Utah DWR Makes Biggest Land Purchase In Almost A Decade

Utah DWR Makes Biggest Land Purchase In Almost A Decade
Smith Family “Legacy” Becomes Newest Part of Tabby Mountain WMA

Mule Deer Foundation
Mule Deer Foundation

FRUITLAND, Utah – -(AmmoLand.com)- More than 5,700 acres of critical big game and sage-grouse habitat now belongs to the state of Utah.

On June 29, Allan Smith and representatives from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) finalized the sale of the land.

“Our grandfather, Moroni Smith, who acquired much of this land 100 years ago, instilled a simple philosophy in us: ‘leave the land in better shape for future generations than you found it,'” Smith says. “Our family is happy that this land-5,700 acres-is going to the DWR. It’s our legacy to the people of Utah.”

Miles Moretti, president of the Mule Deer Foundation, and Kevin Christopherson, DWR regional supervisor, agree. “This land exchange protects thousands of acres of critical wildlife habitat,” Christopherson says. “It’s a tremendous legacy for the people of Utah.”

The land, located in the foothills of Tabby Mountain north of Fruitland, is a critical piece of winter and transition range for elk, deer, sage-grouse and other wildlife.

“A couple thousand elk and several thousand mule deer either winter in this area or pass through it on their way to other winter ranges,” Christopherson says. “Sage-grouse habitat has also been enhanced in the area, and more and more sage-grouse are using the southwestern corner of the property.

“The Smith property adjoins and compliments the other WMA [wildlife management area] lands in this area. It’s no accident that the Tabby Mountain WMA is the largest WMA in the state: it provides critical winter range for some of the biggest, healthiest herds in Utah.”

MDF and DWR provide the funds

“I was delighted when they [the DWR] asked me if the Mule Deer Foundation could assist with the purchase,” Moretti says. “I first saw this land over 30 years ago when I worked for the DWR. It was prime country then, and it’s even better now.”

Moretti says the land is critical winter and transition range for the Wasatch, Currant Creek and Tabby Mountain deer herds.

“The MDF contributed over $200,000 for the purchase,” Moretti says. “We raised most of that money at a local banquet. It feels good to be investing in the future of wildlife. And it feels even better when we can make that investment close to where the funds were raised.”

The DWR provided the rest of the funds.

“Most of the funds came from the sale of some DWR property in Roosevelt,” Christopherson says. “The property had been used as a game farm and was open to hunting until residences were built all around it. Local leaders asked if we would sell it as it had now become more valuable as commercial or residential property than wildlife property.”

Close call

Smith says his family had been talking about selling the land to the DWR for years, but it was still a close call. “Family members had also been approached about selling it for development,” he says. “We could have gotten much more if we had sold it [to a developer who would have turned it into] 5- to 20-acre lots for trophy homes. “In the end, we decided to work with the DWR to preserve the land for wildlife,” Smith says.

Smith says he’s looked over this property when between 1,200 to 1,500 elk, and an equal or greater number of deer, were on it.

“Seeing that was an amazing sight,” he says. “Now that sight will be protected for future generations to enjoy.”

Future focus

Christopherson says protecting the land’s critical winter range is the DWR’s long-term goal. “Also, now that the property belongs to the state, we can make it more accessible to the public, at least during the summer and fall,” he says. “During the winter, it will likely be closed to the public to provide deer and elk with a disturbance-free place to spend the winter.”

Christopherson says habitat biologists will continue to enhance the area for wintering wildlife, giving special attention to sensitive species, such as sage-grouse. “We’ll also do plenty of enhancement work for elk and deer,” he says. “We’d like to see the herds stay on our ground rather than moving into the farms, ranches and communities below the property.”

Christopherson says livestock grazing will also continue. “We plan to use cattle as a tool to maintain and enhance wildlife habitat through using cattle for selective grazing,” he says.

“This sale means a lot to wildlife and to the people of Utah,” Christopherson says. “We will protect and enhance the land’s wildlife values and preserve them forever.”

Cooperation was the key

Christopherson says the Smith property sale would not have happened without support from the landowner, surrounding landowners, local communities and local political leaders.

Smith agrees.

“This land is a good example of how wildlife and ranching communities can come together,” Smith says. “The Tabby Mountain foothills were homesteaded in 1905. Our family, which ran sheep at the time, was able to acquire the land when the homesteaders learned it was unsuitable for farming.”

Smith says just 20 years ago, the property was almost a “badlands.” “It was mostly old sage with little grass or forbs in the understory,” he says. “Studies also showed these and the surrounding lands were responsible for roughly half of the silt flowing into Starvation Reservoir.”

Smith’s family was in the process of decreasing its sheep and cattle herds on the land when the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) approached them. The NRCS asked them to participate in a restoration project.

“The NRCS provided most of the plan and the machinery, the DWR provided seed, and we provided funds and extra manpower. By the time we were done, we had treated about 5,000 acres.”

Today, Smith estimates the land has about 2,300 to 2,400 pounds of forage on it. “Both livestock and wildlife share that forage,” he says. “And we’ve slowed the flow of silt down by roughly 99 percent. “We [the DWR and ranchers] are the stewards of the land,” Smith says. “This is a good example of what can be done. We can co-exist together.”

For more information, call the DWR’s Northeastern Region office at 435-781-9453.

About MDF:
The Mule Deer Foundation is a national non-profit 501(c)3 organization, with over 14,000 members. MDF’s mission is to ensure the conservation of mule deer, black-tailed deer and their habitats. MDF is dedicated to restoring, improving and protecting mule deer habitat (including land and easement acquisitions) resulting in self-sustaining, healthy, free ranging and huntable deer populations; encouraging and supporting responsible wildlife management with government agencies, private organizations and landowners; promoting public education and scientific research related to mule deer and wildlife management; supporting and encouraging responsible and ethical behavior and awareness of issues among those whose actions affect mule deer; and acknowledging regulated hunting as a viable component of mule deer and black-tailed deer conservation.

For information about the Mule Deer Foundation please call 888-375-DEER (3337).