Wildlife Migration and Movement

By Gregg Servheen

Lately it seems like there is a lot of talk about wildlife migration and its roll in wildlife conservation and management. Not only in Idaho but everywhere! So, what’s the deal? Wildlife has been around forever. So why now and where is all this headed?One reason for all the talk about wildlife migration and movement is technology. What used to be radio transmitters on wildlife are now satellite transmitters. What used to be weekly or monthly locations can now be by the minute, hour, or daily locations. What used to require tracking animals in the field is now done by satellites with automatic downloads of locations direct to computer.

bull elk
Bull Elk in Rut | Charlie Lansche

When this technology is combined with science, this makes a big difference in what we know about why, where, and when an animal is moving. And about how it is using its habitat and the landscape it lives in. In human terms, wildlife science has changed from being able to say “someone lives in Idaho Falls” to now being able to say “someone lives in Idaho Falls, they commute 1 hour each morning to Ashton for work, they have lunch in Preston on Thursdays, they take a different road to get back home from work every evening, they shop at the Albertsons on 590 East 17th, they go to Freeman park on Saturdays, to church on Sundays, and travel to the coast every year for two weeks in August to go fishing.”This game changing technology, when combined with a designed scientific study has given us new insights into mysteries about wildlife we have never understood until recently. Where a long-time rancher might notice that pronghorn antelope moved through the area every September, now the technology and science can deliver reliable and predictable information about such movements and what they mean. Satellite locations of marked animals collected every day or even every few hours can now be used to describe the paths of animal movements and the conditions they prefer when they move. We can now find out if some animals are migratory and some are not. If they use the same path or many different pathways. And if they key in on areas of spring green up or they respond to weather. And we can determine if animals learn these pathways from adults or if they inherit their migration tendencies.So much better science and information on wildlife movement and migration is why you are hearing about it more. And why you hear more about improving management decisions to help prevent or reduce barriers to wildlife movement. Managers now have much greater confidence in making recommendations to invest in actions that would benefit wildlife’s ability to move to find food and mates. And for all of us who love wildlife, we can now know that making sure wildlife can move, migrate and stay connected makes both scientific and management sense, and is one more thing we can do to preserve, protect, and perpetuate Idaho’s wildlife.Gregg is a wildlife biologist and Henrys Fork Wildlife Alliance board member.