Interior to work with Western states on game management

By Charlie Booher

A new Interior Department order directs federal agencies to work more closely with Western states to manage habitat and migration corridors for big game, including Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn and mule deer.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a secretarial order last week to direct bureaus within his department to work more closely with Western states on the management of habitat for big game.

This collaboration aims to improve winter habitat and migration corridors for pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus), and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). The order also seeks to improve opportunities for big game hunting. States involved include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

“​We need to manage appropriately,” Zinke said in a press release. “​My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this order will help establish better migration corridors for some of North America’s most iconic big game species.”

Zinke’s order, Secretarial Order 3362, dictates that the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — the three largest land management agencies under the Interior — select a “coordinator” and a “liaison” to work with the states to form more comprehensive management plans for these efforts. These positions will facilitate direct communication between federal and state agencies. The order requires that management plans be created for federal lands considered to be migration corridors or winter ranges for big game species, in collaboration with state agencies, within 180 days.

This policy is consistent with Zinke’s ambitions to reorganize the Interior along watershed boundaries. The language also emphasizes the management of lands at the federal level, as Zinke has indicated that land management can be more aptly done in coordination with his department. Order 3362 has the capacity to reduce some decision-making powers of state agencies in land management.

Several species conservation groups are rallying behind this policy, as it may also increase hunter access to western federal lands. Clay Brewer, conservation director of the Wild Sheep Foundation, commended “the current administration for emphasizing use of the best available science to guide decisions in natural resource management, one of the guiding principles of the proven North American conservation model. This decision allows those at the forefront of wildlife conservation to work collaboratively to ensure proper management for future generations.”

“The goal of this effort lies at the heart of our conservation mission, ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage,” said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “In order to do that we must maintain a focus on winter range and migration corridors for elk and other wildlife.”

Read The Wildlife Society’s standing position on the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and Hunting.

Charlie Booher is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Charlie's articles.