Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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UT: Enhancing habitat in the Book Cliffs

At a recent sportsmans expo in Salt Lake City, a national expert
on mule deer was asked a simple question, “If you could do one
thing for mule deer, what would it be?” The person was likely
looking for an easy answer but what he got was one that takes
dedication. The expert told him there was no single answer, there
were two: the weather and quality habitat.

Since managing the weather falls in another department, wildlife
managers have concentrated on improving habitat.

In the northern Book Cliffs during the last five years, 62,700
acres of habitat have been treated by the Utah Division of Wildlife
Resources in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and
other partners. Most of these acres are in crucial deer summer and
winter range. Natural and prescribed fires have also improved
thousands more acres and there has been a considerable amount of
work done prior to five years ago and by other agencies and
organizations.

Why the effort?

Biologically and behaviorally, mule deer are sensitive to
changes and loss of habitat. Unlike elk, which are great explorers
and able to move around and find new places, mule deer are
traditionalists. They have set patterns and will move through an
area of good habitat to reach one in which they will starve.

Comprehensive studies indicate mule deer habitats across the
west have been in decline for the last 60 years. The decline is due
to a combination of factors including but not limited to: human
developments, overgrazing, invasive non-native species, changes in
the weather and key forage plants, like sagebrush, just getting
old. Unfortunately, all of these are also happening in the Book
Cliffs.

To reverse this trend, biologists and land managers from
multiple agencies and organizations have begun targeting crucial
areas for habitat restoration in the Book Cliffs. Their goal is to
protect and enhance one of Utah’s premier deer herds. A herd that
is highly sensitive to changes because it has limited summer range
and many of its traditional wintering areas are in poor condition
due to weather, age of plants, and past habitat/land uses and
future human developments.

Habitat Work In The Northern Book Cliffs

Between 2005 and 2010, bullhogs have been used to clear 4,670
acres. Bullhogs are large mobile shredders which grind up trees and
other vegetation to clear an area and create a mulch to protect
seeds and new growth. Another 28,743 acres has been treated by a
Lop and Scatter (LOP) method. LOP crews cut down invasive
vegetation, usually pinyon and juniper trees, which invade
sagebrush flats and other more productive deer habitats.

Another 855 acres have been chained, harrowed or drill seeded.
These methods use bulldozers or tractors to drag a chain, harrow or
drill, which knocks down some vegetation and disturbs the soils to
better accept seeds.

Herbicides have been applied to 450 acres of greasewood and
there have been several projects designed to enhance springs or to
create/repair guzzlers. Biologists have also planted willows and
other bare-root shrubs and trees to help repair riparian or
stream-side areas.

With most of the above treatments, the areas have been seeded
with a mix of forbs, shrubs and grasses designed to provide deer,
elk and other wildlife with food and shelter.

The agencies have also applied seed to enhance or create habitat
in areas cleared by natural fires in the Book Cliffs. Roughly a
third of the nearly 100,000 acres of wildfire areas have been
treated with aerial seeding. Seeding efforts have been concentrated
in areas crucial to the deer herds and/or places where the
biologists are concerned about invasion by non-native plants or
preventing erosion.

Working for wildlife by enhancing habitat in the Book Cliffs is
far from over. Biologists have already completed the paperwork and
preparation for several new bullhog, LOP, water and other
enhancements for 2011, and other projects are in the development
stages. Just over the last two weeks, crews applied over 1,000
pounds of sagebrush and forage kochia seed to 750 acres.

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