The Bridger-Teton National Forest Migration Assessment

News for Immediate Release
Sept. 2, 2021
     Joy Bannon, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, [email protected], 307-287-0129 (cell)
     Nick Dobric, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, [email protected], 307-220-0436 (cell)
     Erik Kramer, BHA, [email protected], 307-690-1470 (cell)

Leading sportsmen and conservation organizations released a new report today titled “Conservation Assessment of Big Game Migration on Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.” The groups hope that this synthesis of wildlife data and information, including science-informed recommendations for forest management, will aid and guide planning decisions for the U.S. Forest Service as it undertakes a multi-year stakeholder engagement process aimed at revising the forest’s 31-year-old management plan. The report consolidates all available spatial information regarding wildlife movement corridors, crucial seasonal range, and habitat connectivity data for big game species, including elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain goat and moose, within the forest.  

The Bridger-Teton National Forest is located in Western Wyoming and comprises a large portion of the southern extent of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is the largest remaining intact ecosystem in the lower 48. The forest plan revision process was originally slated to begin in fiscal year 2022; however, the Forest Service recently announced that the start date has been pushed back and will now officially kick off in fiscal year 2023.

Migration is a key reproductive strategy for big game herds in the harsh climatic extremes of Western Wyoming as they move between seasonal ranges in the spring and autumn to access optimal forage, reduce exposure to harsh conditions and raise their young. Losing the ability to migrate can have severe deleterious consequences on big game populations. Fortunately, with the reduced costs of GPS-collar technology in the past decade, biologists have increasingly been able to record exactly how herds move across the landscape. By identifying and mapping these ancient routes that are passed down from mothers to offspring it is becoming easier for land managers to make precise, informed decisions about habitat conservation actions.

The Bridger-Teton is unique among national forests in that it completed a first-of-its-kind forest plan amendment in 2008 aimed at conserving the Path of the Pronghorn migration between the Green River Basin and Grand Teton National Park. More recently in 2016, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission identified and designated the Sublette mule deer corridor that has significant summer range on the B-T. Many other known migrations exist for big game in the forest, and this report, for the first time, has brought together all of the various streams of data to show exactly where key habitats overlap and are therefore most in need of conservation.  

The report also maps current land management designations on the forest, as well as existing uses and human disturbances such as roads, off-road use, timber harvest and energy development that could hinder movement for wildlife. It concludes by detailing several management best practices that have been employed around the country to help facilitate migration and movement for wildlife populations and makes recommendations to the USFS on how they could best maintain functional wildlife corridors and ensure ecological connectivity.  

Joy Bannon, Policy Director for Wyoming Wildlife Federation:

"The Bridger-Teton National Forest is 3.4 million public land acres that has contiguous ecosystems laden with headwater streams, pristine rivers, abundant wildlife, and healthy habitat. The hunting, fishing, camping and recreation opportunities are top notch with many family stories and memories made in this forest. The conservation assessment report gives the lay of the land for big game migration routes and land use patterns to aid in identifying key conservation areas. When the BTNF revises their management plan, these maps and data will be incredibly useful for hunters and anglers as well as land managers and other stakeholders."

Nick Dobric, Wyoming Field Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership:

“Wyoming has some of the most abundant wildlife and hunting opportunities in America, and the habitat that the Bridger-Teton National Forest provides is a big contributor to that. The national forest is home to some of the most dreamed after hunts – Wyoming Range mule deer, Thorofare elk, Wind River bighorn sheep. And as the report highlights, all these animals migrate every spring and fall – negotiating various obstacles. Ensuring all these migration corridors continue to function is critical to maintain this wildlife abundance and hunting opportunity. We look forward to the initiation of a revision to the national forest plan which will give the Forest Service the opportunity to ensure these migrations are maintained into the future.”

Erik Kramer, Wyoming Board Member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:

“The Bridger-Teton National Forest contains an abundance of truly remarkable big game migration corridors and other critical habitats vital to sustaining healthy populations of elk, mule deer, and other ungulates. The information and insight in this report will help inform and facilitate a cross-boundary, holistic, landscape-level approach to habitat conservation that is necessary to ensure the future viability of these extraordinary wildlife migrations.”  

The report can be downloaded here. Additionally, the report has an accompanying online mapping tool in which users can explore all of the report’s datasets in greater detail. 

The report was commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. Public Lands and Rivers Conservation Initiative.  

Suggested Citation: Yovovich, V., Gage, J., Fox, N. 2021. Conservation Assessment of Big Game Migration on Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 31p

About Erik Kramer

Hunter, angler, conservationist, public landowner. Bow or gun, fly or spin tackle, catch and release or catch/kill/eat. It's all good!

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