Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

A habitat remodel for wintering mule deer

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.