Conservation groups defend ancient critical migratory corridor
Western Watersheds Project, represented by Western Environmental Law Center, has taken legal action to protect a 6,000-year-old, critical migratory corridor necessary for the survival of North America’s fastest land animal, the pronghorn. The groups allege that the Forest Service unlawfully authorized the building of structures for private livestock on the public lands, which have the potential to impede pronghorn migration and block the movement of other large mammals.
The structures -a permanent corral, holding pasture, and additional fencing – are to be located at the confluence of Slate Creek and the Gros Ventre River in Wyoming. This area is a critical link in the “Path of the Pronghorn,” an annual migration corridor for the species between the Upper Green River Valley (near Pinedale) and Grand Teton National Park. The Path of the Pronghorn is the longest remaining migration of any land mammal in the lower 48 states.
Numbering only a few hundred, this dwindling herd relies on the ancient Upper Green River Valley migration corridor for its very survival. In 2008, in recognition of the importance of this corridor to the pronghorn, the Forest Service designated this area as the nation’s first wildlife migration corridor. At the time, former Forest Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton proclaimed, "This migration is an important part of Wyoming's history and we want to do all we can to maintain it."
But while Ms. Hamilton was announcing with much fanfare a plan to protect the “path of the pronghorn”, the agency was simultaneously authorizing the building of livestock facilities in the migration corridor behind closed doors, facilities it readily admits “have the potential to impede pronghorn movements through the corridor.”
The Forest Service authorized the facilities pursuant to two internal “categorical exclusion” decisions and deferred action on additional fencing in order to avoid input and the need to conduct an alternatives and environmental analysis. “This isn’t allowed” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing Western Watersheds Project. “The Forest Service can’t break its plans up into small, component parts in order to circumvent the law and avoid a meaningful environmental analysis. If it wants to authorize new facilities and other projects in the Path of the Pronghorn it must first take a hard look at the overall, cumulative impacts to the migration corridor.”
“We tried to get the agency to preserve unbroken landscapes to protect the ‘Path of the Pronghorn,’” said Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Unfortunately, the Forest Service didn’t want to listen to the public, to other wildlife managers, or to science. Instead, they made an end-run around important environmental laws. We intend to hold them accountable.”
The “Path of the Pronghorn” is one of the longest large mammal migration corridors in North America, and spans over 100 miles. Numerous land management agencies, including the Forest Service, have signed a, “Pledge of Support for the Conservation and Protection of the Path of the Pronghorn.”