Gov. Mark Gordon prepares to sign his executive order protecting migrating wildlife. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

UPDATE: House Bill 215 and Senate File 135 have failed. House Bill 29 did not make the deadline for an introduction vote. -ED. 

Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday his executive order protecting wildlife migration routes makes competing legislation unnecessary.

The governor signed the 15-page mule deer and pronghorn order, which designates three existing corridors already officially adopted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The order allows the state wildlife agency to nominate new corridors that would be reviewed by a local working group and approved or rejected by the governor. (See the order below.)

It directs state agencies to hew close to conservation objectives, stating that “whenever possible development, infrastructure and use should occur outside of corridors.”

The order makes three competing bills in the Legislature moot, Gordon told WyoFile on Thursday. 

“I think they’re unnecessary,” Gordon said. Of sponsoring legislators who are pushing for more complex, time-consuming procedures, study and limits, he said, “I think they’re seeing ghosts.”

Gordon’s order is the first of its kind, he said at a signing ceremony. “We’re really leading the nation in this effort,” he told a herd of collaborators in the Capitol.

The order should break a minerals leasing logjam, Gordon told WyoFile. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has deferred numerous leases because of worries about migrating wildlife, he said.

“We could with good science identify these various migration corridors and get on with the business of managing our land,” he told WyoFile. Gordon’s designation process would “get rid of the uncertainty that’s clouding some of these areas,” he said.

Three competing bills

Three bills filed in the legislature would create different processes for protecting wildlife or limit the conservation of migration routes. Conservation groups have criticized them as unnecessary roadblocks in wildlife management.

The Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee has sponsored HB29 – Migration Corridor Designation. It would involve six state agencies and complex local working groups, “resulting in a growing government” and creating a “massive bureaucratic undertaking,” the Wyoming Wildlife Federation wrote in a statement.

Biologists used GPS tracking collars to discover America’s longest mule deer migration from the Red Desert to the Hoback Mountains in Wyoming. (photo by- Joe Riis )

HB215 – Designated migration corridors – limit, sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) and others, would cap the number of migration routes in Wyoming at seven. Larsen did not immediately return an email message seeking comment on the proposed limit.

SF135Migration corridors, sponsored by Sen Drew Perkins (R-Casper) and others, calls for setting up a system to propose and adopt migration corridor protections. The measure would unnecessarily “hit pause” on wildlife protection efforts, stall science-based management and waste government resources, the Wyoming Outdoor Council said in a statement.

Perkins’ bill also would work to protect highway wildlife crossings. The Game and Fish Department on Thursday announced a new wildlife highway protection initiative that calls for coordination with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to reduce vehicle collisions with animals.

Six thousand or so big game animals die in collisions annually, Game and Fish said in a statement. The initiative seeks “to reduce collisions and design roads with wildlife in mind,” agency director Brian Nesvik said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Steve Harshman (R-Casper), co-sponsor of Perkins’ bill, said Friday that carnage on roadways suggests there’s plenty of wildlife to go around and development is not hindering migrations. 

“I read a study once that the Pinedale Anticline [gas field] had a negative impact on [only] five mule deer,” he said. In contrast, he said, “I’ve smoked five deer [while driving] in the last five years.”

Scientific papers document a 36% decline of mule deer in the gas field just west of Pinedale.

People should be wary of executive orders, Harshman said. “We elect a governor, not a king,” he said. “When you sign an executive order, I think legislators pause.”

Support for Gordon

Many interest-group representatives embraced the governor’s order, but some with hesitancy. Gordon developed the order after months of study and drafting by a working group that traveled the state.

“I think our interests were heard,” Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said at the signing ceremony.

Pete Obermueller of the Wyoming Petroleum Association attends the signing and weighs in on the impact of the executive order protecting wildlife migration routes. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Oil and gas representatives were more circumspect. Noting “persistent low prices, global instability, and expanding regulatory burdens,” the Petroleum Association of Wyoming said the state lost 10 drilling rigs in the last year. The reduction equates to “a displacement of hundreds of jobs from the Wyoming economy and a loss of millions in revenue to fund Wyoming’s schools,” the organization said in a statement.

The association called for “a thoughtful implementation [of the executive order] that recognizes the need for balance and avoids further regulatory creep at a time when the state needs oil and natural gas revenues more than ever.”

Gordon’s order directs state agencies to protect deer and antelope migration routes nominated by the Game and Fish according to set procedures.

The Game and Fish Department and commission will identify corridors and publicize information about them. The governor would then appoint a working group to review the data before he acts.

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The order calls for a review of the existing Sublette, Baggs and Platte Valley mule deer migration corridors.

It directs Game and Fish to work with applicants to resolve differences regarding development. The governor will arbitrate disputes.

Permits for development inside corridors should be conditioned to protect wildlife use, the order says. The order recognizes valid existing rights and grandfathers existing uses.

— Andrew Graham contributed to this story.


Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. The known pronghorn migration corridor in Sweetwater county that became the sight for the state’s first industrial solar project is not among those “designated.” Apparently we would have to form a local working group that would then have to work with the BLM and the developer. Meanwhile, another project has already been proposed. Despite early stakeholder input that was against the project, despite that Sweetwater County’s Planning and Zoning now requires those stakeholder meetings, despite the Governor’s EO, and despite increased citizen engagement against the proposal, it moves forward. We need a landscape wide policy that identifies where such industrial development causes the least impact. We also need an energy development policy that promotes roof top and community solar over industrial projects on public lands.

    1. Totally agree Michele! The solar farm on Labarge road is just inviting potential big game/vehicle conflict! I appreciate Governor Gordon’s EO and his willingness to try to protect our slowly dwindling wildlife populations. The EO may not go as far as some would like, but it’s a start, and shows our governor’s concern for Wyoming’s wildlife heritage. Our legislators ( i.e. Harshman) need to get a grip and go beyond their own personal experiences with wildlife and broaden their horizons to include others. Perhaps Mr. Harshman should SLOW DOWN in an area that he knows big game are in. I’d hate to see his car if he really did “smoke” 5 of them da** things on the highway! He makes it sound as though big game are a nuisance. Maybe they are to him, but I’m pretty sure most of his constituency they aren’t! Pretty sure I haven’t hit that many in over 50 years of driving. Get a grip Mr. Harshman!

  2. Everyone should read “Wild Migrations: Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates” – it reveals that the science behind the designated corridors is sound – that is – the, best available science and the culmination of 40-50 years of research. Hopefully, we can make the right decisions about locating rural subdivisions and energy projects away from the corridors and avoid mistakes such as the solar farm debacle. Many of the conflicting projects have been a result of Federal actions. Wyoming, by taking the lead raises the bar and sets an example for Federal land managers and for County level government. Rural subdivisions can be serious threat to wildlife in general – in some cases, migration corridors can be set aside during the subdivision review process and formally dedicated on the subdivision plat map ( basically open space ). We’re making impressive progress in this area – read the book – it clarifies the matter.

  3. I didn’t know our legislature had such a cavalier toward wildlife. Every year the Game and Fish Department recognizes ranchers and farmers who have an enlightened view toward accommodating wildlife. Hopefully, the legislature can catch up.

  4. Guv Gordo made an oblate comment during his signing ceremony for the wildlife corridor executive order , quote : “We’re really leading the nation in this effort,” . It’s oblate because as near as I cand etermine after researching it, Wyoming is the only state in the Lower 48 that has need of large mammal migration corridor mitigation. What other state needs corridors ?

    Alaska’s North Slope has dealt with Caribou migrations, but most of that effort is federally driven and goes back to the 1970’s oil boom thereabouts . It was a no brainer and did not have to deal with local ranchers and a slew of small oil producers. There are also some wildlife underpasses in way South Texas, but are for smaller mammals , down to rodent level even. Nevada has a nascent program not so much for corridors but more along the lines of range improvement ( trying to create more sagebrush and less cheatgrass, for instance, which benefits all species ).

    Anything else that qualifies for corridor protection has more to do with migratory waterfowl or Salmon, and have long existed and again were federally driven. All the other Western States are barely getting going on talking about larger mammal wildlife corridor protections. Even in preliminary their discussions the resistance from stockgrowers and energy developers is keeping pace or overtaking the agendas. I feel what just happened in Wyoming with the Governor’s relatively weak protections by decree will backfire in other states when the outside special interests preemptively ramp up their objections to actual wildlife corridors being established. Montana most of all… the Stockgrowers up there are openly hostile to wildlife at every turn and they still call the shots at the State level . Ask the Bison leaving Yellowstone in winter…

    To my mind what Guv Gordo just writ with his order does not go nearly far enough in edifying real migration protections in those strategic parts of Wyoming where they are obviously needed. The order is more of an appeasement than a solid program. At least it is better than the two Legislative alternatives that were being discussed , but not robustly. So much more could and should be done.

    There is a sliver of a silver lining . It is rare when both the Stockgrowers and the Drillers are put in their place simultaneously by a Wyoming Republican Governor doing it and not by the federal EPA, USF&WS, Forest Service, or BLM bearing down , however gently. ,