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Mule deer

Learn about habitat-restoration efforts

Healthy watersheds benefit wildlife and the public.

Why are healthy watersheds important? Among other things, they provide:

  • Plenty of clean drinking water
  • Irrigation for farms and ranches
  • Clear streams and reservoirs for fishing
  • Healthier rangelands that support both livestock and wildlife
  • Reduced risk of Endangered Species Act listings
  • More hiring of local contractors, which helps rural economies
  • Improved air quality
  • Decreased fire frequency, intensity and suppression costs

Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative is a partnership-driven effort to conserve, restore and manage ecosystems in priority areas across the state. The partners focus on enhancing Utah's water quality and yield as well as its biological diversity.

To achieve these results, the initiative's partners fund and perform physical and mechanical habitat manipulation, negotiate administrative changes in land management, and strengthen communication and team-building among the public and stakeholders.

Restoration projects occur statewide.

Over the past six years, Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative has completed hundreds of habitat-restoration projects that benefit mule deer. The red-shaded areas on the following map are places where restoration work has occurred.

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Restoration projects

The Watershed Restoration Initiative has also identified and mapped additional restoration-focus areas across Utah's sagebrush habitat ranges. The mapping effort identifies where restoration work can prevent further declines in rangeland health.

You can review all of the proposed, current and completed habitat-restoration projects in the Watershed Restoration Initiative's online project database.





Long-term monitoring evaluates habitat on individual units.

As the agency that leads Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative, the DWR monitors long-term vegetation changes (range trends) on big game winter ranges. The health and growth of our mule deer herds — and other wildlife — depend on the quality and quantity of forage in these key areas.

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Range trend data is assessed and organized by wildlife management units, and each region is resurveyed every five years. There are multiple survey sites within each unit, and photos provide visual evidence of changes in the vegetation. (For example, here are photos of the Grapevine Spring area in the Pine Valley wildlife management unit.)

DWR biologists and other land managers use range-trend data when proposing habitat-improvement projects to Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative. Range-trend data is also one of several resources used in revising deer and elk management plans.

Learn more about the methods biologists use to study range trends.

Projects are customized to meet local needs.

Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative is working to counteract threats to watershed and rangeland health across the state. Each year, the initiative's five regional teams work closely with government agencies, local landowners, businesses and other stakeholders to identify and complete dozens of land-restoration projects.

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Restoration-project parameters

How do the regional teams decide which projects to pursue? They measure the proposed action against three main parameters:

  • Is the land considered a conservation focus area?
  • Are partners and stakeholders willing to consider new management methods?
  • Will the land and its stakeholders support a long-term, cooperative and measurable effort that involves multiple species and uses?

By definition, all conservation focus areas face threats to watershed health. These threats must be minimized or eliminated — at a reasonable cost — so the area can sustain diverse species over the long term.

Regional team efforts

When it comes to restoration projects, the regional teams are very familiar with the lands and stakeholders in question. They measure proposals against parameters and decide whether to support various projects. The teams also:

  • Coordinate and share participants' conservation concerns and priorities
  • Itemize and implement long-term, objective-driven plans to protect and restore land health
  • Identify conservation focus areas and make them a top priority
  • Strive for consistency between the initiative's efforts and existing land-use plans
  • Review proposed restoration projects for adequacy, technical merit and consistency with regional priorities

Above all, the regional teams foster an atmosphere where cooperation is the rule — not the exception — for conservation and restoration activities.

Expanded warehouse stores and distributes seed for projects.

The DWR's Great Basin Research Center, located in Ephraim, Utah, conducts forest- and rangeland-restoration research. The center's primary objective is to improve the DWR's capability to restore poor-condition big game winter ranges.

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Over the years, the center has developed a very valuable seed acquisition, storage, mixing and distribution program. As part of this program, the DWR built and recently expanded a seed warehouse, located at the research center. The warehouse ensures that the appropriate seed is available when needed for habitat-restoration projects.

The DWR's seed warehouse plays a key role in Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative. Seed from the warehouse is planted in areas after wildfires, prescribed burns and mechanical treatments.

Restoration methods vary, depending on the area.

There are a variety of methods that can increase the diversity of beneficial grasses, forbs and shrubs — and improve mule deer habitat — in Utah's rangelands.

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Fire-rehabilitation projects

These projects involve artificial seeding after a wildfire or after an intentional burn to help a particular area. (These are called prescribed burns.) After the burn, a number of steps occur:

In rugged terrain, the seed is usually dropped from an airplane or helicopter.

When possible, after the seed is dropped, two tractors drag an anchor chain over the burned area to cover the seed with soil.

On flat terrain, rangeland drills are often used to place seed into furrows (much like a grain drill is used on a farm). The furrows concentrate the moisture in the soil and increase the chance the seed will establish itself and grow.

Mechanical-treatment projects

These types of projects usually involve attaching an implement to a tractor and dragging it through dense stands of old sagebrush — or through pinyon-juniper woodlands that have spread into sagebrush sites. Sometimes, the work crews use a brush hog (a type of rotary mower) to mulch the uprooted vegetation. After the older plants have been removed, the area is reseeded.

Pinyon-juniper treatments typically require crews to remove individual young trees that have spread into productive sagebrush sites. Sometimes, the crews use an anchor chain to open up larger areas within a partially closed stand where patches of sagebrush are still present.

Plants take time to grow.

Rangeland restoration doesn't happen overnight. It is a starting point to halt declines in rangeland health. It can take five to ten years (or longer) for newly planted sagebrush and other native plants to visibly benefit wildlife populations.

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Although restoration efforts will not immediately return Utah's rangelands to pristine condition, there is optimism among all partners in the Watershed Restoration Initiative. There has been significant progress in improving rangeland health in focus areas statewide.

Project database offers detailed look at habitat work.

The Watershed Restoration Initiative has launched an effective online projects database and planning tool. The initiative's partners can enter habitat-restoration proposals into the system from any location. Then, all regional team members can review proposals before deciding which ones should be endorsed for final approval and funding.

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This approach helps the partners easily share information and resources, which is important because many of the projects receive funding from several different organizations. The database is also open to the public, providing an in-depth look at the collaborative funding and work that goes into habitat restoration in Utah.

The online database contains more than just project proposals. It also includes maps, dates, project specifications, funding sources, expenses, acreage, affected species and other critical information.

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