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If done strategically, development and elk migration can coexist in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a new study finds 

Fish and Wildlife Service

A new study highlights the importance of both protected and private lands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) for wildlife migration.

The study specifically focuses on elk in the GYE, which includes much of western Wyoming and is ‘one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth,’ according to the National Park Service.

Researchers found in their study that elk heavily depend on private land during the winter. Migration routes in this area also go through protected lands – like national parks and forests – but private property is what links the routes together

“A lot of these private lands that elk are using, they don’t have any sort of zoning on them,” said lead researcher Laura Gigliotti. “So, this could mean that there’s potential for unregulated development going forward.”

Gigliotti said future development – like subdivisions and commercial zoning – are likely inevitable, as the area is growing. But she said that development can coexist with wildlife if certain measures are taken, like creating wildlife friendly fences and not crowding the land.

“But an important thing is just making sure that there's enough space in these private lands,” Gigliotti said. “And making sure that there's connectivity between these winter ranges and the migratory routes in the summer ranges with these animals.”

In November, the Bureau of Land Management announced a new policy that prioritizes habitat connectivity for wildlife migration. This will include things like not permitting future energy projects in migration routes and removing unnecessary fences.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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