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A habitat remodel for wintering mule deer

This Utah chaining project will improve forage conditions in Emery County.

Nicole is a habitat biologist in the Southeast Region who works with the impact of oil and natural gas.

I like to think of it as taking a bedroom and turning it into a kitchen.” That’s what I was told by the gentleman who owned the dozers that pulled a 23,000-pound chain through pinyon and juniper trees in the Grimes Wash area.

The DWR launched the chaining project in the fall of 2011, contracting with an experienced crew of bulldozer operators to pull an Ely chain through the wash.

The comparison is actually a great way to describe this project. The chaining of Grimes Wash near the Wilberg mine removed pinyon and juniper trees in order to establish grasses, forbs and shrubs. These trees provide hiding spots and thermal cover for deer and elk, which is like a bedroom. By removing islands of trees and aerial seeding the area with quality plant species, we create a kitchen, and they still have a bedroom too. It’s a habitat remodel of sorts.

As plant communities age, different species become more dominant. Pinyon and juniper trees are the last species to establish and dominate lower elevation sites. Unless there is a disturbance of some kind, the site will remain as a pinyon-juniper woodland. If the tree canopy is thick enough, it prohibits other vegetation from growing. This is why the DWR removed approximately 200 acres of trees, re-seeding with a variety of forbs, grasses and shrubs, making more food for deer and elk.

An Ely chain is a modified anchor chain from a large freight ship. At 240 feet long, it weighs 23,000 pounds, making it a very effective tool for tree removal.

Chaining is an effective way to accomplish this task. By dragging a 240-foot anchor chain between parallel dozers, the trees are uprooted. The anchor chain has cross bars welded to the chain links to disturb the soil. This disturbance allows the seed to better establish and grow, like tilling your garden.

This project was a collaborative effort between UDWR, XTO Energy, Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative. With many financial partners, we can implement great projects—like this one—to benefit deer and elk. Our partners are greatly appreciated. The Grimes Wash Pinyon-Juniper Removal Project will be extremely beneficial in sustaining existing deer populations.

4 Responses to A habitat remodel for wintering mule deer

  1. Is this what you also did up Sanish Fork Canyon about 3/4 on the way up on the right side?

  2. Doesn’t this create erosion problems as well as allow invasive species to take over once the bulldozers come in? It seems like a more natural disturbance like a fire (one that the plant communities have adapted to over thousands of years) would be the way to go. Humans have managed woodlands for millenia via controlled burning, and research shows that regular burns roughly every 7-15 years or so is what the forests have adapted to and thus is what is healthy. I have read the research from the forest service and they explain how dozing it creates erosion and helps non native species proliferate. Maybe we should be rethinking our methods?

  3. In a paper titled “Ecology, Management, and Restoration of Piñon-Juniper and Ponderosa Pine Ecosystems,” published by the forest service, it states that the only time removing pinyon juniper woodlands is good for deer and elk forage is when you only remove small strips of it and keep the surrounding forest. They recommend small strips of clear cut 2 acres in size to help with deer and elk forage. Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like you have gone against the science on this.

  4. PJ woodland is a native vegetation and dominates the Great Basin Desert Biome. There is little evidence-based peer-reviewed published science that indicates it to be invasive. No evidence the would suggest it jeopardizes forage for game animals. No evidence that it lowers water tables.

    But there is a stack of evidence in peer-reviewed scientific publications that show that PJ woodland suppresses invasive weed domination, evolved with elk and deer, maintains higher water tables, reduces erosion of soils, reduces greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    Efforts to remove PJ woodland are driven by extractive industries who have spread stories without support of science that PJ woodland is invasive, and nuisance, and needs to be obliterated. Destruction of a native ecosystem for special interests, or to maintain funding for misguided BLM or USFS programs, is at the highest level. If agencies want to find something to do, they might invest funding into inventory of the ecosystems they manage. 20% of the native vascular plants in the Great Basin have not yet been named. 50% of invertebrates remain undiscovered. Destroying this ecosystem will be measured in terms of species extinction, ecosystem degradation and the perpetuation of human self-deception.

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