Under fire for weakening protection of public lands, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has launched an initiative to improve habitat and migration corridors for antelope, deer and elk to enable increased wildlife watching and hunting.
Zinke issued an order setting out steps for mapping optimal corridors and pulling together scientific studies. This work will be done in cooperation with state wildlife officials and ranchers, Zinke announced in Salt Lake City at the end of last week.
“We all know that animals go where animals want to go, and more often than not that’s dependent upon natural features like watersheds, rather than whether land is owned by the BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management), state, or private landowners. We need to manage appropriately,” Zinke said in a prepared statement issued from the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo.
“My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this order will help establish better migration corridors for some of North America’s most iconic big game species like elk, mule deer and antelope,” Zinke said .
Trump administration officials in December declared they will shrink the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent and the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half – complicating efforts by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and others to preserve those fragile landscapes.
This downsizing faces lawsuits.
And officials in President Donald Trump’s administration are opening up 245 million acres of protected public land for increased oil and gas drilling.The large-scale planning initiated under President Barack Obama to give locals a voice and guide BLM leasing of federal public land to oil and gas companies has ended.
In this context, critics at the Center for American Progress, an environment-oriented think tank in Washington D.C., contend Zinke’s wildlife initiative is bureaucratic posturing.
Zinke’s order directs federal agencies to make plans to conserve the migration corridors and habitat wildlife need to survive. While Zinke did not specify square miles or how exactly corridors would be designated and kept clear, the order calls for collaboration with state wildlife agencies and private landowners to identify areas that used by deer, elk and antelope. The order also directs the U.S. Geologic Survey to work with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to create a repository for migration science and mapping of known migration routes — information to be used to help save wildlife.
“It’s fair to say there’s been controversy over the last year. But this is real. It is substantive. It is a refreshingly positive step in the right direction,” Pew Charitable Trusts conservationist Matt Skroch said Sunday afternoon.
Improving habitat and migration corridors across the West will help expand opportunities for big game hunting, a goal, federal officials said. That habitat is concentrated in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.