Conserving migratory mule deer through the umbrella of sage-grouse


  • Corresponding Editor: D. P. C. Peters.


Conserving migratory ungulates in increasingly human-dominated landscapes presents a difficult challenge to land managers and conservation practitioners. Nevertheless, ungulates may receive ancillary benefits from conservation actions designed to protect species of greater conservation priority where their ranges are sympatric. Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocerus urophasianus), for example, have been proposed as an umbrella species for other sagebrush (Artemesia spp.)-dependent fauna. We examined a landscape where conservation efforts for sage-grouse overlap spatially with mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) to determine whether sage-grouse conservation measures also might protect important mule deer migration routes and seasonal ranges. We conducted a spatial analysis to determine what proportion of migration routes, stopover areas, and winter ranges used by mule deer were located in areas managed for sage-grouse conservation. Conservation measures overlapped with 66–70% of migration corridors, 74–75% of stopovers, and 52–91% of wintering areas for two mule deer populations in the upper Green River Basin of Wyoming. Of those proportions, conservation actions targeted towards sage-grouse accounted for approximately half of the overlap in corridors and stopover areas, and nearly all overlap on winter ranges, indicating that sage-grouse conservation efforts represent an important step in conserving migratory mule deer. Conservation of migratory species presents unique challenges because although overlap with conserved lands may be high, connectivity of the entire route must be maintained as barriers to movement anywhere within the migration corridor could render it unviable. Where mule deer habitats overlap with sage-grouse core areas, our results indicate that increased protection is afforded to winter ranges and migration routes within the umbrella of sage-grouse conservation, but this protection is contingent on concentrated developments within core areas not intersecting with high-priority stopovers or corridors, and that the policy in turn does not encourage development on deer ranges outside of core areas. With the goal of protecting entire migration routes, our analysis highlights areas of potential conservation focus for mule deer, which are characterized by high exposure to residential development and use by a large proportion of migrating deer.