“…revising wild horse and burro-appropriate management levels or removing horses and burros from winter range or migration corridors if they degrade habitat…”
ST. GEORGE — While in Utah Friday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke helped tag mule deer near Salt Lake City before appearing at a hunting expo to sign a secretarial order intended to improve big game habitat in the Western U.S.
While tagging the deer, Zinke said he noted that a recently developed neighborhood nearby likely supplanted habitat that would have previously supported a herd of 300 deer.
In recognition of the impact growing human populations in the West have on big game migration, Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362, designed to improve habitat quality and Western winter range and migration corridors for antelope, elk and mule deer.
The order also calls for greater collaboration among federal management agencies, states, private landowners and scientists to develop guidelines to help ensure healthy big game populations.
Joined by Utah Division of Wildlife Director Mike Fowlks and Mule Deer Foundation President Miles Moretti, Zinke signed the order before a gathered crowd at the Western Conservation and Hunting Expo in Salt Lake City.
At the conference, Zinke said management plans like the ones in the order are made possible from the billions in revenue generated by hunters and fishers buying tackle, ammunition and other gear.
“There is no greater conservationist than our sportsman,” he said.
“American hunters are the backbone of big game conservation efforts,” Zinke said, “and now working with state and private landowners, the department will leverage its land management and scientific expertise to both study the migration habits of wildlife as well as identify ways to improve the habitat.”
Zinke said a collaborative approach is necessary to implement the habitat protection and improvement goals of the order, given the migration patterns of big game species that cross over thousands of miles on all types of land.
In Southern Utah, mule deer travel up to 110 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park into the Arizona strip area. They cross state, private, tribal, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service land. Part of the order’s goal is to address challenges encountered along the pathways of these migratory routes.
Specifically, the order proposes development of an action plan with the following goals:
- Restoring degraded winter range and migration corridors by removing encroaching trees from sagebrush ecosystems, rehabilitating areas damaged by fire and treating invasive vegetation.
- Revising wild horse and burro-appropriate management levels or removing horses and burros from winter range or migration corridors if they degrade habitat.
- Working with private landowners and state highway departments to achieve permissive fencing measures, including working with ranchers to modify fencing.
- Avoiding or minimizing development in the most crucial winter range or migration corridors during sensitive seasons.
- Working with states on sagebrush restoration.
The order prioritizes public land management in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
“I’m not an advocate for ever selling or transferring public lands, but I am an advocate for management,” Zinke said, adding that the order emphasizes input from individual states.
The Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, acknowledged that it’s important to plan for wildlife migration but noted that Zinke has inflicted major damage to lands by supporting the oil industry and recommending reductions to national monuments, the Associated Press reported.
“We won’t allow the secretary and his staff to greenwash this abysmal record with meager policy crumbs,” group Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman said in a statement.
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, blasted the decision as nothing more than “bureaucratic window dressing” to cover up damage Zinke has done to the habitat.
“If Secretary Zinke were serious about increasing America’s wildlife populations, he would stand by Western governors’ protections for sagebrush country, restore public input on drilling decisions, and stand up for America’s national monuments and wildlife refuges instead of selling them out,” the organization said in a statement.
Zinke said environmental groups that criticize his monument recommendation are using “nefarious” and “false” claims. He said “every inch” of the lands stripped from the monuments are still protected under other designations.
Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs contributed to this report.