By Tyler Dungannon, OHA Conservation Coordinator
In response to wildfires that burned over 500,000 acres in the Interstate Unit last year, OHA and partners planted thousands of sage and bitterbrush seedlings to help restore Lake County mule deer winter range on Nov. 18-20.
Foraging mule deer rely almost exclusively on sagebrush and bitterbrush to survive the winter, and multiple recent wildfires have decimated their primary food source in much of the Interstate Unit. These fires burned mule deer summer range as well, but summer range habitat is much quicker to regenerate naturally given these areas are higher in elevation and moisture is generally available throughout much of the year. In contrast, mule deer winter range is characterized by low elevation habitat, and reduced moisture content. Native winter range habitat is slow to regenerate naturally, and these areas are particularly susceptible to non-native, annual grass invasion, which presents a threat to mule deer populations across the West.
OHA conservation staff worked diligently to attain grant funding to restore winter range in an effort to bolster mule deer populations in the region. After funds were approved, adults in custody at the Warner Creek Correctional Facility sowed sage and bitterbrush plants beginning in May and nursed them through November. As part of the project, adults in custody planted and protected roughly 400 plants with vexar tubing and bamboo stakes. Adults in Custody at the Warner Creek Correctional Facility, who sowed and nursed the plants beginning in May, planted 400 plants in three hours on Nov. 18, and then 40 OHA volunteers took the torch over the weekend. An actual torch would have been nice, as morning low temperatures were -8 on both Saturday and Sunday. Still, most volunteers were shedding layers by 10 a.m. and enjoying blue bird days.
OHA conservation staff broadcasted sage and bitterbrush seed, and our hardy volunteers planted and protected roughly 6,000 seedlings near Clover Flat, east of Lake Abert. However, there is still more work to do. OHA staff will set a date to plant an additional 6,000 seedlings for spring of 2023, when we hope to see mild weather.
Future planting dates have yet to be determined, but please stay tuned if you’re interested in restoring mule deer winter range. Contact Tyler Dungannon (email@example.com) for information.
State OHA, OHA Klamath and Lake County chapters each contributed $3,000 to the 2022 project. OHA conservation staff successfully attained grant funding to make this project possible, and these grants were awarded by the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund ($23,000) and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation ($10,000). Backcountry Hunters and Anglers donated more than $1,000 of sage and bitterbrush seed, and Legacy Sports International, Benchmade, and Sig Sauer donated amazing drawing prizes for volunteers. Institute for Applied Ecology, the Bureau of Land Management and the Warner Creek Correctional Facility have played pivotal roles in making this project a success, and OHA is looking forward to continuing these partnerships.