Habitat – because all wildlife depends on it

Whether they’re a hunter, hiker or photographer, all outdoor enthusiasts love to see a lot of wildlife. Habitat improvements are made all over the world to benefit wildlife, and New Mexico is no exception. These improvements play a pivotal role in refining conditions for wildlife; they also provide additional hunting and angling opportunities and increased wildlife viewing opportunities. Without these habitat improvements, wildlife habitat can quickly vanish due to catastrophic fires and overutilization and can take years to recover.

“Habitat improvements are one of the most important things we can do when it comes to wildlife management,” says Chuck Schultz, Northwest Area Regional Habitat Biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). “Without these improvements, wildlife could disappear at alarming rates,” said Schultz. Habitat improvements can be as basic as planting various feed crops on a farm for waterfowl to something more intensive like a 1,000-acre tree-thinning project to benefit deer and elk. No matter what size the project is, they are all beneficial.

Banner: Habitat improvement before picture on the Carson National Forest Photo: Chuck Schultz, New Mexico Game and Fish. Below: Habitat improvement after picture on the Carson National Forest. Photo: Chuck Schultz, New Mexico Game and Fish

Habitat - because all wildlife depends on it

Unlike private land, where the landowner can do just about anything they want without dispute, most habitat improvement projects take a long time for a government agency like NMDGF due to underlying processes like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In these cases, the proposed project/improvement goes through a coordination and analysis stage. Once it is determined that there may or may not be a significant impact, the proposal is subject to further scrutiny through the final planning process.

Game Management Unit (GMU) 2, located in San Juan, Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties, has been a focal point for habitat projects in the northwest part of the state for years due to a large amount of public land and the number and sheer quality of deer that call it home. Not only does GMU 2 have a healthy resident deer population, but it also doubles as an important wintering area for hundreds of deer that migrate down from Colorado during the winter months.

“Habitat improvements have done, and continue to do, great things for the deer and elk in GMU 2,” said Michael Clifton, an avid hunter and outdoorsman. “During my recent deer hunt, I witnessed just how much wildlife relies on recently completed habitat improvement project areas up on Crowe Mesa. The areas that had been cleared of juniper and reseeded with bitterbrush were like wildlife magnets. Habitat improvement projects like these are a win-win for both New Mexico wildlife and New Mexico hunters.”

Habitat manipulations and improvements include, but are not limited to, forest thinning, prescription burning, watershed restoration efforts and the seeding of diverse native grasses, forbs (native wildflowers), trees and shrubs.

“Not all proposed habitat projects will make it to on-the-ground implementation,” Schultz says. “Only about one in 10 proposed projects will make it through the required regulatory and budgetary processes and become an actual project to benefit New Mexico’s wildlife resources.”

About Ross Morgan

Ross Morgan is the Public Information Officer in the Northwest Area for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.