Arizona Game and Fish Department contractors have started work on the first phase of the West Side Habitat Improvement Project.
Workers are using a mechanical grinding drum mounted on a Bobcat to clear pinyon and juniper trees from about 4,300 acres near Eagle Pass on the North Kaibab Ranger District.
"Removing some of the trees will allow cliffrose, sage and other mule deer forage species to receive more light, water and nutrients, so they can grow larger and faster," said Steve Boyer, North Kaibab Ranger District silviculturist.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department also plans to plant seeds of various shrub species on about 500 acres of the project area this fall, said Andi Rogers, Arizona Game and Fish Department habitat specialist.
"That's important because the west side of the Kaibab Plateau is critical winter range for the Kaibab mule deer herd, and the availability of forage there is a key factor in how well the herd does," Rogers said.
The state of Arizona is contributing about $250,000 toward these two activities from Senate bill funding and Arizona Game and Fish Department Kaibab deer stamp sales.
The Kaibab mule deer herd is considered one of the premier herds in Arizona. Concern and controversy has increased in the last decade over the relationship between the herd's size and its impact on winter range forage.
A 1996 fire that burned about 53,000 acres of pinyon-juniper woodlands increased impacts to forage.
Much of the burned area has been invaded by exotics such as cheatgrass, musk thistle and scotch thistle. To counter these threats, the North Kaibab Ranger District and Arizona Game and Fish department cooperatively developed the West Side Habitat Improvement Project, which calls for planting shrub species on about 3,000 acres of burned uplands and 1,500 acres of drainage bottoms.
The project also calls for removing trees and seeding grass and shrub species on up to 11,000 acres of pinyon-juniper woodlands and 4,000 acres of old pushes, and extensive treatments to eradicate noxious weeds and restore native species around Slide Tank.
The Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and partners like the Arizona Deer Association and Grand Canyon Trust are continuing to explore other possible projects to improve conditions for the Kaibab mule deer herd.
For information, contact the North Kaibab Ranger District at 928-643-7395 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai, or the Arizona Game and Fish Department at 928-774-5045 or www.azgfd.gov.