The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrapped up the first part of its Upper Powder River Mule Deer herd habitat project. It's hoping to improve mule deer habitat in the southern Bighorn Mountains.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Bureau of Land Management have been working on a crucial winter range for the herd since 2011, after the 2006 Outlaw Cave Fire wiped out much of its food source: the curl-leaf mountain mahogany.
The presence of conifers in the area accelerated the burning of winter foliage. Game and Fish has been working to remove Rocky Mountain junipers, limber pines and ponderosa pines to prevent a similar event in case of another forest fire.
Todd Caltrider, Game and Fish terrestrial habitat biologist, said over the past two years they thinned and removed juniper, ponderosa pine and limber pine across 870 acres of mule deer habitat near Poker Creek and Gardner Mountain.
"If we do get another wildfire sometime hopefully the fire will stop at the stands that they won't have enough fuel to actually catch those stands on fire," he said.
The Upper Powder River herd is one of the key herds in Game and Fish's Mule Deer Initiative. Caltrider said the Upper Powder River herd's population has been down the past several years.
"I don't think winter range is the limiting factor for mule deer up there right now, but if we continue to have fires and burn our winter range it definitely can be. So, this is one of those things like a protection thing, like we're protecting what we do have there for winter habitat," he said.
Caltrider added they will move on to do the same thing near EK Mountain in 2020 and also spray for cheatgrass in conifer removal areas to lower the fire risks.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at firstname.lastname@example.org.