A new website launched by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources allows the public to access migration data from thousands of land animals, fish and amphibians, and birds.
Announced earlier this week, the new website highlights the efforts of the Wildlife Migration Initiative Program and uses GPS data from collared animals and tagged fish throughout the state. According to a press release, the data will help biologists better understand migration patterns, improve habitat and thwart poachers.
Since the start of the program in 2017, DWR biologists have tagged black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorns and cougars. They’ve also tagged several fish including the Colorado pikeminnow, flannelmouth sucker and the razorback sucker.
In an interview with The Herald Journal, DWR Migration Initiative Coordinator Daniel Olson said a cougar was captured near Bear Lake; biologists were able to monitor the cougar in near real-time as it migrated toward Logan, into the Uintah mountains, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
“That animal, in like a period of six months, moved over 600 miles,” Olson said.
Utilizing old methods of animal tracking, Olson said, it was common to lose animals in the process. But with GPS tracking, biologists get an update every two hours.
“We can see exactly the path that (cougar) took to get to Wyoming where it’s at right now,” Olson said.
Not all the data is made public. Olson said the goal is to make maps that summarize the GPS data without causing harm to species that are hunted.
“With real-time data where animals are at,” Olson said, “that can be a concern.”
One of the maps that summarizes the data shows mule deer migration corridors. Olson said the map shows sections of heavy deer movement. Conversely, the data can show where animal movement is truncated. Olson said the data shows two large migration corridors West of Eagle Mountain — a town that didn’t exist in the 90s, but is projected to triple in size over the next 20 years.
“One of the main highways that everybody commutes on to get to work goes right across two migration corridors,” Olson said. “Now that we have a good map to show where those corridors are at, we’re working with the city and with landowners in that area to help keep some green space.”
He said the green space will help keep the corridor open for future deer travel.
Olson said the program began tracking fish by implanting transmitters that correspond with various antennae placed across rivers and streams.
“As far as we know, Utah is one of the only states that’s including fish in our migration initiative,” Olson said.
Olson said one particular razorback sucker, an endangered species of fish in Utah, traveled over 900 miles through river systems over the course of seven years. The fish traveled almost the entire North-South of the state and even traveled East into Colorado.
“(It’s) one of the cool things that we found that kind of blew a lot of people’s minds,” Olson said.
For Olson, the take-home message is that animals are using their habitats on a much larger scale than was previously known.
The DWR is encouraging hunters to not harvest collared animals. Olson said the collars cost nearly $1,100 and are useless if cut off when the animal is harvested.
“According to state law, you can legally harvest an animal with a collar — so that’s not an issue,” Olson said. “The reason why we ask folks not to do it, if they can, is because there’s substantial investment in that animal.”
Olson said the collars are usually brown, and may be hard to see from long distances and a hunter may accidentally shoot one. But when an collared animal is harvested, they can no longer get valuable data.
The collar can be removed without cutting, Olson said, and there are instructions on the collar on how to handle it and who to give it to in the instance of a collared animal harvest.
For more information, visit https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/.