In order to survive, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and other migratory species need the freedom to roam. Private landowners’ support is key to providing such freedom in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The critical habitat they own provides migratory pathways that need to be conserved. That way, wildlife becomes a benefit rather than a burden.

Almost one-third of the ecosystem is privately owned. Migratory herds rely on these lands for essential habitat, especially during winter. Recent research shows the crucial role private landowners play in supporting these migration corridors.

According to researcher Arthur Middleton of the University of California, Berkeley, elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem spend 80 percent of winter on private lands. In Montana’s Paradise Valley, harsh winter conditions have forced elk onto private lands. Researchers at the University of Montana discovered that 50 percent of the private land in southeastern Idaho is used by mule deer migrating from summer to winter ranges.

These migration habits create significant costs for private landowners, especially for agriculture. For example, landowners in Montana lose over $31 million in livestock forage to wildlife every year. Montana FWP reports individual farmers lose up to $8,000 per year in vegetable crops consumed by wildlife.

There is a potential of wildlife spreading diseases, like brucellosis, to livestock, which would create more financial burden. According to researchers at the University of Wyoming, quarantining a herd of 400 cattle suspected of having the disease costs $140,000, which is almost three times the average annual income for ranchers. 

Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) believes that to be successful, efforts to conserve the big-game migrations must make economic sense for private landowners. PERC’s approach to conservation depends on voluntary exchange that creates positive environmental outcomes for all. Incorporating market mechanisms and entrepreneurship would conserve these habitats, making wildlife an economic asset rather than a burden or liability. 

PERC is actively developing conservation approaches to help sustain the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s migration corridors. They are creating financial tools, incentives, and policies that help landowners to conserve and enhance their habitat. 

Conserving Yellowstone’s migration corridors requires support from many stakeholders, especially private landowners, as they own the majority of the region’s crucial wildlife habitat. The end goal is to work with landowners to understand and identify how wildlife both positively and negatively affects their livelihoods. Working with landowners will help create an economic asset instead of a liability. This would ensure that future generations of rural communities and wildlife populations can continue to thrive.