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    Feds commit millions to support big game in the West

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    Grants benefit elk, deer, pronghorn in 11 states

    A pronghorn grazes on Antelope Island. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

    Last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced over $4.4 million in grant funding for habitat conservation projects in 11 western states that conserve migration corridors and winter range for elk, mule deer and pronghorn, including $3.1 million from a public-private partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. These grants will generate an additional $20.3 million in matching contributions to support big game species habitat conservation for a total conservation impact of $24.7 million, according to a statement from the department.

    “As we continue to approach conservation of migration corridors and winter range for mule deer, elk and pronghorn in a non-regulatory and voluntary manner, we are showing how conservation succeeds in the 21st century,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “Working together with government and non-government partners, along with private landowners, we are protecting, enhancing and restoring habitat for big game and countless other species of wildlife.”

    “Elk, mule deer and pronghorn face increasing obstacles from highway traffic, development, and habitat degradation as they navigate migration corridors that connect vast stretches of our western landscapes,” said Fish and Wildlife Foundation Executive Director and CEO Jeff Trandahl. “Working with the Department of the Interior, and other partners, such as ConocoPhillips and BNSF Railways, these awards support the work of local organizations as they implement projects that will reduce vehicle collisions and help to ensure healthy populations of these iconic animals.”

    The grants are a part of the department’s ongoing efforts to implement Secretary’s Order 3362, “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.” These recent grants bring the department’s and other stakeholders’ support of big game species habitat conservation to nearly $36 million.

    A total of $1.3 million of the grant total is being awarded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to support 20 habitat conservation and improvement projects on private land. Private landowners play a vital role in conservation by providing quality habitat that supports migration corridors and winter range for big game species. Every funded project required the signature of the landowner/manager to ensure each project was voluntary and met mutual objectives.

    Projects were funded across eight western states including Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming. All conservation projects are within state-defined priority migration corridors or winter range areas, and the range of activities included invasive species control and management, fencing removal or improvement, sagebrush-steppe restoration and fire rehabilitation.

    A total of $3.1 million in grants are being awarded through the Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big Game and Migration Corridors Program (Western Big Game Migration Program), a public-private partnership between NFWF and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, ConocoPhillips and BNSF Railways. These funds go to state and local organizations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

    Projects receiving grants and matching contributions include the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which received $400,000, which will go towards mechanical and hand-thinning treatments to remove juniper trees that have invaded historical grassland on the Bureau of Land Management lands within Coconino County in northern Arizona. The project will restore 1,480 acres of critical winter habitat for a migratory herd of mule deer that makes an annual long-distance migration from the mountains of southern Utah to their winter range near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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