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 Ensuring the conservation of mule deer,
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Projects in Washington

Ron Knapp

Skagit Valley Chapter (Mt. Vernon, Wash.) 2011 Chapter Rewards. The chapter purchased and donated a black-tailed deer decoy to the Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Region 4.

Skagit Valley Chapter Rewards, Black-tailed deer decoy
L-R: Enforcement Officer Nick Jorg and MDF Regional Director Ron Knapp.

Kay Lynch

On the morning of June 20, committee members of the Skagit Valley Chapter of MDF boarded the Keystone ferry, bound for Port Townsend and then continuing on to Sequim (pop. 5,951) for a day of work in the National Forest on the Washington State Peninsula. The work party consisted of Ron and Judy Knapp, Jason, Jenny, Weylin, and Elizabeth Chandler, Linda Strobel, Heather and Shelby Magnuson, and Don and Kay Lynch.

The morning was cool and misty with a drizzle falling every so often. But Sequim has the reputation of being a very temperate region, getting the least amount of rain in Washington. So, everyone’s spirits were high and all were looking forward to a good and productive day.

On the outskirts of Sequim, in Clallam County, we rendezvoused with the three US Forest Service personnel that would take us to the sight. Kurt Aluzas––a wildlife biologist from Port Hadlock; Sunny Paz––a wildlife biologist since 1987 from the Tacoma area; and Ben Marquart from Quilence who both have been working for the Forest Service for the past three years, were there to greet the work party.

Kurt explained that the elk have been making a nuisance of themselves in and around Sequim by raiding gardens and farmers’ crops. A plan to provide more browse for the elk was put into action. On the eastern side, in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, part of the second growth forest, roughly 10 miles from town, was cleared (approximately 5 acres at the first sight), and natural ground cover was allowed to grow. This left plenty of shelter, running streams and perfect browse for the elk. It seemed to have been a great solution, but the deer moved into the area that was created for the elk, and the elk preferred staying right where they were.

More work, Kurt explained, had been done in the habitat provided for the elk. To keep the areas clear, small Douglas fir trees had been cut down, limbed, and stacked into piles that would later be burned in the Fall. Ben Marquart made sure the burn piles were to specs: 5 to 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide, with carefully placed branches to ensure that the piles would burn efficiently.

Following behind the Forest Service truck, we climbed rapidly in elevation. Ears were popping and soon we were on gravel Forest Service roads. It took about 20 minutes of driving through beautifully forested land to reach the first sight.

A light mist was falling as we hiked up the trail. Kurt pointed out a grouse hen on a stump. She was quite nervous as her clutch was below the stump. We couldn’t see them because of the foliage but we decided to work on the opposite side of the trail first so she could round up her clutch and disappear.

Within ten minutes of starting to drag branches out of the brush, a yellow-jacket nest was discovered, so the crew moved on to the next hill. Soon after, the crew had a system down that was efficient, fast, and created less risk of sprained ankles and falls on the brushy uneven ground. They formed a “bucket brigade” passing branches from one person to the next. The last person would stack them on the burn pile. There was also a “weed detail”. Canadian thistle and daisy were the targeted weeds. They had not yet gone to seed, so the heads were removed and put in plastic garbage bags to be taken off the mountain with us. Both of these weeds ten to proliferate at a rapid pace, and are not palatable to deer or elk.

After an enjoyable lunch, the crew started on the other side of the trail where the grouse had been seen earlier. After about an hour and a half, the sight was completed.

There was enough time before we had to catch the ferry back to Keystone, to work as much as possible on another area. Back into the vehicles and onto a road only fit for 4x4’s, we knew we would have to have Kurt, Sonny, and Ben guide us out.

It was a quarter mile hike to this sight and again the “bucket brigade” system was put to use. Soon it was time to head back to Port Townsend to catch the ferry. Everyone was wet and tired, but feeling good about a very productive day.

We stopped for dinner in Oak Harbor, where everyone devoured their food in record time. The fresh air, hard work, sense of accomplishment, and camaraderie had made us ravenous…but it also made us all look forward to our next project.

Kari Dingman, Assistant Wildlife Area Manager with Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

The mule deer that call the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington home, are a popular big game species with both hunters and wildlife viewers alike. While the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has spent considerable time and money in habitat restoration to increase mule deer numbers, MDF chapters have proven to also be an important avenue of support and funding for the projects that benefit these mule deer.

The W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area (WLA) consists of 16,000 acres located south of Pomeroy, Washington. The WLA ranges from an elevation of 2,000 feet in the river bottom to 4,300 feet on the highest ridges. Steep, rocky slopes characterize the terrain, with mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, bighorn sheep, black bear, mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, forest grouse, Hungarian partridge, and pheasants all calling this special place home. In addition, the Tucannon River, which runs through the middle of the WLA, houses chinook, steelhead, and bull trout.

A majority of the WLA was covered with coniferous forest until the School Fire in 2005 and the Columbia Complex Fire in 2006 burned the entire WLA. The WLA was logged for salvage timber and to remove standing debris in 2007 and replanted with nursery-grown seedlings in the Spring of 2008. The WLA is now very open with stands of conifers in areas that were not heavily burned. The understory vegetation has now come back and is doing well since the fires.

However, with few or no water sources on the ridge-tops of the WLA, the MDF partnered with Sierra Club International (SCI) to purchase a 750-gallon wildlife guzzler (water retaining structure) and WDFW contributed the manpower and equipment to install the guzzler. The guzzler was installed on the ridge overlooking the Hartsock Unit of the WLA in April 2009.

The installation of the guzzler provided water in an area that was previously devoid of any, and the chosen guzzler location is now receiving a great deal of use by mule deer traveling between forage and shelter. The guzzler will convert the area to a more useable habitat for mule deer as well as the other wildlife species in the area. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would like to thank the Mule Deer Foundation and all of its members, staff, and volunteers for their past support and assistance. We look forward to working with this great organization in the future.