At this time of the year, many animals that call the Eastern Sierra home are preparing for a long journey. When food and shelter become scarce in their usual habitat and the weather gets colder, many animals migrate to warmer areas. The Round Valley mule deer herd is no exception. Twice each year, the mule deer herd migrates between its winter range on the valley floor to its summer range in the High Sierra meadows and forests. The mule deer herd travels on the same paths each year, forming what biologists call a migration corridor. With each journey through the corridor, the herd will face both new and continuing threats to their survival. 

Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) recently hosted a successful field trip to educate the public about the critical migration corridor of the Round Valley mule deer herd. The event, which drew 31 attendees including travelers from as far away as Fresno, CA, provided a firsthand look at the challenges faced by this iconic species.

“The Round Valley herd has unfortunately seen a decline in population due to various factors,” said Gena Wood at ESLT. “This field trip aimed to highlight the importance of the migration corridor and garner public support for ongoing conservation efforts.” 

The event featured insightful presentations from Stacy Corless, former Mono County Supervisor, and Katie Rodriguez, Senior Environmental Scientist with CalTrans. They provided updates on the much-anticipated Mammoth Wildlife Crossing project, a collaborative effort aimed at significantly reducing deer-vehicle collisions.

Dan Taylor, a CDFW biologist, shared valuable insights on the current status of the Round Valley mule deer herd. Participants had the opportunity to observe the deer grazing in the distance through spotting scopes and binoculars, gaining a firsthand perspective of their migration journey.

A Narrow Passage and a Long Journey

The Round Valley mule deer undertake a remarkable twice-yearly migration, traveling between their summer range in the High Sierra meadows and their winter range in Round Valley. This journey presents a significant challenge as the deer must navigate a narrow bottleneck through Swall Meadows. Challenging winters, raging wildfires, droughts and additional human development have also made the mule deer herd’s migration increasingly more difficult each year. These changes have increased the threat on the important resources that the mule deer depend on to make their long journey.  

“Thankfully, this critical bottleneck is permanently protected thanks to conservation easements established by forward-thinking landowners who formed the ESLT in 2001,” said Kay Ogden, ESLT’s ED/CEO. Concerned by the impact human development would have on the mule deer herd, a group of residents teamed up to form what would become Eastern Sierra Land Trust. Since then, ESLT has worked with local landowners in the Swall Meadows area to permanently protect 269 acres of private land in addition to the 176-acre State Wildlife Area to ensure a safer passage for the mule deer each year.  

Wildlife Crossings: A Collaborative Solution

Another crucial element in protecting the mule deer is the ongoing effort to establish wildlife crossings in the Mammoth area. These crossings will significantly reduce deer-vehicle collisions, which pose a major threat to the herd’s population.

“The field trip offered a unique perspective of the migration path and the challenges faced by the deer,” continued Wood. “Witnessing the bottleneck firsthand underscores the importance of collaborative efforts like the wildlife crossings project.” ESLT encourages continued public support for the Round Valley mule deer and other wildlife conservation initiatives.