More research needed on migration 'rest stops,' scientists say

Jan 27, 2012

Researchers hope to determine how much development mule deer can tolerate on their migration routes.

Biologist Hall Sawyer found in a recent study that when mule deer travel between their summer and winter ranges, they spend 95 percent of their time stopping and eating.

“If we consider these migration routes highways, the stopovers would be like the hotels, where you crash in for the night and grab a bite to eat,” Sawyer said. “And maybe you stay there for a night, maybe you stay for a week.”

Sawyer says the young plants that the deer eat in these stopover areas are particularly nutritious, and some scientists hypothesize that if there’s too much development, the animals would migrate faster and would miss out on important food sources.

“We know that animals can deal with some level of development and navigate through that and still make it to their summer ranges,” said Matt Kauffman, head of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. “But we don’t know how much development or roads or traffic they can cope with.”

Kauffman says he hopes to conduct more studies to figure out whether how much development is too much, and what it means for mule deer migration and survival.