Sec. Zinke orders DOI to conserve elk, deer, pronghorn migrations

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke today ordered Interior Department agencies to conserve big game habitat in the corridors and winter ranges elk, mule deer, and pronghorn use as they migrate in and out of places like Yellowstone National Park.

Bull elk on the move. (Photo Tom Murphy.)

Bull elk on the move. (Photo Tom Murphy.)

The secretarial order, unveiled today at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo, calls on agencies within Interior to work with states and NGOs on the initiative. Recently mapped elk migrations covering hundreds of miles in Greater Yellowstone clearly demonstrate the importance of involving multiple agencies, landowners, and conservation interests. Wildlife migrating in and out of Yellowstone are the lifeblood of this ecosystem, and we believe their pathways should be protected.

elk migrations map - wmi.jpg
When I look at the map [of elk migration], I feel I can see Yellowstone’s beating heart. The routes are the veins and arteries, and the animals the blood.
— Arthur Middleton, wildlife biologist

The secretarial order also includes concepts GYC has spent years advocating for: That agencies update their land management plans to reflect all the things we now know about elk and pronghorn migrations, and that the updated plans align across boundaries. As the above map and Dr. Arthur Middleton's research shows, elk and other animals follow their ancient migration paths without regard for which agency manages the lands.

GYC believes the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the ideal place to demonstrate how this order can protect wildlife and their habitats. Now we expect the administration to fully invest in implementing this secretarial order. Protecting migration corridors and winter range will require solid partnerships with landowners, as well as significant funding through mechanisms like the Farm Bill and the Land & Water Conservation Fund. We look forward to working with Interior Department staff and with other organizations to implement Sec. Zinke’s order, to keep the beating heart of Yellowstone strong for generations to come.

-- Scott Christensen, Conservation Director