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Interior continues to invest in Wyoming’s big game herds

A mule deer with a massive set of antlers sits in front of a rocky, brush-filled landscape in southwest Wyoming.
Tom Koerner
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mule deer are among the most well-known ungulates that inhabit Wyoming.

The Interior Department announced about $3 million in grant funding to protect big game habitats and migration corridors in seven western states. Almost a third of that money will go to Wyoming to help mule deer herds near Casper, Laramie and Dubois.

The projects will fund invasive weed treatments, fence modifications and other habitat restoration work. They build off of previous federal investments in 2021, 2022 and 2023 toward big game conservation projects in Wyoming.

“Honestly, this is something I don't know if I'll ever see again in my career,” said Jill Randall, big game migration coordinator with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “I certainly haven't seen these kinds of resources available to do great conservation work for wildlife before, and I've been with Game and Fish for 20 years now.”

Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon will also receive money for similar projects, and each grant is matched through nonprofit, private or other public dollars. Landscape restoration has been a big part of President Joe Biden’s agenda. The federal government will invest billions from recently passed spending packages “to restore our nation’s lands and waters” in the coming years.

Randall said projects in Wyoming are efficient uses of federal funds because of the state’s vast open spaces and well-protected habitats – as opposed to other more developed parts of the West. The state has also invested a lot of time and money to track big game migration patterns, which allows wildlife managers to hone in on where conservation work is most needed.

“[It’s] a more efficient use of funding to maintain what you have than to have to spend money to restore or bring things back,” Randall said. “In Wyoming, we have that opportunity that a lot of places aren't fortunate enough to have.”

Mule deer populations throughout Wyoming and the West have struggled in recent years due to harsh winters, human development and other threats. Randall said measures to preserve migration corridors and healthy winter ranges have prevented declines from being even more devastating.

“Making a fence easier for critters to get through when they're stressed at the end of winter is just a really obvious help to those herds. You don't see as many animals getting hung up on them or injured,” she said.

Randall said a lot of this money is supporting work that Game and Fish is already doing on the ground in Wyoming, but this funding injection will help increase the footprint of that work.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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