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Artemis and NWF release report highlighting link between mule deer and sage-grouse

Just as mule-deer hunters are getting ready to head into the field for hunting season, members of the sportswomen’s group Artemis are releasing a report to raise awareness that anyone who cares about deer should care about greater sage-grouse and the remarkable effort across the West to save the iconic bird.

Artemis and the National Wildlife Federation, today released the report “Living on Common Ground – Sportswomen speak out to save the mule deer, sage-grouse and sagebrush country.”

Mule deer and sage-grouse have been in decline across much of the West. Sage-grouse used to number in the millions, but now less than a half million remain. A recent study in Pinedale, Wyo., found that mule deer herds have declined by 40 percent in the heavily developed gas fields of the region. The report explores what for sportswomen is impossible to ignore – sagebrush lands throughout the West provide vital habitat for both species and those lands are steadily disappearing.

“Mule deer and sage-grouse are the canaries in the coal mine for sage steppe health,” says Jessi Johnson, Artemis coordinator and Wyoming Wildlife Federation public lands coordinator. “If we fail to listen to the warnings they are giving us with their dwindling numbers, we will lose not only two iconic Western species but a host of dependent flora and fauna and the very essence of what makes living in the West so special.”

Hearing that warning, a diverse group of stakeholders from across the West, including the sporting community, came together to build conservation plans aimed at saving sage-grouse. Completed in 2015, these sage-grouse conservation plans allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the bird didn’t need to be added to the endangered species list. The conservation plans instead represent a balanced approach to management of the bird’s habitat on our nation’s public lands that would also accommodate other careful uses.

However, changes being considered by the Trump administration could now derail implementation of the plans, threatening the fate of sage-grouse and the more than 350 species, including mule deer, which depend on the West’s sagebrush lands. Interior Secretary Zinke seeks to weaken safeguards meant to accommodate responsible development on sagebrush lands while preserving their value as habitat. Instead, the Secretary continues to drift away from conserving healthy habitats, continuing to explore instead unsound schemes relying on population numbers and captive breeding.

“Where will those captive-bred birds find homes,” asks Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. “The sage-grouse conservation plans are the result of long, hard work of stakeholders across the West who spent years finding common ground and a pathway to the future for both people and wildlife. It would be an ominous blow to sage-grouse and mule deer and all of us who live in the West if we can no longer safeguard the lands where they find food and cover.”

Artemis understands that hunters will be key to ensuring that both the species thrive into the future and is urging support for the sage-grouse conservation plans.

“As an avid hunter of mule deer on public land, I feel it’s of the utmost importance that their breeding and feeding grounds are maintained and protected,” says Artemis co-founder Cindi Baudhuin. “I hope that ‘Living on Common Ground’ will help drive home the important link between mule deer and sage-grouse for hunters.”

Artemis and NWF continue to move forward by reaching out to hunters, local communities, and other wildlife advocates to ensure everyone understands that the future of mule deer and sage- grouse are inextricably linked.

“As hunters, anglers and wildlife conservationists, now is the opportunity to work to ensure these populations exist for future generations,” says Sara Domek, Artemis Co-founder. “Sustaining and enhancing seasonal movement corridors and stay-over habitat of wildlife need to be a priority, and the conservation plans provide tangible measures to protect mule deer and sage-grouse habitat.”

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Artemis is a group of bold sportswomen creating fresh tracks for conservation and an initiative of NWF. Mule deer are a particular species of concern for Artemis. Follow Artemis on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Like many sportsmen across Colorado, I’m heartened that Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) have reached across party lines to re-introduce the Public Lands Renewable Energy Act. This legislation takes a balanced approach to meet America’s energy needs, bolster clean energy technologies, and protect wildlife which sportsmen depend on by reducing future impacts of clean energy facilities.

A wind farm backdrops this Colorado pheasant hunter. Photo by Lew Carpenter.

A wind farm backdrops this Colorado pheasant hunter. Photo by Lew Carpenter.

As an avid angler and hunter, I know how valuable of our public lands are as a resource for recreation, beauty, and fish and game species. That’s why I support S. 279’s more efficient approach to clean energy development. The bill would set aside royalties from renewable projects to support local economies and mitigate impacts on fish and wildlife resources. By contributing thirty-five percent of the royalties collected to a conservation fund, Colorado sportsmen like me and thousands of others can keep enjoying the resources which make our state so special. State and Counties would receive twenty-five percent each.

“We want our public lands to be great places to fish and hunt,” Keith Curley, Director of Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited, “This bill would help ensure that when wind and solar energy development occurs on public lands, there are resources available to protect and restore habitat and secure public access in the affected areas.”

In addition, S.279 would establish a competitive leasing system, mirroring the system already in place for oil and gas industries, and make it more feasible for smart development projects to take place on federal lands. This more efficient process would be particularly beneficial to us here in Colorado, which has a tremendous potential for wind power on millions of acres of public land suitable for such projects. This will allow us to develop necessary new sources of wind and solar power on suitable public lands and at the same time give back a portion of the royalties to those most affected by the projects – the states and counties, as well as wildlife and the sportsmen who have a stake in the future of these public lands.

Senator Tester hit it dead on when he said, “With some of the best renewable energy development sites located on public lands, it’s vital to expand this industry while protecting the natural resources that make the West famous. He frames the bill as, “A common-sense way to create jobs and provide renewable energy the same opportunities as oil and gas while increasing our energy security.”

I want to thank our congressmen from Montana, Idaho, and across the nation for working together to reintroduce The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013. I also am proud to be a part of the extensive network of supports for this bill, which includes the Western Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, conservation groups like The National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited, and conservationist and sportsmen across the nation. Tom France, Senior Director of Western Wildlife Conservation of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountains and Prairies Regional Center called the bill, “A win-win strategy to facilitate needed renewable energy development on suitable public lands.”

I believe we have much to gain for this bill’s directed effort to increase our energy independence, create meaningful jobs, support local and state level economies, and protect our unique wildlife heritage for future generations of Colorado hunters and anglers.

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Populations trends are declining for mule deer and pronghorn antelope herds on both sides of the Colorado-Wyoming border and herds may not be able to fully recover unless federal and state agencies act to protect core habitats, according to a report released last fall by the National Wildlife Federation.

“We are seeing a slow, inexorable decline in populations of both species and a corresponding decline in hunting opportunities in both states,” said Steve Torbit, NWF’s regional executive director. “If we are to maintain our native deer and pronghorn populations and our hunting traditions, land managers and wildlife agencies need to address the landscape-wide impacts that undermine the habitat vitality wildlife relies on.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over almost all of the West’s vast federal lands, has management responsibility that stretch across state lines and over the interior Rocky Mountain West.

“The BLM must recognize the cumulative, landscape-wide impacts of its decisions and that a lease or permit granted in one area or state can directly result in added stress to migrating game herds in an adjacent state,” Torbit said. “The needs of wildlife over the entire landscape need to be fully factored in before permits for oil, gas, wind farms, agricultural practices or any other human activity are permitted.”

The report, “Population Status and Trends of Big Game along the Colorado/Wyoming State Line,” was prepared by veteran wildlife biologists John Ellenberger and Gene Byrne and can be found at http://www.ourpubliclands.com. Rather than look at only the most recent data, Byrne and Ellenberger analyzed wildlife agency statistics collected over the past 30 years, including population, hunter harvest and hunting license trends.

Statistics for game management units in both states were reviewed in an area roughly bounded by Interstate 80 on the north, the Green River to the west, U.S. Highway 40 on the south and Laramie, WY and Walden, Co on the east.

“The information we analyzed clearly shows steady population declines in both states for many of the deer and pronghorn herds that we examined,” Ellenberger said.

“We are concerned that at some point, the resiliency of these herds to recover will be lost, creating a situation where we can only expect further declines,” Ellenberger explained. “It is our professional opinion that federal land managers need to consider the full impact their decisions about development will have on our native wildlife or we risk further declines in our wildlife resources.

“Evaluations of impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat need to be performed at the landscape level, not just localized impacts,” Ellenberger said.

Both Torbit and Ellenberger emphasized that a growing body of peer-reviewed research has shown that the cumulative impacts of energy development, human population growth and agricultural practices have limited the natural resiliency of the habits wildlife need to survive. When natural factors such as periodic drought or disease affect a herd, the human impacts pile on top of each other, becoming “additive.” The result can be cumulative, potentially long-term declines.
“When there is a drop in the density of animals in an area that usually results in an increase in the productivity of a herd and the recruitment of young animals” Ellenberger explained. “”If that doesn’t occur, then there are serious issues with habitat limitations.”

For wildlife managers, “low recruitment” means that too few young animals are surviving to adulthood. Typically, populations of deer, pronghorn and other native species recover quickly to herd declines caused by drought or changes in habitat as soon as that specific factor is removed. For example, in the area in and around Yellowstone National Park in the late 1980s, the big-game populations suffered dramatic declines due to severe drought and the largest fire in the park’s recorded history. But within two years, the game populations were increasing thanks to adequate moisture and flourishing habitat.

Some area residents have suggested that predators such as coyotes are the reason for declines. But, who has worked extensively in both Wyoming and Colorado, emphasized that pronghorn and mule deer herds have always lived with predators.

“These game herds evolved with five different predators: wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions and coyotes, and they still thrived,” Torbit noted. “We now have only three of these predators along the border with grizzlies and wolves no longer present.

“What’s changed are the intense demands we are placing on Western landscapes,
 Torbit explained. “It appears that the new predator is the increased development and other human activity that has picked up pace over the past several decades.

“Mule deer and pronghorn are now experiencing 40-acre spacing of gas drilling pads and thousands of miles of roads and pipelines. Too often, decisions have been made on individual projects while the impacts are occurring on a much broader scale.”

Torbit said he fears mule deer and pronghorn populations may follow the steady decline of greater sage grouse that has been widely documented by wildlife researchers.

“Forty years ago a hunter could see hundreds of sage grouse in a single day,” Torbit recalled. “But due to landscape-wide factors, the sage grouse population has suffered a slow, inexorable decline and so has sage grouse hunting.

“As a Westerner, biologist and hunter, I don’t want to see that same decline occur in our mule deer and pronghorn,” Torbit said.

NWF biologists have met with BLM officials and the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish to present and discuss the new analysis of deer and pronghorn herds. A series of public meetings is scheduled in communities within the study area in Wyoming and Colorado.

“Ultimately, it will be up to all of who value our wildlife herds to urge federal and state agencies to make decisions that will protect our wildlife resource,” Torbit said. “The future of our hunting heritage and the billions of dollars wildlife brings to the region’s economy are at stake.”

 

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