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Shed antlers

Conservation > Migration and Movement How Tracking Data and Point Locations can be Misused

Limitations of population sampling: FWP has deployed GPS collars in a small number of big game herds (compared to the overall number and distribution of herds), and on a relatively small (and sometimes non-random) sample of individuals within those herds. This leads to misleading representations of the extent of seasonal ranges and migration routes at large scales across the state and within specific herd ranges.

Concerns of private landowners: Specific private lands can be identified as important when viewing maps of big game seasonal ranges and migration routes with ownership in mind. While the data may be interesting, some landowners do not want extra attention or increased interest in animal movement across their property. Some private landowners give permission to capture, mark, and track animals on their land while others have lands the animals simply use during some part of the year. Private landowners are absolutely critical to wildlife management and conservation in Montana, and when conflicts arise, they can be detrimental to facilitating big game movement and migration as well as other FWP conservation programs.

Ethical misuse of information: Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management, once stated “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

Our ability to collect detailed movement data through marked animals and remotely triggered cameras creates ethical predicaments for users of that data. Knowing where animals spend time can increase our ability to locate and enjoy wild creatures, yet our presence may have a negative influence on the animals we enjoy.

Clearly using real time telemetry data to locate an animal that we may be hunting is unethical (and it is also illegal in most jurisdictions). If all hunters had access to known routes that wildlife followed during a hunting season, then more hunters might choose to hunt those areas that are vital to wildlife to move among seasonal ranges. Even if hunters did not harvest these animals, the presence of a large number of hunters could disrupt movement patterns and keep wildlife from accessing important water and forage resources or limit their ability to escape adverse winter weather conditions.

Using this data to look for places where antlers are shed may place greater energetic demands on wildlife during a critical time of year (winter) when energy reserves are depleted, and forage resources are limited. Using the data to locate likely birthing sites is fraught with increasing mortality risks if fawns or calves are disturbed. Eluding predation is predicated on their ability to avoid detection, and our well-intentioned interest could have devasting effects on vulnerable age and sex classes.

Finally, concentrated interest and activities can have damaging effects on lands, trails, and infrastructure. Not all habitat occupied by wildlife is public land. We should respect our public land, and we should sincerely honor the value of private land for our public wildlife. We need to consider how our actions affect others.

Detailed movement data helps managers better understand our wildlife populations. That same detailed movement data can help us observe and enjoy our public wildlife. When wildlife touches our human experience, we increasingly value and vigorously protect that wildlife. It is incumbent on each of us to use that data wisely and ethically to ensure that our own actions do not damage those things that we value.

Tracking Data Management

The limitations of tracking data

Biologists take into account limitations when using wildlife tracking data to inform management decisions.

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How tracking data are used by FWP

Instrumenting animals with tracking technology is an important aspect of FWP’s science-based approach to informing management.

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How tracking data can be misused

Limitations of population sampling and concerns of private landowners.

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