Here in the Cowboy State, hunting isn’t just a pastime, it’s a way of life. And for generations the dirt under our fingernails and the game in our freezers has come from our world-class public lands. So, when there are plans to drill in our most significant big game migration corridor, sportsmen are right to have concerns. Current plans to lease public lands that are in the middle of a critical mule deer migration route could harm Wyoming’s wildlife and hunting legacy.
Wyoming is renowned for offering some of the nation’s most incredible hunting opportunities, and in the heart of our state lies the Red-Desert-to-Hoback migration corridor. Each year, thousands of mule deer travel more than 150 miles one way from their winter range in the Red Desert to the Hoback Basin in order to find the food they need to survive the next winter. This four-month migration is the longest ever recorded in the United States, and it brings impressive big game right into the heart of Wyoming’s public land, opening up hunting opportunities for everyone. The first-year hunter, fresh out of hunter’s education, having sighted in her grandpa’s rifle at the range, steps onto her and our public lands hoping to punch her first tag. This heritage is priceless.
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This is an opportunity Wyomingites cannot afford to lose. But each year, this migration is increasingly put at risk. Mule deer have learned to navigate the barriers of highways and fences, but if bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. have their way, the deer will soon have to contend with massive oil and gas drilling operations as well. Folks, deer populations are taking it on the chin. There’s no sense in talking fluff and feel-good dialogue. Talk to anyone who has been paying attention and our mule deer numbers are dwindling at a pace that few can fathom. Over the past two decades, mule deer numbers are down more than 40 percent. This is more than alarming, and I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but at this pace of decline, you would have to have your head in the sand to not think this is a crisis if you value our mule deer resource.
There isn’t a silver bullet that will stop or even remedy this decline. There are several factors limiting the growth and sustainability of our mule deer herds. As stewards of this incredible resource, it is vital that we do our part to limit the actions that we know with science-based findings will negatively impact deer populations, including limiting oil and gas development in a designated corridor such as the Red-Desert-to-Hoback migration corridor.
As a Wyoming native I understand the economic significance of the energy industry to our state and, equally important on the home front, the importance of oil and gas to the family, friends and neighbors of mine that make their living in this industry. I am not against oil and gas development, never have been. The Muley Fanatic Foundation isn’t against oil and gas development, never has been. To the contrary, MFF has partnered with several oil and gas companies on some of the most impactful conservation projects that have taken place on the Wyoming landscape in the last seven years. This isn’t about being for or against oil and gas. We just have to recognize what is at stake and the impending consequences if we allow the fragmentation of this iconic migration corridor.
At Muley Fanatic Foundation, we have built an entire organization around the importance of mule deer. We believe that the conservation of mule deer is a lifelong investment and one that is worth the effort, for the sake of Wyoming’s long-term wildlife health and our rich tradition of hunting big game. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to join the conversation around oil and gas drilling on our public lands. Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid, who owns and operates SOS Well Services, as well as local elected officials, like the Sweetwater County commissioners, have already expressed just how unique this corridor is. We join them in asking hunters and recreators to advocate against drilling in this area. Land as valuable as the Red-Desert-to-Hoback migration corridor simply shouldn’t be available for oil and gas extraction. It’s just common sense, and it’s what we need in order to preserve our outdoor legacy for generations to come.
Joshua Coursey is president, CEO and co-founder of the Muley Fanatic Foundation, a nonprofit committed to engaging local stakeholders to keep mule deer conservation, the furthering of the sport of hunting and sound wildlife management a staple of discussion and action.