winter  ranges. Research funding will allow scientists to mark 100 mule deer  with GPS tracking collars and follow their movements over multiple years  in order to describe migratory corridors and determine the relative  importance of those winter ranges to the mule deer population.

“Right now, our state is one of the  fastest-growing in the country,” said Utah Division of Wildlife  Resources Director Mike Fowlks. “Traffic is increasing, roads are  expanding, and new residential and business developments are popping up  everywhere you look. All that growth has the potential to impact how  wildlife move and migrate. Secretary’s Order 3362 is critical to our  effort to understand and preserve big game migrations. In just two  years, we have been able to capture and track the movements of over 300  mule deer and 30 pronghorn in six areas of the state because of this  order. The tracking data from several of those projects is being used  right now to plan crossing and corridor easement projects, which is  helping maintain healthy, abundant big game populations in the face of  all the change that is occurring.”