A series of recommendations sent to the governor Monday laid out a possible blueprint for how Wyoming could protect and preserve its iconic migration corridors for years to come.
Efforts to find harmony between energy suppliers, conservationists, landowners, public officials and others were on full display this summer. The governor’s Migration Corridor Advisory Group met a half-dozen times to debate how to keep migratory ungulates healthy while not hampering vital economic growth.
Though the well-worn debate over migration corridors has often pitted energy developers against environmental groups, some in the advisory group suggested an oft-overlooked middle ground exists, too.
Rancher Marissa Taylor was tapped by Gov. Mark Gordon to serve on the advisory group and represent landowners from Uinta County in rural southwest Wyoming this year.
“The governor picked people who believe in the long-term health of Wyoming and want to have hard, but important, conversations,” Taylor said. “I don’t think he picked people who normally get to come to these conversations, because I don’t think he was looking for the same answers.”
Taylor’s family ranch sits nestled in Lonetree, a community that hugs Wyoming’s southern border. The lifelong Wyomingite gave an impassioned pitch for finding some consensus on the issue of migration corridors.
“If we penalize oil and gas and take away millions of dollars, what does that look like for our school teachers?” Taylor asked. “But if we heavily develop these corridors and continue to operate without regard for our migration corridors and lose large groups of species, what does that mean for Wyoming?
“There has to be something in the middle and I hope that’s the voice that gets carried forward from this group.”
Taylor considers the migration corridors part of an “intricate system” affecting nearly every corner of Wyoming life. Solutions to managing the routes have to reflect that complexity, she continued. And the advisory group found the necessary policies may not be simple. Settling on the recommendations, issued to the governor Monday, required some degree of compromise from every person in the advisory group, she said.
On a map, the state’s three designated migration corridors appear like a tangle of intricate spiderwebs across the face of Wyoming’s untamed lands.
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Largely concentrated in southwest Wyoming, the state officially recognizes the Baggs, Platte Valley and Sublette (Red Desert-to-Hoback) migration corridors. Biologists suggest more exist but lack a formal name or designation from the state.
Migration corridors have served for centuries as critical pathways for ungulates on the move, like mule deer, pronghorn and elk.
“The group did use consensus and did not agree with everything full-heartedly,” Renny MacKay, senior policy adviser for Gordon, said during a webinar on the issue Thursday.
Ultimately, they settled on broad and adaptable recommendations that considered the unique needs of the state, conservation, recreation, mining, agriculture, and oil and gas, he said.
There was also a push to modify how corridors come to be identified by the state. The team recommended launching local working groups before the state formally designates new corridors.
By asking local residents and stakeholders on the ground for their opinions on the migration corridors, the state not only receives helpful feedback from working groups, but it also breeds greater investment in the corridors, Taylor said.
The group also prioritized the protection of what scientists have identified as the most critical portions of migration corridors, such as high-use areas and stopovers.
“When I look at those recommendations, I see a real attention to detail about what it is our wildlife need to survive,” said Kristen Gunther, a conservation advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, who participated in the discussions held by the advisory group this summer.
Interest groups have continued to chew over the recommendations this week, considering how they might translate into the anticipated executive order. The governor wants to institute policy that promotes healthy wildlife and healthy industry, MacKay said.
“I see a lot of effort and consensus frankly from various stakeholders that came to the table with very different backgrounds to recognize that and try to create a path for both opportunity and the importance of protecting our economy, but also the critical value of our wildlife,” Gunther said. “People really overwhelmingly believe in balance, responsible decisions and trade-offs.”