A first-of-its-kind mapping project shows how wildlife in Wyoming and Colorado use wilderness areas.

Researchers from the University of Wyoming and cartographers from the University of Oregon are the first to conduct a project aimed specifically at detailing how wilderness areas are used by elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and pronghorns.

“We have known for years that undeveloped habitat is crucial for the West’s iconic big game species, but this new compilation of data shows in detail the extent to which these animals migrate through habitats designated as wilderness,” says Matthew Kauffman, a UW professor who led the effort. “As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, this information illustrates the benefits of those actions taken five decades ago for these important wildlife species and the migration corridors they depend on today.”

The project and maps are highlighted in the short film below.

Wyoming's Big Game Migrations and 50 Years of Wilderness from Biodiversity Institute on Vimeo.
The mapping project is part of the Atlas of Wildlife Migration, an effort to document the historical and current long-distance migrations of big game species between summer and winter ranges in Wyoming.

The findings show that:

  • Elk moving to and from summer range in Yellowstone National Park migrate extensively through the Teton, Washakie, and North Absaroka wilderness areas in the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests.
  • In the greater Yellowstone area, moose that winter east of Jackson Lake move north into and through the Teton wilderness area on their spring migration.
  • Bighorn sheep migrate through and spend summers in the Bridger and Fitzpatrick wilderness areas south of Dubois.
  • Pronghorn migrate north from the Green River Basin to summer in and near the Gros Ventre wilderness.
  • Mule deer that winter in the Platte Valley move south through the Huston Park, Savage Run, Encampment River, Platte River and Mount Zirkel wilderness areas in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado during their seasonal migrations.

To view the wilderness migration maps, click here.