Mule deer

Mule Deer in winter along the migration corridor.

Consider the science, and recognize that even with multiple uses protected, there is a tipping point for mule deer herd health in southeastern Wyoming—this is the advice members of a statewide advisory group gave the Platte Valley Mule Deer Local Area Working Group during its second meeting Friday.

The Platte Valley Migration Corridor has been an official corridor since 2018, and was recognized as a designated migration corridor as part of Gov. Mark Gordon’s 2020 Migration Corridor Executive Order. Before creating the local working groups, a statewide advisory committee met to discuss the migration corridors at the 10,000-foot level

“As we all know, this is not something new,” Beth Callaway, natural resources policy advisor for the governor said at the Zoom meeting Jan. 8. “Migration corridors and the complexity of management are not something that just came out of the blue. It is certainly something that has a lot of history, and … there were previous processes that were designated to migration corridors that have evolved over time.”

Gov. Mark Gordon convened a state advisory group in 2019 to represent seven areas, which are also represented on the Platte Valley Working Group. Those include oil and gas, mining, agriculture, conservation, recreation, sportsmen and counties, and all development and uses were to be considered by the state-level work, and now at the local level.

“The underlying philosophy of what has worked into the executive order is a balanced approach to pronghorn antelope and mule deer conservation,” Callaway said. “It was very important to allow a process where there is substantial stakeholder input that would help guide policy recommendations.”

Near Carbon County, the Platte Valley is home to 12,000 mule deer that winter in the valley and move to summer ranges in the Snowy Range, Sierra Madres and foothills of North Park, Colo. The corridor includes public and private lands. The top concern for the corridor is maintaining connectivity between seasonal ranges.

Statewide advisory committee members spoke to the local working group about their process in 2019 on Friday. Jackson Hole Land Trust’s Max Ludington, who served on the state advisory group as a recreationalist, called the statewide process collaborative and one of compromise. The state advisory group also placed a heavy emphasis on private land rights, and “the recognition that the beneficial uses already taking place on private lands need to be incentivised,” Ludington said.

“There are potential impacts from an overly regulatory approach that could impact private land uses,” Ludington said, adding that there was also a heavy emphasis on science, and understanding the management already carried out by the Game and Fish.

“We really recognized that Wyoming, throughout its history, has managed to balance … successful industry, ranching uses and robust wildlife herds,” Ludington said. “We need to continue that, while also recognizing that there is a tipping point.

“The science is clear that there is a tipping point with some of these herds where you can not come back from it. If you sever these corridors, we are not going to come back from that damage,” Ludington said. “The need is to manage against these tipping points, as well as to think conservatively.”

Kathy Lichtendahl, a professional conservation photographer based in Clark, also served on the statewide committee.

“It was very much an effort of the entire group to come together, and we all had to compromise in certain areas,” Lichtendahl said.

She agreed that the group was science-driven, and aware of the need for conservation of the migration corridors.

“We are all very aware of the tipping point and the importance of not going past that,” she said. “Having said that, we also recognize the importance of the socioeconomic factors that go into this designation, and we are hoping that through the local working groups, some of that will come into play.”

Lichtendahl said that in fact, corridors could be enhanced by the inclusion of local voices in the process, as is happening with the Platte Valley Mule Deer Local Area Working Group.

Marty Stearns, a member of the statewide committee on behalf of mining as an environmental engineer, said the statewide group also discussed the “complexity and the bureaucracy of the federal government, and the BLM holdings and the checkerboard land holdings.”

“The committee drove in the direction of a statewide and local control process with the corridor,” Stearns said. “We came to a consensus of what was best for the multiple use of the area, as well as keeping in mind what was best for the wildlife to maintain the vitality of the corridors and the population.”

Callaway said the agenda for the next working group meeting will include asking specifics about the Platte Valley herd with a goal of drilling into the governor’s asks of the group, which is developing a recommendation for the management of the southeastern Wyoming corridor.

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