Longest Land Mammal Migration in Lower 48 Discovered

Wyoming mule deer cross many obstacles, from low desert to high mountains.

Deer are among the most ubiquitous animals in North America, giving humans ample chances to observe their habits. But until recently, scientists had missed one remarkable behavior of a hardy group of mule deer: a twice-yearly migration of 150 miles (240 kilometers), longer than any other land animal in the lower 48 states.

In this great migration, several hundred deer travel across Wyoming, from a low desert to high mountains and back again. Their trek takes place outside the protection of any parks or preserves, and until now was done under the noses of the public. However, scientists warn that development and human intervention could threaten this ancient journey.

Every winter, hundreds of mule deer can be found browsing on sagebrush in the Red Desert in southwestern Wyoming, says Hall Sawyer, a research biologist based in Laramie. But contrary to what scientists previously believed, those deer don’t stay in the Red Desert all year, Sawyer and colleagues announced at a news conference April 22.

“People saw deer there in the winter and deer there in the fall, and nobody had any knowledge to believe otherwise,” says Sawyer, who works for environmental consulting firm Western Ecosystems Technology. But then he conducted studies on the animals over two seasons, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Wyoming in Laramie.


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