On February 3 during the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) hosted a forum to discuss strides taken to implement Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3362 (SO 3362) and work still needed to improve big game migration corridors and seasonal ranges. MDF’s Western Big Game Migration Forum brought together more than 50 senior leaders from federal, state, non-profit, and industry partners who are actively engaged in wildlife connectivity. On the same day, the organizations celebrated the 5th anniversary of the signing of SO 3362 that has served as the catalyst for the collaborative conservation efforts on the issue.
“Secretarial Order 3362 was signed on February 9, 2018, at the Mule Deer Foundation booth during the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, and it was fitting that we were able to celebrate its 5-year anniversary at our booth at this year’s Hunt Expo,” noted Mule Deer Foundation President/CEO Joel Pedersen. “SO 3362 marked a turning point to drive coordinated efforts, focus funding, and encourage collaboration on something we all hold dear: our great western landscapes that are home to mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and hundreds of other wildlife species. The Western Big Game Migration Forum provided the opportunity for us to meet with a wide range of partners and talk about our successes but also focus on the tremendous amount of work and funding still needed to truly make a long-lasting impact.”
Participants in the Forum included U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie, Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning, USDA Forest Service Deputy Chief Chris French, directors or senior leaders from 11 western state fish and wildlife agencies, leadership from eight outdoor industry companies, and high level staff from nine different hunting-conservation organizations. The varied perspectives led to active discussions in a two-hour session before speakers outlined the issue to the public and media in a widely attended afternoon session. Closing remarks at the public session were delivered by MeatEater’s Ryan Callaghan, a leading voice in mainstream media for wildlife and hunting conservation.
“When we planned the Forum, we hoped to bring together all the high-level individuals who are working on this issue from federal land management agencies to researchers to state wildlife agencies to private sector partners—and all of those partners were in the room and contributed to an outstanding conversation,” commented MDF Chief Conservation Officer Steve Belinda. “A key theme for the session was recognizing we need to do even more to engage the public on this critical issue and increase funding opportunities so all partners can expand the pace and scale of work being done on the ground. We have had many successes, but we are just getting started and there is so much more we can accomplish working together.”
According to Casey Stemler, coordinator for SO 3362 for the Department of the Interior, direct funding to implement the order over the last five years included $6.4 million for research and $2.5 million for mapping support to state fish and wildlife agencies. In addition, $20 million was directed toward habitat conservation and management through a grant program coordinated by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. However, he acknowledged that this is just a fraction of the investments since significant work has been accomplished through funds from partner agencies and organizations. He also noted that the dramatic changes in the West in recent years due to increasing population, human development, and habitat loss continues to escalate the challenges these species face.
The research funding is starting to show even more clearly where work needs to be done. Matt Kauffman, wildlife researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, helped coordinate a corridor mapping team with states and where once there was only a handful of mapped corridors in Wyoming, more than 150 are now mapped across the West. This information allows agencies and partners to clearly identify migration barriers or areas where habitat restoration is necessary, and the number of projects far exceeds the funding currently available.
“From the last five years of focused attention, we have a better handle on understanding western big game migrations and how the work we do for these species benefits hundreds of other species,” Pedersen concluded. “We celebrated the SO 3362 anniversary at Hunt Expo, but all our partners agreed that we must commit to even more collaboration so that we don’t lose the migrations—and subsequently our big game populations—that define our amazing western landscapes.”
The Mule Deer Foundation is the only conservation group in North America dedicated to restoring, improving and protecting mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat, with a focus on science and program efficiency. MDF is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. MDF acknowledges regulated hunting as a viable management component and is committed to recruitment and retention of youth into the shooting sports and conservation. Get involved in your state or become a member at www.muledeer.org or call (801) 973-3940.