When I started in the wildlife profession a few decades ago, all I wanted to do was study big game and work with the iconic “charismatic megafauna,” as large mammals often are called. I made that dream a reality and worked on deer, elk and bighorn sheep projects as an undergraduate student and concentrated on bighorn sheep for my master’s degree. I read all the scientific literature diligently and learned many things in the field while spending countless hours with our magnificent big game animals.
I thought, as most students do, that I knew a lot – not all there was to know, but a lot. But when it comes to understanding nature and how the biological world works, one adage rings true: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
A new study has revealed new facts about the migration of mule deer in Wyoming. USFWS Photo
I distinctly remember one key lecture in a wildlife management class from a pioneering mule deer researcher, Dr. Richard Mackie at Montana State University. Dr. Mackie once was in a camp of deer biologists who believed winter range was the sole factor responsible for sustaining mule deer populations in Montana and across the West. But in that lecture, after presenting his pioneering research on winter range as a major limiting condition for mule deer, Dr. Mackie pronounced, “We were wrong!”
What we don’t always know are the intricate details of migrations, and, in many cases, we don’t even know which populations migrate or how far.
That’s key in a new study released by the University of Wyoming Cooperative Research Unit and theWyoming Migration Initiative. Research biologist Hall Sawyer recently set out to study a deer population near Rock Springs, Wyoming, that was thought to make only short-distance movements between seasonal ranges. To everyone’s surprise, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Global positioning system collars (that recorded each marked deer’s location with pinpoint accuracy every three hours) revealed the longest known migration of any mule deer population – 150 or so miles from the Red Desert to the high mountains near Jackson, Wyoming.
Watch the video from Joe Riis Photography: http://vimeo.com/88619272
About the Author
Ed Arnett is the Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development. Based in Colorado, Ed is an avid hunter and angler and works to balance energy development with fish, wildlife and sportsmen’s needs throughout the West.