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State lawmakers discuss pronghorn, mule deer and federal oversight

A buck antelope stands on a grassy ridge.
Caitlin Tan
/
Wyoming Public Media

Wyoming lawmakers discussed next steps for both the federal draft Rock Springs Resource Management Plan and official state designation of the Sublette Pronghorn migration route. The main sentiment was disdain for federal government involvement.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee met in Rock Springs this month to discuss the issues.

One focus was the state’s efforts to add protections for the Sublette Pronghorn herd, which is based in the western part of the state.

The herd was reduced by about half – from 40,000 to 20,000 – after the harsh conditions of the 2023 winter and a rare disease ravaged them. The herd is known for its long migrations, some moving as far as the Grand Tetons to the Red Desert, which is dubbed the Path of the Pronghorn. A portion of that path has some protections through the Bridger-Teton National Forest and a conservation easement.

The added state protections would come in the form of an official designation of the migration corridor. Wyoming began that process last year. At previous Wyoming Game and Fish Department meetings, testimony has indicated there are concerns about the herd’s future because of development.

The state is still working through the formal designation process, with likely many months or years to go. It’s a matrix of relatively new steps. This is the first time it’s been used since it was created in 2019. The next step is to create a state stakeholder group.

Rep. Scott Heiner (R-Green River) wanted to extend an olive branch to the federal government. He said they should have a seat at the table, to set an example. That’s because Wyoming is pushing to be heard by the feds on several other land management issues.

“I think that street goes two ways,” Heiner said, adding that much of the migratory route is on federal land.

But Randall Luthi, policy director to Gov. Mark Gordon, pushed back. He said he’s adamant that wildlife management belongs to the state.

“You might say I’m a bit ornery about that,” Luthi testified to the lawmakers.

He added that federal law might actually not allow participation in a state stakeholder group.

In the same meeting, the lawmakers heard an update from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), specifically regarding another big game migration route. The BLM signaled that Wyoming might approve of the updated version of the draft Rock Springs Resource Management plan.

The original draft sparked major opposition in Wyoming last year. Part of it proposed no development along a mule deer migration route within it. But Wyoming officials feel they should make that decision.

BLM-Wyoming Director Andrew Archuleta said the agency would like to honor that.

“Really our priority is to support what the state is doing or does or doesn’t do with their process,” he said.

Currently, the state does offer protections for this mule deer migration route that goes from the Hoback River Basin to the Red Desert. But the state’s regulations allow more development than what the BLM is proposing.

An updated and final version of the BLM’s draft is expected end of July or early August.

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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