Pronghorn spring across a sagebrush-covered hillside in front of the Wind River Range. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is catching heat for delays in designating a migration corridor for the species in the area. (Dave Showalter)

Pointing to a three-year delay in implementing Wyoming’s big game migration protection policy, some members of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce encouraged wildlife managers to act during the group’s final meeting. 

“We’re missing opportunities,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said at the Dec. 14 meeting in Cheyenne. “It frustrates me to no end to sit here and say, ‘Well, we have to have the best-available science.’ We can’t afford the best-available science for every single wildlife population [or] corridor in the state of Wyoming. If that becomes the bar, we’re going to miss a lot of opportunities and we’re going to develop some critical areas for wildlife.”

The Gov. Mark Gordon-appointed taskforce met over the course of two years to guide policy related to hunting opportunity and sportsperson access. Migration corridors were not among the issues the taskforce worked on, although an update to the policy — ordered by the governor — appeared on the agenda for the group’s final meeting

Next up in Wyoming’s migration designation queue is the Sublette pronghorn migration, a corridor that’s been known for decades and protected since 2008 in its northern reaches on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Designation of southern sections through the state’s process, however, has been consistently delayed.

History:

Wyoming has been a leader in identifying dozens of big game migration routes that weave from its mountains to valleys and plains. The state sought to lead in the realm of protecting movement corridors, too, and from 2016 to 2018 progress was made: mule deer migration routes in the Green River basin, Platte Valley and the Baggs area were all designated. But in early 2019 industry groups, from oil and gas to woolgrowers, asked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to pump the brakes and develop a process that addresses their interests. Ever since then migration designations have been at a standstill. 

Why it matters: 

The on-deck migration route awaiting designation is a path used by pronghorn that migrate up and down the Green River basin and beyond — including to Jackson Hole via the ‘Path of the Pronghorn.’ The route is being nicked away by private land development exempted from Wyoming’s migration order. Public land portions, too, are potentially under siege, with threats in the region spanning from major natural gas fields to utility-scale solar energy development

Who said what:

“I would encourage the department to be as open as possible on this migration designation, because we’re getting a lot of push from people wanting to know why we haven’t done it yet,” said Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce member and soon-departing Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Pete Dube.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik called the process “a tight balancing act. 

“We don’t want to run this big reg flag that says the Game and Fish is trying to designate the state of Wyoming,” Nesvik said. 

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. By now Wyoming residents shou;d realize that the Game & Fish Department will always appease the Stockgrowers first . The consequence is G&F has become a livestock management agency in too many places; managing what should be wildlife as a game animal or semi-domestic livestock . Wildlife are wildlife. Game and livestock are crops that are managed for harvesting. The distinction is sharp.
    Remember, it’s Wyoming GAME & Fish , not Wyoming Wildlife. Unfortunately , after catering to the wishes opf the Stockgrowers, the Game & Fish then does what it can to appease extractive industry to the extent possible. Once again , wildlife are downgraded to become an animal commodity and treated as a bulk resource , not as ecological biological entities with inherent right to live on the land unencumbered by human financial interests. Somehow we have forsaken that…

  2. Isn’t the mission of Game and Fish to protect and preserve wildlife? The only way to do that with these migrating ungulates is to designate their corridors. This agency needs to make sure this happens. Now.

  3. Once Game and Fish designates the Green River corridors there are options available such as;
    1.) Conservation groups could purchase conservation easements along the designated corridors from private landowners which would allow the private landowner to continue grazing but not subdivide or erect structures within the designated migration corridors.
    2.) Game and Fish’s real estate department could purchase specific easements across private land from private landowners. The WWTF might be able to contribute some monies towards this effort as well as non-profit advocacy groups.
    3.) Sublette County could revise their land use plan to include the Game and Fish designated corridor such that the corridor would have an agricultural zoning designation without land use changes that might upgrade land use to commercial or industrial or residential.
    4.) Split estate property wherein the surface estate is private and the mineral estate is federal, would require mineral lease stipulations requiring angle drilling for oil and gas under the migration corridor and NSO ( no surface occupancy ) within the designated migration corridor.

    However, these options are dependent on Game and Fish identifying the designated migration corridors within the Green River area. Corridor designation must come first and then we can get to work on the various options to make it work.

  4. What does Director Nesvik not want people think that WGF is “trying to designate the State of Wyoming”?