The Department of Interior plans to prioritize conservation of a mule deer migration corridor in southwest Wyoming through both deferred oil and gas lease sales and lease stipulations, Secretary Ryan Zinke and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to defer nearly 5,000 surface acres from potential oil and gas developments that intersect the designated Red Desert to Hoback big game migration corridor in the state. Additionally, a special lease notice would be attached to the remaining parcels.

“Some North American big game travel over a hundred miles on their migration routes every year, and more often than not, those routes traverse federal, state, and private lands,” Zinke said. “This is why it’s important that the federal government work with the state to adjust management and development plans where necessary if they overlap migratory corridors or winter range.

“By combining lease deferrals, and lease stipulations, we can achieve the right balance on federal lands. Thanks to innovations in technology, many times resource development can be done with little to no surface occupancy. Balancing the conservation of habitat and the responsible development of resources ensures the best outcome for the people and wildlife that rely on our federal lands.”

Mead said he had worked with Interior and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to defer the parcels “and to develop a special notice to companies leasing the remaining parcels that intersect the migration corridor.

“This decision gives the public and those involved in the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan Revision (RMPR) time to work on steps that balance wildlife needs with energy development needs. Wyoming will continue to work with the Department of the Interior to strike that balance.”

Secretarial Order 3362 calls for improving habitat quality in western big game migration corridors and working in “complete collaboration” with the states. Consistent with the order, WGFD worked with the BLM to defer lands in which at least 90% of the parcel is within an identified big game corridor, in this case the Sublette mule deer herd corridor.

Three parcels nominated for the September oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming fit the 90% criteria and will be deferred from oil and gas leasing until the BLM completes its Rock Springs RMPR next year.

For the remaining parcels intersecting the migration corridor, a special lease notice was developed that would be attached to the lease.

“The mule deer that use this migration corridor contribute significantly to the local economies and to the quality of life in Wyoming,” said WGFD Director Scott Talbott. “We appreciate working together with the Department of the Interior in the interest of wildlife to conserve this migration.”

BLM plans to coordinate with the state before offering federal lands for oil and gas leasing in big game habitats, including migration corridors.