Better habitat, more birds

Hunters in the Upland Game Slam Program are making a difference

By Avery Cook
DWR upland game project leader

Over the years, I've developed a few rules to live by. One of those rules is that I won't ask someone to do something that I'm not willing to try myself. That's why I've completed each of the Upland Game Slams that's been offered. It's one of my fall traditions — getting outdoors to find some solitude and hunt the species I help manage. And best of all, I know the money I put into the slam is going toward hands-on projects that benefit wildlife and other hunters.

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It's one of my fall traditions — getting outdoors to find some solitude and hunt the species I help manage.

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It's one of my fall traditions — getting outdoors to find some solitude and hunt the species I help manage.

The Utah Upland Game Slam program is a partnership between the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and multiple conservation organizations and partners. The program has two main objectives:

  • To encourage hunters to pursue a diversity of species and visit their habitats across the state.
  • To raise funds for projects that benefit upland game species.

As a result of the slam, we've completed a number of projects in recent years. Some of those efforts have improved habitat for upland species, and others have established upland species in new areas across the state. Funds from the Upland Game Slam provide the seed money needed to get projects off the ground. Then, additional matching funds that come in from other sources help leverage the slam dollars into larger projects. Here are a few of the projects we've funded:

Improving habitat for quail and pheasants

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The plantings at Ogden Bay WMA will eventually provide cover, forage and nesting habitat for California quail and pheasants.

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The plantings at Ogden Bay WMA will eventually provide cover, forage and nesting habitat for California quail and pheasants.

Within the last couple of years, we've used Upland Game Slam funds to kick-start a series of shrub complex projects in upland areas of the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area (WMA). In Phase 1 of this project, we planted shrub rows bordered by an inner strip of bunch grasses. Then, we added seed-producing forbs (flowering plants) and an outer strip of food crops. These plantings are designed to meet the year-round habitat needs of both California quail and pheasants by providing cover, forage and nesting habitat.

The initial shrubs and seeds went in during the fall of 2017 as part of a modular design that allows for expansion, and a second phase of the project was completed in 2018. Phase I of this project was funded with $1,000 from the Upland Game Slam, $1,500 from the Habitat Council (from hunting license fees) and $2000 of in-kind donations from Pheasants Forever — and then all of those were matched with $13,500 of federal Pittman-Robertson (PR) funds.

Trapping and relocating California quail to establish new populations

California quail are not native to Utah. The populations that have become established over the years were all introduced at some point in the past. To continue to maintain and expand California quail range within Utah — and to provide additional hunting opportunities — we trap the quail in urban areas (where they are abundant) and release them in suitable habitat in more rural areas.

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With funds from the Upland Game Slam, we've been able to establish California quail populations in new locations with suitable habitat.

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With funds from the Upland Game Slam, we've been able to establish California quail populations in new locations with suitable habitat.

For this project, we used the Upland Game Slam funds to hire a seasonal employee who coordinated volunteer trapping efforts, picked up and dropped off equipment, and received quail to transport to release sites. As a result of this effort, we have seen quail established at a number of new sites, including some areas where new habitat projects have been completed. This project uses about $2,000 a year in slam funds and has been matched with funds from the Utah Chukar and Wildlife Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, and federal PR funds over the last three winters.

Planting shrubs to benefit pheasants

The Utah Lake Wetland Preserve is a gem at the south end of Utah Lake; however, it receives a huge amount of hunting pressure during pheasant season. In an effort to increase pheasant habitat — and to try and keep pheasants on accessible properties — we used slam funding to plant willow shrub rows. The shrub rows were planted and then fenced to protect the young plants while they establish. This project was funded with $500 in Upland Game Slam revenue and $100 from the Habitat Council, and then matched with $1,800 of federal PR funds.

Planning more projects to benefit quail, pheasants and doves

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We planted willow shrub rows at the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve to improve habitat for pheasants.

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We planted willow shrub rows at the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve to improve habitat for pheasants.

At the Bud Phelps WMA, we're partnering with Pheasants Forever to plan work that includes food plots, other habitat enhancements and fencing. More woody vegetation is greatly needed on this WMA, which has been historically dominated by Garrison creeping meadow foxtail, a highly adaptable grass species. Measures to diversify the vegetation have been underway for a few years, and this project is part of that shift.

This project will be similar to the one we did at Ogden Bay WMA. We will establish shrub plantings bordered by a strip of bunch grasses, and then add seed-producing forbs (flowering plants) and an outer strip of food crops. Adding shrub rows should increase habitat complexity, provide hiding cover and produce more forage. These results will potentially allow quail populations to persist, provide huntable hiding cover for pheasants and keep mourning doves in the area later into the hunting season. Improved woody cover will improve hunt quality and give released pheasants a reason to remain on the property.

The slam is already underway for the 2019-2020 season, and we've made it easy to participate. Just buy an Upland Game Slam entry voucher online (or from any license agent), and then submit photos online to complete each slam.

Many thanks to all of you who have contributed to these projects by participating in the slam. You've made a difference on the ground and helped improve conditions for the species you hunt. We're looking forward to tackling new projects with you in the years to come!

Avery Cook

Avery Cook

Avery Cook is the Upland Game Project Leader out of the Salt Lake office. He helps coordinate programs to manage upland game birds and rabbits within the state.


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