America’s Greatest Wildlife Migrations and Fossil Fuels

Are America’s Greatest Wildlife Migrations Being Sacrificed To Fossil Fuels?

WRITER AND ECOLOGIST FRANZ CAMENZIND INVESTIGATES WHY SOME OF GREATER YELLOWSTONE’S BIGGEST WONDERS ARE IMPERILED. EPIC JOURNEYS—VIEWS FROM THE FRONT LINES OF AMERICA’S GREATEST WILDLIFE MIGRATIONS

by Franz Camenzind Mountain Journal


Pronghorn in front of the Tetons: Over millennia pronghorn have moved between summer range in Grand Teton Park and lower-elevations in winter where they can escape deep snow. With navigational way-finding passed down from mothers to young across generations, the corridors they use pass through mountains, across rivers and openings in topography. If those routes get plugged by human development, migrations can be severely impacted.. Photo by Franz Camenzind

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is home to some of the last epic terrestrial wildlife migrations on earth. They still exist there because landscapes through which their corridors pass are largely unfragmented by human development. Conservation biologists compare them to the cardio-pulmonary systems of the human body. Like the heart pumping blood and nutrients to vital organs and appendages, elk, deer, pronghorn and other species move through the ecosystem imparting benefits to humans and other species, including native vegetation. Like inhaling and exhaling human lungs, herds migrate to the center of the ecosystem in summer and then, when the snow flies, travel hundreds of miles to winter range at lower elevations. These migrations are wonders of nature that have disappeared from most other areas in the Lower 48. This is the first part of an ongoing series titled, Epic Journeys—Views from the Front Lines of America’s Greatest Wildlife Migrations that will feature diverse perspectives.

Story by Franz Camenzind

Wildlife Scientist/Conservationist

You know how it feels when your favorite hunting spot is suddenly transformed into an oil and gas field. Or when you’re on an old Bureau of Land Management two-track and a locked gate with a new “No Trespass” sign stops you because the trail happens to cross a swath of private property. 

Such encounters are becoming all too common as the “New West” takes shape across the region. Being denied access to public lands leaves us frustrated at best and at worst, makes us fighting mad. 

Now, think for a minute, how you would feel if your life truly depended upon having that access? 

Today, access obstructed or denied is exactly what’s facing tens of thousands of mule deer and pronghorn antelope throughout the New West. 

Perhaps nowhere is this more acute then in Wyoming where oil and gas leases are being sold at a record pace, where well pads are being scraped clear of all living things and new roads are crisscrossing the once-wild landscape like spider webs. Where pipelines and pump stations are replacing sagebrush and cottonwoods. And where new fenced ranchettes with their associated paraphernalia are popping up like politicians at a Fourth of July picnic.