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Nevada plan to save deer, restore habitat faces challenges

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  • Pat Scala
    February 10, 2007 Nevada plan to save deer, restore habitat faces challenges By SANDRA CHEREB ASSOCIATED PRESS RENO, Nev. (AP) - State wildlife officials have
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2007
      February 10, 2007


      Nevada plan to save deer, restore habitat faces challenges


      By SANDRA CHEREB
      ASSOCIATED PRESS

      RENO, Nev. (AP) - State wildlife officials have a long-term blueprint to try
      to nurture Nevada's mule deer population, which has suffered under
      increasing pressures from humans, development, and perhaps worst of all,
      nature's fury.

      Officials acknowledge it won't be easy to stabilize deer herds and their
      habitat when they are faced with invasive weeds, wildland fires and human
      encroachment.

      Unless you're a desert lover, rallying support - and money - for sagebrush
      is a tough sell, said Russ Mason, big game chief for the Nevada Department
      of Wildlife.

      "People visit Lake Tahoe. It's pretty," Mason said.

      The picturesque lake in the Sierra Nevada has benefited from a "Keep Tahoe
      Blue" campaign and tens of millions of dollars for environmental projects to
      protect the clarity of its azure waters.

      "Getting most people excited about brown desert that stretches for hundreds
      of miles, that's another story."

      In 1988 the statewide estimate of mule deer in Nevada was 240,000 animals.
      Since 2002 that same statewide estimate has hovered near 110,000 animals.
      The last 20 years have been tough on mule deer with prolonged droughts that
      weakened the ability of the land to support the numbers of the late 1980s.

      Nature switched gears and delivered the harsh "killer" winter of 1992-1993
      where thousands of forage deprived and drought-weakened deer perished. Then,
      in the late 1990's the habitat devastation caused by wildfires began and
      continued through last summer.

      "In the last 10 years Nevada has seen an increase in damaging wildfires.
      Nearly 3.5 million acres of prime sagebrush habitat has been lost and
      despite rehabilitation efforts, much of that land has been converted to
      cheat grass which does not provide the needed combination of food and winter
      shelter that the mule deer need," according to wildlife department spokseman
      Chris Healy.

      "In western Nevada, along the Sierra Front, fast-paced urban hillside
      development has caused the loss of deer winter range from Reno, south to
      Gardnerville," he said.

      Stresses on deer habitat have been bemoaned, studied and discussed for
      years.

      What the new plan hammer's home harder than ever before is that there's no
      easy fix, and it emphasizes that protecting or rehabilitating the landscape
      is a monumental chore not easily accomplished - logistically or financially.


      Mason said the mule deer plan "considers what can be done in terms of
      habitat, population management, harvest, private lands management and
      communications to improve the outlook for this keystone species."

      It also provides an explanation of sorts for when disgruntled sportsmen
      complain they can't get a deer tag in the annual hunt lottery.

      "There's a lot of people, well-meaning, that want to do good things for
      wildlife," said Tony Wasley, a game biologist with the state Wildlife
      Department in Elko.

      Wildlife is a state resources, whether for hunters or people who just like
      to see animals, he said. "As opportunities to do that decline, people demand
      answers. They want to know, 'What are you going to do for our deer?'"

      The Nevada Wildlife Commission set out to answer the question in September
      when it adopted the management plan, which requires agency biologists to
      develop detailed prescriptions for specific areas around the state.

      The first four areas, two in northeast Nevada and one each in the eastern
      and western parts of the state. are scheduled to be reviewed by the
      commission in March.

      Recommendations for the remaining areas should be in place by next year,
      with annual reviews each March thereafter, officials said.

      One area in northeast Nevada, the western half of Elko County was
      particularly hard hit by wildfires last summer. More than 1.4 million acres
      - or nearly 2,200 square miles - of Nevada burned last summer. Most of the
      damage was in Elko County, which lost about 1 million acres of prime
      rangeland and wildland habitat.

      Because of the loss of critical rangeland where the deer spend their
      winters, the state authorized an emergency hunt last fall of 1,000 does in
      the region to thin herds and prevent them from dying of starvation or
      exposure during the cold winter months.

      Then the wildlife agency, working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
      and U.S. Forest Service, set out to rehabilitate the sagebrush ecosystem -
      an uncertain undertaking, with the chance of success often dependent on the
      whims of nature.

      Seeds must be sown in the fall and winter after a wildfire, so they can take
      advantage of the first winter moisture to get a root-hair hold before
      invasive weeds muscle them out and become a carpet of tinder-dry fuel come
      summer.

      So far, nearly 20,000 acres have been seeded on the ground and 10,000 acres
      from the air in burned out watersheds.

      An additional 165,000 acres of aerial seeding is planned this winter.

      As of mid-January, the Nevada Department of Wildlife said 250,000 pounds of
      sagebrush seed and more than 14,000 pounds of bitterbrush seed were on
      order. The BLM has purchased nearly 1 million pounds of various seed
      species.

      The state Wildlife Department already has channeled more than $700,000 of
      habitat conservation fees and bond money to rehabilitation efforts.
      Sportsmen groups have raised $85,000 more.

      But the amount is only enough to pay for rehabilitating about 5 percent of
      the acreage burned last year, officials said.

      "What you're actually able to do out there ... is just a fraction of what
      was lost," Wasley said. "We're putting a lot of hope that it's going to
      become established and provide what the deer need.

      "In the long term, there's probably no way we'll ever see what we once had
      in that area,' he said.

      "If we could just stop things where they are, we'd probably consider that a
      success."

      ---

      On the Net: Nevada Department of Wildlife: http://www.ndow.org

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