Nature’s interconnectivity between the basinlands and high mountain areas of the Greater Yellowstone Region and beyond have long been known by Indigenous peoples who followed the seasonal movements of deer, pronghorn and elk.

Modern technology, such as GPS tracking, has helped visualize the impressive scope of these ancient ungulate migrations that still lace together a complex ecosystem — even in the face of modern pressures on the landscape.

“These powerful animals sometimes move in a way that is beyond description,” Eastern Shoshone tribal member George Abeyta said. “To see them, to witness this, let’s us know they are worth protecting.”

Abeyta’s observations are part of the opening narration to “Animal Trails: Rediscovering Grand Teton Migrations,” a new film produced by the Wyoming Migration Initiative. The film documents how the ungulates — glimpsed by millions of annual visitors to the Bridger Teton National Forest and Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks each summer — travel long distances to low-land winter sanctuaries far beyond.

Mule deer browse in a wheat field on private land near Teton Canyon, Idaho, after migrating 40 miles from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The new film “Animal Trails: Rediscovering Grand Teton Migrations” documents how mule deer and other big game species migrate beyond the national park for part of each year to meet their habitat and nutritional needs. (National Park Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game)

“Over the last decade, there has been a concerted effort to map migrations [to and from] Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding states and the Wind River Indian Reservation,” Wyoming Migrations Initiative writer and filmmaker Gregory Nickerson said. “All of that information has really shown how it’s an interconnected landscape, particularly for mule deer. The incredible maps that have been produced show these migrations spiraling out in all directions.”

In addition to the science and technology — as well as a lot of incredible film work — to reveal the exact seasonal movements of the animals, it takes a massive cooperative effort among multiple jurisdictions to understand how to adapt modern human activities to help sustain them. 

“We can see what they need to survive and try to respond to that as stewards of the land,” Nickerson said. “That’s kind of the ethic that you’ll see infused throughout” the film.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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