Coloradans welcome BLM’s pledge to conserve migration corridors

One of the ways my kids and I have been passing the time at home over the past several weeks has been to recall some of our favorite camping trips.

I love to hear which parts of the trips they recall most; the hot dog-shaped restaurant we stopped at for lunch, the time we brought the summer-weather tent by accident and had to sleep in the car, making campfires.

My older son likes to describe an adventure we had in State Forest State Park when he was four. He recalls a man and his eight-year-old daughter who camped nearby with their ATVs. They would head out each morning to hunt elk, and they were so kind to give him a ride around the campsite. That trip marked the first time he caught a trout and produced an unforgettable moment when a bull elk suddenly bugled from the darkness as we sat around the campfire. It was the first time my son had heard such a sound and we stared at each other in entranced silence.

Memories like these came to mind when I read an April 10 press release from the Colorado Bureau of Land Management regarding the completion of a land use plan revision for its Uncompahgre Field Office. The Colorado BLM manages 8.3 million acres of public land in the state for a variety of uses like recreation, energy development, conservation, and livestock grazing. Significantly, the April 10 announcement stated that the BLM has committed to amend land use plans across Colorado to better account for conservation of big game habitat and migration corridors. I commend the BLM for taking this important, proactive step.

Colorado’s deer and elk populations are among the most revered in the country, thanks to the quality and amount of habitat and the animals’ ability to travel between their different ranges throughout the year. Hunting of these species manages their populations and supports a $3 million annual hunting and fishing economy in the state that helps power our rural communities. This is one reason why Gov. Jared Polis signed Executive Order D2019-011 in August 2019, prioritizing the conservation of big game migratory habitat. While the order recognizes the role state agencies play, big game conservation requires an all-lands approach because the habitat spans ownership and management boundaries.

Big game species, including deer, elk, pronghorn and moose, range across 10 BLM field offices and seven national forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service, as well as state-managed lands and private property. On federal lands, land use plans direct the allowable actions on public lands, and they are in many cases several decades old. These plans generally do not account for advances in science and technology that show how and where big game species move across the landscape. To be more specific, less than half of the current BLM plans in Colorado — and even fewer of the Forest Service’s — recognize that wildlife migrations even exist, let alone manage for them.

The lack of recognition of migration corridors — areas through which large numbers of wildlife migrate and thus serve a vital role for long-term survival — in public land management plans is resulting in lost opportunities to conserve wildlife. For example, the BLM may be ill-equipped to prioritize habitat improvement projects where conifer encroachment has reduced wildlife forage or where fencing impedes wildlife movement, and developments aren’t being designed to ensure that big game can move freely.

Fortunately, the BLM acknowledges the need to amend these plans, and its intent to begin a public process creates an opportunity for Coloradoans to be part of a solution to conserve big game habitat. The hunting and fishing community is committed to engaging productively in the BLM’s planning effort — along with the state of Colorado, local governments and other stakeholders — to ensure its success. The BLM deserves a pat on the back for this commitment that will help ensure kids like mine will still have opportunities to hear the bugle of a bull elk and enjoy the wildlife that we know and love in Colorado today.

Madeleine West is Western Lands director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a non-profit sportsmen’s conservation organization that works to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. She previously served as assistant director for parks, wildlife, and lands at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources where she developed state-level policy related to wildlife, outdoor recreation, state lands, and forestry issues. Madeleine resides in Denver and enjoys Colorado’s outdoors with her two sons.

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