Salt Lake City, UT: Earlier this month, the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) planted 70,000 Wyoming sagebrush and bitterbrush plants on approximately 1,000 acres near Gooding Idaho that was the site of the 2017 Dog Creek Fire. This planting operation represents the fourth year of a five-year $500,000 assistance agreement that MDF coordinated between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Idaho Fish and Game Department (IDFG), and the Idaho Office of Species Conservation. MDF worked to leverage partner funding and in-kind support for an additional nearly $300,000. Under the agreement since 2016, MDF has planted 424,000 plants on over 16,000 acres of important mule deer winter range and sage grouse habitat that was burned by wildfire.
“This has been a huge undertaking for MDF and our partners in Idaho, but we have seen tremendous success in long term plant survival making a lasting impact on these fire-damaged habitats,” said Steve Belinda, MDF director of conservation programs and on-site coordinator for the planting projects. “We started our work near Glens Ferry where the 2011 Blair Fire destroyed about 33,000 acres of habitat used by a herd of about 5,000 mule deer as winter range. We put 354,000 plants in on approximately 15,000 acres before moving to work on the Dog Creek Fire project.”
The areas that were planted were targeted through an effort MDF undertook to find overlapping areas that were identified by BLM and IDFG as crucial winter range for mule deer and core sage grouse habitat. This allowed the team to ensure that the most important habitat within the burn scars would be revegetated with plants needed by both species and reduce the potential for infestation by invasive cheat grass. IDFG provided funds to purchase the plant stock as part of their partnership contribution and MDF, led by Belinda in the field, directly contracted with a crew to get the plants in the ground. The project areas have seen greater than 50 percent survival rate of the young plants which is substantially higher than many restoration projects.
“This project is a great example of how we can get meaningful work done on the landscape for mule deer when we work together,” commented Matt Pieron, IDFG’s Mule Deer Initiative coordinator. “IDFG values the strong partnership with MDF and BLM that has made this project possible.”
“The partnership we have with Idaho Fish and Game and Mule Deer Foundation is a testament to our commitment to shared conservation stewardship,” noted Lynn Pettingill, fire use specialist with the Bureau of Land Management. “Projects that we plan and coordinate together, like the Dog Creek project, improve the health and diversity of this recently burned area. Although the recovery of the sagebrush component in this area will take some time, the partnerships that we foster are able to help sage grouse, mule deer, and other sagebrush obligate species to survive.”
The Mule Deer Foundation is the only conservation group in North America dedicated to restoring, improving and conserving mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat, with a focus on science and program efficiency. MDF is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. MDF acknowledges regulated hunting as a viable management component and is committed to recruitment and retention of men, women youth into the shooting sports and conservation. Get involved in your state or become a member at www.muledeer.org or call 1-888-375-3337.