UW publishes migration conservation study

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WYOMING – University of Wyoming researchers published a new study exploring emerging big-game migration corridor conservation strategies meant to protect migration across vast and complex landscapes. The interdisciplinary study involves ecology, economics and law to examine migration habits.

The researched was published under the title “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: Conserving Big Game Migrations as an Endangered Phenomena” in the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum. The full report can be read at https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/delpf/vol31/iss1/2/.

Findings provide information about migration ecology and economic principles relevant to conserving migrations before examining the successes and shortcomings of current legalities and policies. The paper also outlines a potential future legal approach that aims to meet biological needs of migrating species and address the economic and social challenging of conserving species that cross a multitude of jurisdictional boundaries throughout annual movements.

Ecological studies have provided abundant evidence that migrations are critical to sustaining healthy populations of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, bison and bighorn sheep.

Western states like Wyoming and the U.S. Department of Interior have developed long-term policies to protect these vast wildlife movements, but those only apply to specific species and have struggled to balance coordination across large landscapes and multiple jurisdictions with local knowledge and implementation expertise, according to a statement accompanying the study’s release.

The study was led by Temple Stoellinger, an assistant professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair in the UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and College of Law. Heidi Alberts, Wyoming Excellence Chair of Conservation Economics, and Jason Shogren, Stroock Chair of Natural Resources Conservation and Management, were two professors from the UW Department of Economics who aided the study. Arthur Middleton of University of California-Berkley and Robert Bonnie of Duke University also contributed.

“As policymakers are wrestling with the challenge of protecting long-distance wildlife migrations across the West, this research takes a careful look at the various strategies being employed to find efficiencies and also identify approaches that stand to really achieve the goal of keeping migrations intact,” Stoellinger said. “This is necessarily an interdisciplinary endeavor, and working with scholars from different disciplines brought clarity to this question that could not have been found otherwise.”

Researchers argue for a cooperative federalism approach to balance need for national funding and coordination with local expertise and implementation. They specifically suggest defining a stronger federal policy to better guide local implementation across political jurisdictions, addressing conservation across state and international borders, incorporating values from local and national entities into policy and providing a stable funding source for conservation efforts as for a swath of projects including incentive-based conservation to address highway construction costs.

Researchers also emphasized the need for communication among states and tribes to identify and designate critical migratory corridors and seasonal habitats in need of protection. That communication was determined also necessary with private landowners to implement incentive-based conservation on private land.

“(D)eveloping a more explicit, coordinated policy to address these challenges and improve protection of migratory ungulates is a complex undertaking, compounded by the landscape scale and transboundary nature of migration, and the different views and values stakeholders place on migration conservation both at a local and national level,” the authors wrote.

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