Centuries before there were houses and fences, roads and cars, mule deer made the Eastern Sierra their home. The deer spend their summers in the mountain meadows, where they give birth and find the food and water they need to thrive throughout the year.
But making their way between the valley floor and their summer range each spring and fall is no easy task! And with human presence along their route increasing, the trails they’ve followed for centuries have become more dangerous.
Fortunately, conservation supporters like you have successfully conserved important habitat for mule deer and other wildlife here in the Eastern Sierra – ensuring a safer migration for many years to come.
Permanently Protected in the Migration Corridor
The Round Valley mule deer herd faces these same challenges – and fortunately, forward-thinking landowners in our area are taking action. By partnering with residents in the Swall Meadows area, Eastern Sierra Land Trust has successfully conserved a total of 269 acres of critical wildlife habitat on the following six properties, located along the Round Valley mule deer herd’s migration corridor.
Obstacles Along the Migration Route
Twice a year, the Round Valley mule deer herd – which consists of approximately 3,000 Rocky Mountain mule deer – travels between its winter range on the valley floor and the alpine meadows of the Central Sierra. Approximately 75% of the herd migrates north in the spring through the community of Swall Meadows, where their route traverses a narrow bottleneck: limited by the steep cliffs of Wheeler Ridge to the west and the deep canyon of Lower Rock Creek Gorge to the east.
In addition to the danger posed by vehicles, development has hampered portions of the deer’s habitat – making finding food and shelter along the route more difficult.
Conserving the Corridor
Concerned by the effect that increased residential development would have on the deer’s annual migration, a group of residents came together in 2001 and formed what was to become Eastern Sierra Land Trust. Since then, ESLT has worked with numerous landowners in the Swall Meadows area to permanently protect a total of 269 acres of private land along the migration corridor, making the deer’s passage safer and forage along the way more assured.
To balance the needs of people and wildlife, ESLT partners with landowners to develop voluntary land protection agreements known as conservation easements. In this way, local families are permanently protecting important wildlife habitat by restricting future subdivision, while keeping their land private and under their control.
Together with additional lands protected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, our conservation efforts have successfully connected public and private properties in the middle elevations – including ESLT’s own Swall Wildlife Preserve – to the High Sierra meadows that the deer seek out each year.
Maintaining a Healthy Home
Safe habitat and good places to forage in the mule deer herd’s winter range and along their migration route allow deer to survive through the leaner months. The Round Valley deer herd has a relatively small winter range of only about 30 square miles. So maintaining healthy habitat here is critical.
Sagebrush and antelope bitterbrush are the mule deer’s primary sources of food. Bitterbrush (at right) is especially important to deer in the fall when they return from the high elevations. The leaves and shoots provide significant sources of calcium, phosphorus, fat, and crude protein at a critical time of year.
Round Fire Recovery Efforts
In February 2015, the Round Fire ignited in Round Valley and quickly burned through the communities of Paradise and Swall Meadows. Dozens of families lost their homes, and hundreds of mule deer did too.
Since the fire, Eastern Sierra Land Trust has teamed up with volunteers, residents, agencies, and other local organizations to help “restore the corridor.” Together with our conservation partners and hardworking volunteers, we’ve planted thousands of new bitterbrush starts, protected naturally-occurring bitterbrush seedlings, and taken action to prevent invasive weeds from gaining a foothold.
There’s still plenty of restoration work needed to bring the landscape back to full health, and ESLT periodically hosts volunteer workdays in the area. By joining our volunteer team, you can help make sure that this important home for wildlife continues to regrow and thrive. Click here to sign up as a volunteer.
Thank You to Our Supporters and Partners:
Bureau of Land Management – Bishop Field Office
Bishop Office: 760-872-5000
California Department of Fish & Wildlife – Region 6
Bishop Office: 760-872-1171
California Deer Association
Wildlife Conservation Board
Private Landowners in the Migration Corridor