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Perceptions of Wildlife and Rangelands; It’s Not as Simple as We Think
Jim Davis, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Provo, UT
Since there has been a Utah Fish and Game (now Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources), there has been both perceived and factual problems related to many wildlife issues throughout the years. Many instances of these controversial conflicts were associated with big-game species. For years the Division has been involved in a series of investigations to determine if there was a critically valid problem with some of the big game ranges. Some of these investigations included clipping studies (paired baskets) determining if late spring use by elk throughout much of the state was excessively high before cattle came onto the sites. These studies occurred from the north slope of the Uinta Mountains to Elk Ridge in southeastern Utah. It was determined that early elk use on average was about 11%, where cattle use was around 68%. It was determined that drought was having more of an effect on forage production than early elk use. Another investigation involved the sagebrush die-off in Beef Basin. Agency personnel and the permittee had determined that it was excessive big game use causing the downward sagebrush trend. Therefore, special doe hunts were used to lower the deer numbers. Because of the low deer population, there have only been limited entry hunts since then. There was no livestock use and season of use adjustment as it remained the same throughout the years, except for a two year rest. This was done too late to save the sagebrush within this low lying area. Through years of monitoring this area, it was shown that big game use was not the real problem, but excessive use by livestock coupled with drought. Another investigation was involved in a problem with excessive big game use on a very small population of birch leaf mahogany in the central mountains of Utah. This population occurred about 2,000 feet above its normal elevational range. This was an instance of how a small outlier population was trying to be used as the major criteria for the management of big game populations in the area. In another investigational study, it was with regard to the Book Cliff initiative. Here there was a perception by a permittee that there was excessive use of the range by elk. After increasing permanent transects in the Book Cliffs from about 18 to almost 60 in three years, it was determined that elk use was not excessive. In another investigation, there was a perception of excessive use by elk and deer on sagebrush on a bench area south of Panguitch. It was determined after careful monitoring of the area, that there was not excessive use of the sagebrush within the area. However, with the drought and only a little more than 1 cm of annual growth, it appeared the plants were being heavily hedged. There was actually very little evidence of use being made of the browse resource by wildlife. Another investigation involved the trends for winter sagebrush range in Utah. Here it was thought that the downward trends were mostly because of excessive use. After many years of monitoring these communities, it was determined that utilization was not the major negative variable affecting the trend for sagebrush, but climate change coupled with drought in association with weedy herbaceous species. Attention will be focused on how these factors have affected Wyoming big sagebrush more than mountain big sagebrush. The Palmer Drought index value was its highest for most of the state in 2002 than at any time since 1950. This high value coincided 7 with a state wide die-off of sagebrush and aspen. The sagebrush population at lower elevations has decreased on average by 50% or more. In the last 20 or more years, it has been noticed that most pinyon trees associated with the low elevation p-j woodlands have died, especially those on south and west aspects. How much of an effect has climate change, coupled with drought had on aspen that occupies its lower elevational range? This would even be more apparent on south and west aspects.