The value of migratory corridors stretches beyond the physical landscape, or a singular famous pathway—it touches something primal within ourselves, the capacity of Western ecosystems to endure.
My reporting trip to Wyoming this past June taught me to understand how critical persistence and perspective are in organizing and telling stories about wildlife. This is especially the case with a story subject that was embroiled in active litigation at the time of my trip, like my chosen reporting subject, Wyoming’s Path of the Pronghorn.
I first learned about a legal battle surrounding the Path—the lone federally-recognized migratory corridor—through a Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks report I covered while interning with States Newsroom last spring in Washington, D.C.
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The Path of the Pronghorn is a 150-plus-mile journey that 400 to 800 pronghorn in Grand Teton National Park take twice every year, to the Upper Green River Valley in the fall for winter foraging and back to the park in the spring for summer feeding. The corridor has existed for over 6,000 years, and was formally recognized by the National Parks Service and Forest Service in 2008.
In March, the Center for Biological Diversity had recently appealed a district court ruling permitting a 3,500-well natural gas project in the Normally Pressured Lance gas field, which cut through the corridor.
While reflecting on my reporting, the idea of a legal battle to protect the lone federally-recognized migration corridor for an iconic Western species in a state known for its growing economy and storied natural resources stuck with me.
Going into my trip, I planned for the Path of the Pronghorn to be a symbol showcasing larger battles over open space and development in the West, and the ability of humanity to share land with nature.
I traveled to Jackson Hole in late June, soon after receiving the reporting grant. Following the advice of my Pulitzer Center mentor, grantee Nate Hegyi, I planned out scenes beforehand on the ground, including a hike to go observe pronghorn with Renee Seidler of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and a trip out to the Pinedale Anticline with Brandon Scurlock of Wyoming Fish and Game.
When I arrived, I quickly learned that while I could prepare for the elements, I could not stop them from occurring. I dealt with a 10-day rainstorm in the Tetons that would stop intermittently, and had to reschedule several interviews due to inclement conditions affecting outdoor activities, costing me days of planning and an opportunity to watch the Grand Teton pronghorn surveying process.
I also quickly learned that the local activists, agency officials, and even the energy company involved in the lawsuit over the Path would not comment on the corridor, given it was still under active litigation when I arrived. As such, I had to pivot my angle away from the lawsuit that attracted me to this story, and which I spent the bulk of my time pre-reporting.
However, my experiences on the ground, like hiking with Scurlock on the Anticline, only proved to show me that the story of the Path of the Pronghorn stretched far beyond the rabbit hole of the Path’s designation, and individual timeline. They also helped me pivot my story’s focus back to the larger issue of migration corridors, and tell the story of the Path in what it symbolizes for long-distance migrations, and what protecting these migrations means to us.
“It's not about the pronghorn, per se,” as Joel Berger, an emeritus professor at Colorado State University, who wrote the article identifying the Path of the Pronghorn, said. “It's about a concept. It's about a dream. Because if we can do it in a state like Wyoming, why can't we do this elsewhere?”
Scurlock emphasized that while the Path of the Pronghorn is the corridor that attracts attention, it also drives controversy and can distract people from the devastation to migratory corridors that people aren’t watching.
Hiking with Seidler out in the brick-red Gros Ventre Mountains served to show me that the value of migratory corridors stretches beyond the physical landscape, or a singular famous pathway—it touches something primal within ourselves, the capacity of Western ecosystems to endure.
“These are feats of strength,” she said in our drive up to the mountain range. “The first time I recognized that I was looking at animals migrating, it was emotional.”
This conversation inspired me to pull the lens back and shift the focus away from the Path of the Pronghorn, and toward what it represents about how we perceive migratory corridors, and how we can preserve them through policy solutions that embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of the West.
In retrospect, there were a number of things I could have done differently, including planning out more interviews ahead of time, including with local town officials. I would have also planned a longer trip, to ensure I had time to talk with a more diverse range of sources, like oil field managers and regional commissioners, and given myself more time to explore the area.
That said, I am glad to have had the experience of working with the National Park Service on a story, and the opportunity to explore this timely topic with the support of the Pulitzer Center. I hope the story contributes to an increasingly robust discussion of how we grow and sustain our public lands in a manner that balances the needs of nature with those of society.