Nathan Martin: Animal Migrations

The Atlantic:

Much of the current research on migration taking place in Wyoming stems, at least in part, from the work of Hall Sawyer, who grew up hunting and fishing in the state and has studied its wildlife for more than 15 years. In the late 1990s, Sawyer tracked the migration of a herd of pronghorn from Grand Teton National Park more than 100 miles south into the Upper Green River Valley. Then, in the mid-2000s, he stumbled upon a revelation when he was tracking mule deer herds in a southwestern part of the state called the Red Desert.

“We thought the mule deer just resided year-round in the desert or migrated short distances out there,” he said. “That’s when we discovered that half of those deer were migrating some 150 miles.”

The migration Sawyer revealed is the second longest recorded land migration in North America—only Arctic caribou go further. But these mule deer do not travel across barren tundra. Between the herd’s winter range in the windblown Red Desert and summer habitat among the granite and cool timber of the Hoback Canyon, they travel through oilfields and skirt residential developments, swim reservoirs and finger lakes, and cross three highways and more than 100 fences. The migration traverses a complex patchwork of public and private land controlled by people and agencies with diverse, sometimes conflicting interests.

That a migration of such epic length existed in the first place—unknown, under science’s nose, in the 21st century—struck Sawyer as amazing. But as the excitement subsided, he started to think about how difficult it would be to ensure that such a migration could persist.

Fascinating story about animal migration and the research on elk migration in and around Yellowstone National Park.