Elk Migration Researcher Named RMEF Conservationist of the Year
LARAMIE — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is proud to announce that Dr. Matt Kauffman is the recipient of its Conservationist of the Year Award for 2018.
Kauffman, an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, leads the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, who carry out a wide range of research on not only elk, but moose, wolves, deer, Pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.
He is also the lead scientist of the Wyoming Migration Initiative, a University of Wyoming-based collaborative of biologists, mapmakers, artists, photographers and writers working to research ungulate migration and share that information with the public.
"Perhaps no one has done more to further the scientific understanding of elk migration than Dr. Kauffman," said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. "His past and continuing research shine a light on landscape-wide wildlife movements not previously captured or recorded in such a comprehensive manner."
“I am honored and humbled to receive this award. I think of this award as a recognition of the broader research program at the University of Wyoming, with our collaborators at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, grad students . . . and other collaborative researchers. This has really been a big team effort,” said Kauffman.
“But it’s also recognition of the importance of migration for Wyoming. RMEF is singling out this award because of our migration research, and I think the thing that we have learned over the past 13 years since I’ve been here, is that Wyoming is truly unique in having so many – or still have – so many long-distance migrations. And because of that, we’re also starting to become known for our research program and what we are understanding and learning from those migrations.
“Also, this new conservation effort that is emerging throughout the state, where people are starting to look at these migration corridors and thinking carefully and hard about what we need to do to maintain them. That’s been led by the WGFD, with lots of sportsman’s groups, and other stakeholders, starting to come together to ask, ‘What do we need to do to make sure we can keep these migration corridors intact?’ And again, Wyoming is really leading the way on that effort, which is also starting to grow westward.”
RMEF’s support of the Wyoming Migration Initiative dates back to 2006 when Kauffman joined UW, and RMEF began working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to provide funding for research that eventually led to the initiative.
Kauffman said one of his first projects was in Cody, studying the interaction between elk and wolves. Wolves were newly colonized in the area.
“There were questions about wolf predation on elk. With wolves in Yellowstone, there was a change in the elk population where there was an increase in the number of resident elk. A larger proportion of elk were resident, and fewer were migrating up to Yellowstone. There was a concern that wolves were pushing the elk to become resident. We evaluated the question and found out that, in fact, that wasn’t the case. None of the elk switched. The resident elk were enjoying better forage quality from irrigated land, and less predation by wolves and bears. The residents were growing more elk, and that’s why their numbers were increasing.”
He said the RMEF was a supporter of his first project. WMI is the recipient of funding from multiple entities, and if it’s an elk study, Kauffman said the RMEF is always one of them.
Kauffman grew up in rural southern Oregon, the son of a horse logger and an elementary school teacher. He has an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Since 2013, RMEF provided more than $243,000 on 14 projects while formally working alongside Kauffman. Key accomplishments include the Atlas of Wildlife Migration, Wyoming Ungulates, Elk Migrations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Invisible Boundaries: Exploring Yellowstone’s Great Animal Migrations, Migration Assessment of elk herds in various parts of Wyoming and other tools that allow researchers and the public to view and understand migrations.
"The 2018 Secretarial Order 3362 focusing on conservation and big game migration corridors can in no small part be traced back to the Wyoming Migration Initiative and its ground-breaking work. Wyoming is known to have the best migration data of any of the western states," added Henning.
Kauffman will receive the award at the upcoming RMEF Elk Camp, presented by YETI, on July 11.
The Wyoming Migration Initiative is located at the Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming, 1000 East University Ave., Dept. 3166, Laramie, WY 82071. For more information, visit the web site at migrationinitiative.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 307-766-6404.