Once the snow starts flying, ancient rituals unfold as some of the planet’s greatest animal migrations take place. Animals embark on these seasonal journeys to survive, taking advantage of the rolling availability of resources that vary over space and time. A need for food, breeding grounds or overwinter habitat is what drives these wildlife to different locations and elevations.
Decades of conservation work have revealed that once migratory corridors are severed, impeded or encroached upon, many migrating species have difficulty adapting. While some species are more adaptable than others, some, like the mule deer, struggle to cope.
In the American West where development and recreation, land use and climate change continue to shape the natural landscape, mule deer popula - tions have felt the impacts. Since 1970, mule deer populations have declined by 30% and continue on this downward trend.
With this alarming decline of mule deer numbers, scientists and conservation groups have banded together to better understand the factors at play. One such group, led by Dr. Matt Kauffman, is part of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit from the University of Wyoming.
Two researchers from this group have received funding through the SITKA Ecosystem Grant program to support ongoing work and research. Dr. Anna Ortega is currently studying short, medium and long-distance mule deer migratory behaviors.
Patrick Rodgers is currently studying the longest known buck mule deer migration across the Medicine Bow Wilderness. Among other efforts, he is helping to replace unneeded barbed wire fences with wildlife-friendly fencing.
What these projects have in common is a focus on improving the future of mule deer populations across the West by shedding light on the drivers that shape mule deer population resiliency and dynamics.