UT BHA's Miles for Muleys: Paunsaugunt Fencing Project

Situated between Southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, the Paunsaugunt Plateau is home to one of the West’s greatest mule deer herds. Named by the Southern Paiute, the “home of the beavers” rises to an elevation of 9,300 feet and extends 25 miles southward into the stunning Pink Cliffs.

The Paunsaugunt mule deer herd numbers around 5,200. This prized herd starts their 78-mile winter migration from the Plateau south to the Buckskin Mountains near the Utah-Arizona border in October. Along with deer, other big game, like elk also use this migration corridor for seasonal migration. Climate change, habitat degradation, Highway 89, and a network of barbwire fencing designed for livestock and separating range land cause migration challenges that present health and adaptability challenges for this deer herd and other wildlife.

The Utah and Arizona chapters of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers are partnering with The Wildlands Network, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, Mule Deer Foundation, Bureau of Land Management, and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to improve the main migration corridor and reduce migration barriers for this famous deer herd and other wildlife.

Kicking off May 18th, 2024, our UT and AZ BHA Chapters will bring a group of dedicated members and volunteers to conduct walking surveys on 150 miles of fencing throughout the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The survey data collected will be used to identify which sections of fencing will need alterations to improve passage for migrating mule deer. Later stages of the project will include replacing and repairing sections of existing barbed wire fencing with smooth-wire wildlife-friendly fencing according to DWR specifications. Remote trail cameras will also be used to monitor the impact of the project on the deer migration and document wildlife behavioral changes. This venture will be a multi-year dedicated restoration project; BHA and our partners will continue to collect data and conduct post-modification monitoring as we determine the effectiveness of the restoration actions.

The May 18th surveying weekend will not only include stewardship, but an opportunity to camp overnight in Utah’s renowned desert landscape and get to know other conservationists. On the project day, BHA will be providing breakfast and will host a wild game potluck with beverages provided by Utah’s Epic Brewing Company. Volunteers will also receive a limited-edition BHA gift and the project will qualify for Dedicated Hunter hours. For those camping, expect to arrive at the group camping location (which is North of I-89, about 35 minutes East of Kanab) on Friday. May 17th, 2024 with a briefing and work to commence the following morning. Volunteers that would like to stay later to get more work in will also have the option to be assigned additional fence routes to survey if additional routes remain. Survey training will be provided on-site at the briefing.

In the true spirit of the outdoors, this volunteer opportunity will require driving on backcountry roads on BLM land with little to no cell service. Four-wheel drive is highly recommended but not required – the road to the camping location is a dirt BLM road that is in generally good condition but some of the fence sites are more remote and are accessed via rougher BLM roads. We can assign those without four-wheel drive to more easily accessible fence sites. Participants should be prepared for work in desert conditions and those camping should have all of their personal gear for camping. Volunteers are also welcome  to bring their personal OHV’s/ATV’s if they have them.

Volunteers are invited to join the volunteer group campout the evening of May 17th at the primitive camping location on BLM just North of Highway 89 (Coordinates: 37.10287, -112.20720). Check-in for group camping starts at 3pm on May 17th. Those not camping with the group should arrive at the group camping location before 8am on May 18th to get checked-in before the briefing. The group camping location is for TENT CAMPING only due to space constraints. If you want to bring a camper, you can camp at one of the dispersed camping areas nearby.

There is a chance of rain and flooding, and we encourage all interested parties to follow BHA and our partners for updates as we get closer to May 18th. If weather causes the May 18th event to be cancelled, we will plan on a backup work date of June 1st, 2024.

The Miles for Muleys is a true stewardship opportunity to make a meaningful impact on this infamous mule deer herd. We are honored by our members, volunteers, and partners in our efforts to protect this unique and majestic stretch of public lands and its wildlife. It is our hope that our long-term dedication to the project will not only improve the legacy of one of Utah’s most beloved and prolific deer herds, but will continue to have a positive impact on Utah and Arizona’s wildlife and land conservation for generations to come.


If you are interested in volunteering for this project, RSVP here!

About Katie Stewart

Avid steward for public lands and lover of fly-fishing, bourbon, and honky-tonk!