The California Chapter of BHA is thrilled to receive over $165,000 in funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation for our Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area Post-Fire Rehabilitation and Connectivity Project in collaboration with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Washoe Tribe, the Sagebrush in Prisons Project, Wildlands Network, and support from Sitka Gear and CalTrans.
The Nevada & California Chapters of BHA are coordinating an effort to restore the Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area (HJWA), a critical winter range for mule deer and a premium deer hunt zone that burned in several recent wildfires. Benefits to the public, hunters, members of the Washoe Tribe, and the many wildlife species that use the HJWA will be significant.
The HJWA is a property in Northeastern California along the Nevada border that was purchased by the CDFW to maintain critical winter range for multiple deer herds as well as habitat for pronghorn antelope and rocky mountain elk. The area spans two of California’s premium deer hunt zones X6B & X7A and has been historically sought after by many deer hunters in the State. The wildlife area also lies over the Washoe Tribe’s ancestral lands, where the Tribe hunted deer and pronghorn on their seasonal migration routes and fished from Long Valley Creek, which bisects the HJWA. This property burned in several wildfires over the past two decades, which destroyed much of the local flora critical to supporting the local wildlife. The CDFW attempted to restore this landscape after a major burn through aerial seed drops; however, this attempt was mostly unsuccessful. Unfortunately, the failed restoration attempt and subsequent wildfires have left the landscape vulnerable to invasive species, such as cheat grass, pepperweed and others, which threaten to degrade critical habitat relied upon by the interstate, migratory mule deer in the Loyalton-Truckee and Doyle herds, as well as a population of resident deer and pronghorn antelope.
These deer herds are important to both California and Nevada and have declined primarily due to degraded habitat (cheatgrass invasion, conversion related to development, and lack of connectivity). California’s State Action Plan (2020), prepared pursuant to SO 3362, identified the project outlined in this proposal as high priority for post-fire recovery efforts in the State. The State Action Plan identifies three specific zones for enhancing migration corridors, two of which overlap in the HJWA. Specifically, the plan recommends projects in these areas that “manage invasive weed species by identifying areas of outbreak and undertaking vegetation restoration projects that provide more desirable forage species for mule deer.” In addition, it recommends projects that “identify and undertake post-fire restoration opportunities following recent, large wildfires.”
Our project team incorporates experts from various NGOs including, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Wildlands Network, the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), an Environmental Program Coordinator from the Washoe Tribe, and multiple Environmental Scientists & Biologists from CDFW. This collaboration brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to maximize our chances of success. To ensure successful outcomes, volunteers will first source seeds from healthy plant stocks in the project region to ensure seedling adaptability to local environmental conditions. Several regions within the HJWA that were not affected by wildfire contain healthy bitterbrush plants, for which CDFW has successfully collected seed in past restoration attempts in the area. Volunteers will also work with an Environmental Program Coordinator for the Washoe Tribe to attempt to collect seeds from culturally significant plants in the nearby region to include with our restoration efforts.
The Wel Mel Ti of the Washoe Tribe have interacted with and shaped the wildlife and ecosystems of Long Valley Creek from Babbitt Peak to Honey Lake for thousands of years. The Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area restoration project is an opportunity for the Washoe Tribe to reestablish this vital connection.
James Gatzke, Environmental Program Coordinator, Washoe Tribe
Our project will utilize the Sagebrush in Prisons Project’s program at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Herlong, coordinated by the Institute for Applied Ecology, to help propagate bitterbrush seedlings and other plants of cultural importance to the Washoe Tribe. Utilizing seedlings will increase our chances of planting success up to tenfold depending on specific site conditions and weather. IAE manages the Sagebrush in Prisons project at eleven prisons in five different states and works with adults in custody to propagate native plants for wildlife habitat restoration. This program has grown over 1.5 million sagebrush and bitterbrush plants for restoration projects since its inception in 2014. Based off last year’s yield and capacity we anticipate approximately 18,500 seedlings which will be packaged and prepared for transport by the IAE and FCI Herlong team to be transported via U-Haul to the HJWA project site, approximately 40 miles away.
IAE manages the Sagebrush in Prisons project at eleven prisons in five different states. This program works with adults in custody (AICs) to propagate native plants for wildlife habitat restoration and to provide educational lectures and horticultural training. Through ecological education, AICs learn about conservation and how to make a positive difference in communities and local environments. The growth and nurturing of bitterbrush and sagebrush plants provides meaningful work for men selected to participate in the program. This impactful work while incarcerated is known to contribute to greater success on release.
Karen C. Hall, Ph.D. Program Director, Ecological Education, Institute for Applied Ecology
During the propagation period at FCI Herlong, the project team will survey and assess invasive species in the project area and will set up select photo points and a drone flight path to monitor before and after images of the site. In collaboration with CDFW, a contract team will remove invasive weeds from the project area using herbicide spray. Once the invasive species have been removed and the seedlings are ready to plant, volunteers will assist with hand planting efforts in select areas along with a contract team to support. Seedlings will be protected from grazing with seedling tubes and bamboo stakes to ensure the best chance of survival.
Broadcast seeding with ATVs and specialized equipment will also be utilized to cover the remainder of the project area to provide additional forage nutrients, reduce erosion, and prevent invasive species from returning. Subsequent monitoring through photo points, aerial surveillance, telemetry data from deer collars, and a camera study along Hwy 395 will ensure long-term project success and habitat connectivity in the region. The collar study will be conducted by biologists from the CDFW and will help to inform CDFW biologists about shifting migration patterns in the region. It will also provide valuable data to help inform future efforts to reduce vehicle wildlife collisions along Hwy 395.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified this location and the projects outlined in the proposal as high priority for the post-fire recovery of the Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area (HJWA), purchased for critical deer winter range, and the Interstate, migratory mule deer in the Loyalton-Truckee and Doyle herds. Benefits to the public, our hunters, and other wildlife species, including pronghorn antelope, will be significant.
Kevin Thomas, California Department of Fish & Wildlife
In addition to the collar study, an extensive camera study along Hwy 395 commissioned by Wildlands Network will provide an additional layer of monitoring to understand overall migration patterns and habitat connectivity for wildlife in the region. The purpose of this study is to build upon previous studies that explore the relationships between wildlife movement and Highway 395, which bisects the wildlife linkages within the study area. The findings of this study will be used to serve as a reference tool for transportation agencies to inform transportation infrastructure maintenance, upgrades, and potential projects to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and increase the permeability of the highway for safe wildlife passage. Wildlands Network also coordinates quarterly meetings with diverse stakeholders, including entities advancing this proposal, federal agencies, and community members, to provide updates and coordinate conservation efforts in this region and anticipate study results will inform future land conservation work (e.g. land acquisition, habitat restoration/enhancement) within the linkage and study area.
Post-fire restoration in the HJWA will restore important habitat within deer migration corridors and complement our ongoing efforts to install wildlife crossings and directional fencing to allow these herds and other wildlife safe passage across Hwy 395.
Mari Gallaway, California Program Manager, Wildlands Network
Our efforts will also dovetail with the state-funded, “Bordertown Wildlife Crossings Project,” orchestrated by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). This project is intended to facilitate safe passage for resident and migratory deer herds by extending existing wildlife exclusionary fencing south 1.4 miles to the Nevada border and north 1.2 miles toward Hallelujah Junction. In addition, Caltrans will remove 28 existing one-way deer gates and construct up to 38 wildlife escape ramps. Our proposal seeks to restore stopover areas and migration corridors by rehabilitating portions of the fire-damaged HJWA with native vegetation important for big game species and identifying where wildlife passage features on Hwy 395 can alleviate barriers to seasonal and daily mule deer movement to improve the quality and value of these areas to big game and other wildlife.
We believe this project addresses the specific Goals of the 2021 Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI) by increasing the resilience of the landscape to climate change; enhancing environmental health through native plantings; and supporting the wildlife connectivity focused safety and infrastructure investments made by Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration.
Suzanne Melim, Division Chief, Caltrans, North Region Environmental
This project will have numerous benefits to local communities in both California and Nevada, members of the Washoe Tribe, as well as other hunters in both California and Nevada that travel great distances to hunt one of California’s premium X zones. The connectivity work and Caltrans fence improvements will also positively benefit motorists that regularly commute along Hwy 395, since this region has some of the highest vehicle/collision rates in California. The HJWA’s close proximity to a dense urban center, an approximate 30-minute drive from Reno, NV, will result in tangible benefits for many hunters and outdoor enthusiasts seeking to escape the urban center in addition to hunters throughout the state looking to hunt one of California's premium deer zones.