Interior Announces $24.7 Million in Support for Habitat Conservation in Big Game Migration Corridors and Winter Range in the West

Grants benefit elk, mule deer and pronghorn in 11 western states

Last edited 02/15/2023

Date: Thursday, April 30, 2020

WASHINGTON - Today, 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 (NFWF). 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.

“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 NFWF Executive Director and CEO Jeff Trandahl. “Working with the Department of the Interior, and other partners, such as ConocoPhillips and BNSF Railways, these NFWF 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 Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, 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. 

The projects supported by the 15 grants announced today will enhance and improve habitats on winter ranges, stopover areas and migration corridors used by big game species, both on federal lands and private lands whose owners volunteer to participate in conservation efforts. These projects fund state-identified migratory bottlenecks and places that must be secured and improved to ensure healthy populations of these iconic animals. 

Projects receiving grants and matching contributions include:

  • The Arizona Game and Fish Department (Total: $400,000) will use 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.
  • The Colorado Department of Transportation (Total: $2,040,803) will install fencing to guide wildlife to an arch underpass being constructed under State Highway 13 North of Craig, Colorado. Project will reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain connectivity within a priority migratory corridor for mule deer and elk herds.
  • The Trust for Public Land, Montana, (Total: $8,760,000) will place a permanent conservation easement on nearly 30,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the Kootenai Forestlands in Montana. the project will conserve habitat and landscape-scale connections for big game winter range and migration corridors, public access to outdoor recreation, protect clean drinking water for nearby communities, and sustain local jobs in the timber and outdoor recreation industries.
  • The Nevada Department of Wildlife (Total: $400,000) will restore winter range in the Ruby Mountains, south of Elko, Nevada by treating invasive pinyon and juniper trees with a combination of hand-thinning, mastication, weed abatement and seeding. Project will restore 1,100 acres of habitat for mule deer and other wildlife.
  • The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts (Total: $367,317) will improve fencing to wildlife-friendly specifications to provide permeability into historic winter range habitat for pronghorn, elk and mule deer in the Taos Plateau. The project will modify or remove 20 miles of fencing.
  • The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (Total: $481,217) will install exclusionary structures to direct mule deer and elk to newly constructed wildlife underpass along U.S. Highway 97 in central Oregon. The project will improve public safety and reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by installing 10 miles of fencing, reconnecting 75 miles of a migration corridor.

This is the second round of grants funded through this partnership. The first round of grants announced in May 2019 awarded $2.1 million across nine projects, leveraging more than $8.6 million in matching contributions to generate a total conservation impact of more than $10.7 million. The projects collectively will:

  • Protect 46,113 acres of private land from fragmentation through conservation easements
  • Restore 48,429 acres of public and private land through efforts like invasive weed and conifer removal treatments
  • Improve management on 524,346 acres of public and private land through efforts like grazing and wildlife management plans
  • Remove or improve 201 miles of fencing to be more wildlife-friendly, reducing direct mortality and increasing landscape connectivity

A complete list of the $23.4 million in 2020 grants and matching contributions made through NFWF’s Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors Program is available here.

A complete list of the $1.3 million made through the FWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program is available here.


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