Northeastern California, Deer Assessment Unit 2 (DAU) has been identified by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) as an area of critical concern with regard to drastically declining deer numbers (CDFW Report to the Commission). In recent years, the deer population in DAU 2 has declined more than any other to a current low of less than 20% of 1980-1990 population numbers. Historic highs show numbers in excess of 100,000 deer were a part of this region, with 1992 numbers at 90,000 deer and current populations at fewer than 20-25,000 deer (Longhurst & CDFW). Habitat loss, overuse of critical riparian areas by feral horses, and loss of quality forage components have been noted as contributing factors to these declines. Addressing the four main requirements for deer, antelope, elk, birds, and other wildlife; forage, water, cover, and space is not only necessary to survive but to thrive in this region. This is the primary objective of this proposal. Growing deer numbers through restored nutrition and managing their habitat to maximize their place as the umbrella species/indicator of the condition of habitat in the region.
Riparian areas are the ecologically critical zones around streams, seeps, springs, and surface water. Even though these areas make up less than 2% of the western landscape, they support and promote a diversity of resources and intrinsic values for plant, animal, and wildlife communities (Belskey, Matzke 1999). When these ecosystems function properly they act like a sponge, trapping sediments and slowing runoff, allowing water tables to rise and allow hydrological systems to function properly and aid in water retention during dry periods of the year. Healthy, protected riparian areas create critical transition zones that support many developing terrestrial and aquatic wildlife species. The dependency of wildlife species on these critical systems remains a driving force in this restoration and protection effort and is needed to insure these ecosystems remain/become beneficial for continued wildlife use.
Wildlife species including deer, pronghorn, birds, and other sagebrush dependent species require four things to survive: cover, water, forage, and space. Healthy riparian areas provide three of these four requirements, making these areas highly sought after and a critical part of the survival and proliferation of many wildlife species. This high demand has led to damage to the vegetation communities and stream/seep structures, especially from the overuse of feral horses. Unlike livestock, there is no grazing management for feral horses and their long-term presence as well as high population numbers are the cause of excessive impact on an already depleted riparian resource (Snell/Lyle UCCE 2017). Feral horses consume approximately 63% more forage, consume riparian plant species, and use wetland areas more extensively than even cattle do (Menard, Duncan, Journal of Applied Ecology). Restoring these areas and reestablishing the much-needed nutritional values they provide for wildlife is key to expanding deer populations.
Specific Goals and Objectives
- Restore clean water flow to springs, riparian areas, and water systems from the Priority List of Sites from BLM, NRCS, and other agencies (CDFW).
- Address invasive plant species within restoration areas.
- Restore native plant communities that have been changed or degraded by feral horses (over grazing).
- Restore eroded streambanks/water corridors and native woody plant communities that have been denuded of native vegetation by feral horses.
- Protection of these critical vegetation communities, wildlife forage components, and the clean water/hydrology of these riparian areas from excessive use and over grazing of feral horses.
- Monitoring and data collection of treated areas for pre and post treatment comparisons/usage/forage volumes.
- Restoring clean water flow to springs, riparian areas, and water systems will be achieved by conducting maintenance/repair and/or replacement of the following items including, but not limited to: spring boxes, head boxes, associated piping, floats, wells, troughs/drinkers, wildlife guzzlers, wildlife escape ramps, and exclusions. Additional troughs/drinkers, piping, etc. may be added to select project sites, as necessary/designed, by BLM, NRCS, and permittees to facilitate historic use of these water sources outside the exclusionary fencing. This will lessen pressure on the exclusionary fencing from feral horses and cattle.
- Invasive plant species treatment within restoration areas will include mechanical and non-mechanical methods to control such species as (but not limited to): needlegrass, cheat grass, scotch thistle, Canadian thistle, knapweed, and encroachment of juniper. Specific controls and methods will be identified by BLM, NRCS, California Invasive Plant Council (CalIPC), a licensed agricultural pest control advisor, and/or managing agency (CDFW).
- To restore native plant communities, including shrubs and herbaceous plant communities, seeding and plantings of bitterbrush, perennials, and bunch grasses along riparian corridors from locally gathered seed, per BLM, NRCS, and agency (CDFW) guidelines.
- To restore eroded streambanks or water corridors that have been denuded of native vegetation, exclusionary fencing will be utilized to limit/eliminate the impact from feral horses and cattle and promote the natural attenuation of the native plant communities within these areas. Where applicable, seeding and plantings will be utilized to stabilize soil conditions, per BLM, NRCS, and agency (CDFW) guidelines.
- Protection of these critical vegetation communities, wildlife forage components, and riparian areas from excessive use and/or over grazing will be vital to the success of this project. To achieve this, various types of wildlife friendly exclusionary fencing will be utilized along riparian corridors, as well as surrounding head boxes, seeps, and springs. Types of exclusionary fencing includes, but is not limited to: wire, pipe, liberty pipe, and bison fencing per BLM, NRCS, and agency (CDFW) guidelines.
- Monitoring and data collection of treated areas for pre and post treatment comparisons/usage/forage volumes, following research guidelines established by UC Davis UCCE (Snell, Lyle) & BLM and in cooperation with CDFW.
CDFW Selected Priorities
- Invasive Plant Removal/Treatment: In partnership with BLM, NRCS, CDFW, NDOW, and permittees/land owners, this project directly involves removal of the invasive species from project areas. Actions include removal of needlegrass, cheat grass, scotch thistle, Canadian thistle, knapweed, and the encroachment of juniper. Once addressed, establishment of the native plant communities is critical to reducing the encroachment of invasive species. In addition, exclusionary fencing will limit the negative impact from feral horses and grazing on these critical areas, allowing them to re-establish themselves in their natural state.
- Migration Corridor Barriers: In partnership with BLM, NRCS, CDFW, NDOW, and permittees/land owners this project improves the connectivity of the migration corridors of mule deer and antelope in the Northeastern portion of Lassen County. These corridors are currently impeded from the impact of the feral horses in the area. By re-establishing native plant communities and making watering sources available for wildlife along the mule deer and antelope migratory corridors, we open up historic migratory routes and reduce the barriers between winter, summer, and fawning areas.
- Surface Water Management: By restoring springs and clean water flow, surface water will be restored to historical usage and accessible to wildlife through wildlife friendly exclusionary fencing, thus restricting the adverse impact and impediment of feral horses. This provides natural movement of mule deer, antelope, and other species through connectivity of watering sources throughout the landscape.
This project is Phase 1 of a multiyear project/partnership that will restore springs, seeps, and riparian areas across approximately 400,000+ acres. This planned project is a cooperative venture between CDA, BLM, CDFW, NDOW, NRCS, private land owners, local working groups such as Buffalo-Skedaddle Working Group and other NGOs. The expectation is to restore critical forage, water, bedding, and critical space to wildlife in the region. The restoration areas have been prioritized based upon their diversity, key locations, and ability to rebound quickly to reestablish the nutritional benefits as well as other desired components within those corridors. The completion of this project will begin the process of reestablishing connectivity throughout the summer and winter movement areas of deer and antelope herds. Diversion from these areas has led deer and antelope away from critical components due to takeover by expanding feral horse populations. Increased forage, easier access to clean water, cooler bedding and nesting areas due to higher vegetation growth, are all key components to promoting fawn recruitment and retention (Pojar, Bowden, Neonatal mule deer fawn survival and nutrition, Journal of Wildlife Management 2010).
- Project Year 2020
- Project County Modoc
- Projected Start Date January 1, 2020
- Funding Source CDFW, Big Game Management Account (BGMA)
- Focus Wildlife Habitat Restoration
Habitat loss, overuse of critical riparian areas by feral horses, and loss of quality forage components have been noted as contributing factors in the decline of wildlife populations. Growing deer numbers through restored nutrition and managing their habitat to maximize their place as the umbrella species/indicator of the condition of habitat in the region.