New SGI Science to Solutions Report: Sage Grouse Conservation Benefits Migratory Mule Deer
Sage grouse habitat conservation protects critical habitat for mule deer, according to a study highlighted in the newest Sage Grouse Initiative Science to Solutions publication, “Sage Grouse Conservation Benefits Migratory Mule Deer.”
“The benefits to our highly-prized mule deer of the west demonstrates that the Sage Grouse Initiative is restoring an ecosystem harboring 350 other species,” said Tim Griffiths, SGI national coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Our Science to Solutions series offers practical application of research that identifies the most important landscapes for investments, quantifies the resulting outcomes, and provides managers tools for conservation.”
The study examined the overlap between two migratory populations of mule deer in Wyoming and lands with some level of protection for grouse.
“We were able to show that conservation measures for sage grouse in the Green River Basin doubled existing habitat conservation for migrating mule deer,” said Holly Copeland, landscape ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. She co-led the study with Hall Sawyer, research biologist with Western Ecosystems Technology.
The implication is that Wyoming’s sage grouse conservation policy will benefit mule deer, she said, since 77 % of the remaining high-priority private lands that are important for mule deer are priorities in sage grouse core areas.
The researchers also included scientists from the University of Wyoming, U.S. Geological Survey, and the NRCS, the agency that launched the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010 to achieve wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. The Initiative, now a large partnership, recently released a report summarizing conservation results and science (The Sage Grouse Initiative, Outcomes in Conservation).
These mule deer found forage at Torrey Creek Trailhead in Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Scott Copeland.
The team examined spatial data for deer migration and existing grouse conservation measures in the Green Basin an area that contains two of the largest natural gas fields in the U.S. and has become a focal point for conservation efforts.
Mule deer in western Wyoming migrate from high-elevation summer range in the mountains to low-elevation winter range in sagebrush basins. The deer face barriers in their seasonal migrations when they encounter residential homes, oil and gas development, roads, and fences.
Scientists examined information from 66 radio-collared adult female mule deer in the “Mesa” and “Ryegrass” populations over several years. They mapped the deer locations to reveal the high-use corridors and the stopover sites for rest and feeding. Then, they overlaid the deer migration data with categories of protected lands: Conservation easements on private lands (where Sage Grouse Initiative funding plays a major role), U.S Forest Service lands, and designated sage grouse core areas.
Holly Copeland with The Nature Conservancy provided the research behind this report.
The team found a high degree of overlap between conserved lands and deer migration routes. Overall, the study shows the strength of using sage grouse as an umbrella species with benefits to both grouse and deer.