Cooperative Efforts Benefit Mule Deer

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Mule deer in eastern Idaho are getting a helping hand from volunteers, students, conservation groups and private landowners. Idaho Fish and Game is coordinating a massive planting of future winter browse for mule deer.

Volunteer efforts are making it possible to plant more native winter food plants than ever while private landowners are opening up important new parcels of land to planting efforts. Private lands play an important role in securing a brighter future for wintering mule deer.

"This year we are planting over 50,000 native plants for mule deer in southeast Idaho alone" said Paul Wackenhunt regional habitat manager for Idaho Fish and Game in Pocatello. "Private land owners and volunteers are keys to this year's increased efforts to plant winter foods for mule deer. This is part of our new Mule Deer Initiative to increase efforts to improve and provide better winter habitat."

In past years, between 10,000 and 15,000 native plants including antelope bitterbrush, Hobble Creek sage, Wyoming big sage, winter fat and four leaf salt brush were hand planted on mule deer winter range. This year, a specially designed tractor rig will plant an additional 40,000 plants. Ranchers such as Kent Rudeen and Logan Robinson of Power County have helped direct Idaho Fish and Game tractor plantings on their lands. They want to improve winter range on their property for mule deer.

Sportsmen across Idaho want to improve mule deer herds. This year's increased plantings of native plants for winter food is a blueprint for expanded future efforts. Sportsmen's dollars pay for these efforts and they would not happen without the efforts of volunteers and the cooperation of private landowners. Future projects will require continued cooperation, volunteer time and additional funding.

According to Wackenhunt, mule deer are selective grazers. They favor particular brush species that are palatable, nutritious and available above the snow. Fish and Game is attempting to introduce a range of adaptable species at various sites to improve forage for big game. These plants also benefit a host of other wildlife including sharp-tail grouse.

Plantings are in full swing across eastern Idaho. Special emphasis is being placed on burnt-over winter ranges where most plantings are done by hand. Tractors are in use near Rockland in Power County where large parcels of private land are being planted with 3,500 to 4,000 plants per parcel.

Restoring mule deer winter range on fire-ravaged habitat is another high priority. Fires, including the 3,977-acre Harkness Canyon Fire near McCammon in 2003, burned critical mule deer winter range. Volunteers have made important contributions at this site helping plant more than 8,000 native seedlings on steep and rugged terrain.

Planting native plants to restore winter range is a win-win program. Volunteers acquire hands-on experience, and there is lasting visible proof that their efforts help wildlife. Landowners increase long-term mule deer habitat and can receive points on their federal CRP program applications. Fish and Game responds to hunters' demands to help mule deer under The Mule Deer Initiative.