UO maps are the heart of Wyoming conservation project

Louis Lake moose cow and two calves
Photo courtesy of the Wyoming Migration Initiative

Cross a map of Wyoming wilderness with a map of long-distance animal migrations and what you get is a novel, collaborative film project celebrating the 50th anniversary of the nation’s Wilderness Act.

That’s just what happened when James Meacham, executive director of the UO’s Infographics Lab, teamed up with a Wyoming wildlife group. The resulting short film is an accessible format for showing the public where designated wilderness areas and Wyoming’s long-distance animal migrations overlap.

The film, “Wyoming’s Big Game Migrations and 50 Years of Wilderness” explores the history of the federal Wilderness Act and the Wyoming Wilderness Act, highlighting what wilderness means for the conservation of Wyoming’s migratory ungulates — mainly deer and elk.

“We have known for years that underdeveloped habitat is crucial for the West’s iconic big game species, but this new compilation of data shows in detail the extent to which these animals migrate through habitats designated as wilderness,” said Matthew Kauffman, a professor at the University of Wyoming and head of the Wyoming Migration Initiative.

At the core of the film are maps generated by the UO’s Infographics Lab led by Meacham along with UO cartographers Alethea Steingisser and Lauren Tierney. Using innovative cartographic methods and tools, the UO team visualizes the detailed data received from modern GPS collars placed on selected animals to communicate the newly discovered routes and movement patterns within the complex landscape through which the animals migrate.

“Creating compelling maps that get at the heart of these magnificent migration stories is our goal as the cartographers on this project,” Meacham said.

The film is part of a larger conservation initiative aimed at promoting preservation and the importance of wilderness.

“To assure the future health of these herds, land managers and others must look at ways to keep these migration corridors intact across a variety of landscapes,” Kauffman said. “The goal of this new mapping effort and the short film is to make research about these migrations more accessible — and more useful — to people working to manage and conserve these herds and their habitats.”

The new mapping and film project was also recently the subject of a New York Times science feature.

—By Jen McCulley, Public Affairs Communications