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Mule deer populations have declined in the western United States for the past 50 years. The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust is joining forces with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to help protect and support these native deer. In 2013, we received funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to participate Mule Deer Initiative (MDI) to improve habitat for these species on the Greenwood Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Many causes for the decline have been identified, including habitat loss and changes in the landscape; human disturbances; severe winters and drought conditions; and illegal hunting. Each of these has hurt the mule deer and other wildlife who call Oregon home, including those who live on the Greenwood Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in Lakeview and the Greensprings Wildlife Sanctuary in Ashland.

Habitat loss due to development is a threat to all wildlife, and in Oregon some of the best mule deer habitat is now gone forever. In addition, landscapes change through a number of ways. Invasive plants, like cheatgrass and medusahead rye, have pushed out the native bitterbrush, sage-brush and other forage that wildlife depends upon for food. Junipers are crowding out nutritious plants as they encroach on shrub-steppe habitat. Even stands of aspen trees have declined.

On the Greenwood Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, the original owner and HSWLT stewardship staff work to fight the Scotch Thistle that crops up every year. It is a tough, persistent weed that takes hold particularly near water sources. Medusahead is another problem, but aerial spraying is expensive, controversial and takes more than one application. Alternatives are being explored. HSWLT stewardship staff is working on a comprehensive plan for both eradication of the invasive plants and re-seeding with native plants. This is a complicated issue with no simple solutions.

The use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) has increased drastically over the past few decades, displacing mule deer and other wildlife into new and usually poorer quality habitat.

HSWLT now protects more than 3,700 acres of prime mule deer habitat. Under this protection, that land will never be developed, and sport hunting will always be prohibited. The properties are posted against trespassing, prohibiting intruders on OHVs or other means.

Climate became a major problem for the mule deer population, with several severe winters followed by dry summers for decades. In the winter, they struggle to reach food, and drought depletes their fat reserves making the following winter that much more difficult.

HSWLT cannot control the climate, but we have installed two water guzzlers, reservoirs that hold rain water and melted snow in reserve for when they are needed. Wildlife-friendly fencing has also been installed around some natural water sources. While cattle will still have some access to water in this area, their impacts can now be more controlled and their watering influenced to the betterment of wildlife.

Criminal hunting practices -- poaching -- takes the lives of as many deer illegally as the number hunted legally in Oregon, according to a recent study by the ODFW. To help wildlife officers arrest and prosecute these law-breakers, HSWLT has donated robotic decoys to the ODFW to set up sting operations. We won’t say what kinds of animals are being used, or where these operations are active to protect the officers and the effectiveness of the program. But officers tell us that the program is working and effective.

HSWLT also provides law enforcement with reward funds to be offered for information leading to the arrest and convictions of poachers. To date, more than $500,000 has been offered in rewards across the United States.

To contribute to this and other HSWLT programs, please donate here.

 

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