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Conservation project seeking to restore habitat for mule deer receives $270,000 grant

The only conservation group in North America dedicated to restoring, improving and protecting mule deer will hire a habitat partnership coordinator for the Dakota Grasslands region.

Mule deer
In this undated photo, three mule deer stand in a field as The North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducts their annual the mule deer survey.
Photo courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
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Western North Dakota — Extreme drought throughout most of 2021 presented North Dakota with a sizable hurdle as the state dealt with some of the hottest temperatures in 125 years of record keeping.

During the 2021 spring drumming counts, biologists reported 42% fewer ruffed grouse on survey routes compared to the previous two year’s count. The annual spring survey showed that western North Dakota's mule deer population remained robust, but state wildlife officials were concerned about rangeland conditions amid extreme droughts.

The Mule Deer Foundation was awarded a $270,000 grant to hire a habitat partnership coordinator in the Dakota Grasslands region through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Northern Great Plains program. The new full time staff position will work with the Bureau of Land Management and North Dakota Game and Fish, as well as other industry and conservation partners, to implement conservation projects aimed at restoring habitat for mule deer, sage grouse, pronghorn and other wildlife in the Dakota Grasslands project area of western North Dakota.

The partners in the program have agreed to match the grant funding level through in-kind volunteer work, donated use of heavy equipment and other existing habitat restoration funds.

“In the past five years the Mule Deer Foundation in North Dakota has been initiating projects with private landowners and bringing in partners from industry and volunteer workforces. As a result, 25 miles of fence have been removed or modified to wildlife friendly designs, and in 2021 a project to reduce juniper encroachment affected over 1,500 acres of habitat,” Steve Belinda, Mule Deer Foundation director of conservation, said. “The Dakota Grasslands habitat partnership coordinator will be our first conservation staff person with an emphasis on the eastern range of mule deer, which is dominated by private land with intermixed federal and state lands. We are excited about the potential with federal, state and private landowners on cross-boundary projects that improve the critical mixed-grass ecosystems found in the project area.”

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Deer
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), North Dakota Game and Fish, and industry and conservation partners are working on implementing conservation projects aimed at restoring habitat for mule deer, sage grouse, pronghorn and other wildlife in the Dakota Grasslands project area of western North Dakota.
Photo courtesy of The North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Mule Deer are a large species of deer that live on the Western Edge, and while they look like their relative, the whitetail deer, they live mostly in the western United States.

Differentiating them from their whitetail cousins can be done by looking at their ears, as Mule Deer have larger ears akin to those of a mule.

Habitat for the Mule Deer dots the rugged beauty of the Badlands and draws hunters from around the world. Summer finds them in the alpine high country where food is plentiful, but as snowfall begins they will often transition to new habitats in search of more accessible food sources.

The Dakota Grasslands is a key focal area for NFWF’s Northern Great Plains program and consists of grasslands and sagebrush dominated habitats that are highly productive for pronghorn, mule deer, sage grouse and numerous other grassland and sagebrush obligate species. State and federal agency partners have highlighted the need for cross-agency, partner coordination and planning for cumulative efforts to occur in the region.

Mule Deer Foundation’s Dakota Grasslands habitat partnership coordinator will provide critical new capacity to network across state, federal, tribal and private lands to implement landscape-scale habitat conservation across the region.

Priority projects will include grassland habitat restoration through conifer removal, cheatgrass control/eradication, rangeland fire restoration, grazing management and fencing modifications. Riparian restoration activities will focus on restoring wet meadow or riparian areas through structure placement and habitat improvements.

Mule deer
State and federal agency partners have highlighted the need for cross-agency, partner coordination and planning for cumulative efforts to occur in southwest North Dakota in restoring habitat for mule deer.
Photo courtesy of The North Dakota Game and Fish Department

“Mule Deer Foundation chapters and partners have been active in the Dakotas for several years, organizing volunteer workdays to modify fencing to wildlife-friendly designs, remove invasive junipers and restore riparian areas,” Marshall Johnson, MDF’s director of field operations who also leads MDF’s efforts in the Dakotas, said. “Having an MDF habitat partnership coordinator in this region who can take the lead on developing and implementing these projects in coordination with our existing partners will significantly increase the amount of work we can get done together. This will benefit mule deer but also hundreds of other species that depend on our native grasslands.”

For more information, to become involved in projects in North Dakota or to become a member visit muledeer.org, or call 801-973-3940.

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