INDEPENDENCE – Deer hunters holding special hunt tags for zone X9B this coming fall might have their hunt affected by last year’s wildfire that scorched thousands of acres of winter deer habitat and the most recent flooding in the Oak Tree drainage could have a long lasting affect on these deer wintering grounds.
“There was over six inches of rain that fell in just one hour above Independence and this sent a wall of mud down the mountain that finally feathered out before it reached the aqueduct or the Lower Owens River. There was a whole bunch of mud that came sliding down the mountain and in places it was several of 100 yards wide,” stated Bruce Ivey, a resident of Independence, who lives pretty to close to where both the fire and mud slides occurred.
Ivey went on to report to WON, “The mud slide started about the 6,000 foot elevation and the muddy mess flowed at least three miles down through the Oak Tree drainage and into some smaller arroyos. The major concern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and botanists working on the project is what are going to be the long-term affects of all this mud. If the mud dries up pan-hard it might not support the kind of vegetation that is needed by deer, other animals and game that use this area as a prime wintering grounds. There is also concern about the nutrients in this mud and whether or not it will be suitable to grow anything at all.”
According to Ivey the mud probably won’t have too much an affect on the deer hunting within this zone this coming season, but if the deer cannot find enough food this winter then the deer herd could see a rapid decline or migrate to other wintering zones in the years to come.
WON made a phone call to Vern Bleich, a retired wildlife biologist who spent 21 years working for the DFG out of the Bishop office monitoring the mule deer herd, as well as working on sheep projects and the mountain lion problem.
“My major concern and those biologists that are currently evaluating the long term affects of the Independence Fire was the total loss of Bitter Brush within the mule deer wintering range. Herds of deer come down off the High Sierra to spend the winter months feeding mostly on Bitter Brush and this resource was wiped out by last year’s wildfire. I takes decades for Bitter Brush to reestablish itself after a fire and right now this area is looking at an invasion of Cheat Grass, which has no nutritional value to deer or elk in the valley at all.”
“We could be looking at a much lower carrying capacity for this area if there is a significant loss in the reproduction of Bitter Brush. This plant is extremely important to the winter survival of deer, as it is one of the few plants that stick up above the winter snow that piles up along the lower slopes of the eastern High Sierra in the winter. The area also suffered a significant loss of sage and Black Brush, which is part of a deer’s diet during the winter. Hopefully the area will get enough rain to trigger a rapid growth of Bitter Brush, but there are other factors like extreme flooding and the growth of none native ground cover. Deer need browse and hopefully the annual plant growth will see some recovery for this important wintering spot.
Over the years zone X9B has produced some big racks for hunters who spend a lot of time scouting and glassing the rugged terrain below Mt. Whitney. This year the season will begin on September 20 and continue through October 13. Perhaps the season is a little premature for the winter migration coming off the mountain, but that could change with an early season winter storm that dumps a foot or two of snow on the ground at higher elevation. There is good public access to this zone and a total of 325 tags were issued for the 2007 season. For more information on hunting within zone 9XB call (760) 872-1171.