Largest Mule Deer Migration Ever Recorded

By Kathryn Potraz

June 16, 2014

Mule Deer Migration

In unprotected areas, getting the higher-ups to read and act on dry, statistics-filled wildlife reports can be difficult. Hall Sawyer, a research biologist studying mule deer in western Wyoming, is familiar with this problem.

“Management is different from a national park,” Sawyer said. “A lot of people use the analogy of a gap between scientists and decision-makers and managers like a canyon. Scientists throw their data into the bottom of the canyon and hope it gets picked up by management.” A recently released video and data report, illustrated by photographs from National Geographic photographer Joe Riis, are an effort to change that: “We’re hoping this data and video will bridge that gap.”

The deer in the video are seen slipping under fences, crossing Wyoming’s Finger Lakes, and trotting across highways. The research report conducted by Sawyer and his colleagues showed that mule deer can migrate up to 150 miles each migration season (one in the fall and one in the spring), the longest trip ever recorded. Most of this movement is through unprotected lands -- the ungulates cross several highways on their trek, and deer-vehicle collisions pose a serious risk to their lives.

To reduce the number of fatal impacts, seven underpasses were built between 2001 and 2008. So far, it has reduced the number of collisions from approximately 9.75 per month before any underpasses were constructed, to just 1.82 per month by 2008. "People take mule deer for granted," Sawyer said. "With this video, we want to motivate poeple to conserve."


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