Unit 21
March 15, 2008
Reclaiming Habitat for Pronghorn
By Richard Ockenfels

It could have started with some boys just out having unsupervised fun with their ATVs. It could have started with a hunter driving his ATV off road to retrieve his downed game. It could have started with a lazy hunter driving his ATV up to a ridge to glass for game, rather than walking up like a responsible hunter would do. It could have started with a ranch-hand driving along a fence to check it. Just a simple ATV track off a side road, it headed up a grassy ridge over a saddle to join into another two-track road. Soon, people in larger vehicles followed, and the ATV track became an unauthorized road. It’s a wildcat road, a road not authorized by the landowner, not sanctioned nor official, a road without a reason or a number. But, it’s a road nevertheless. Over time, the average person doesn’t even know that it started out as a wildcat.

The country is full of such roads. These roads are unnecessary for the landowner or for the livestock operator who is leasing the public lands to conduct their business. The roads are simply unneeded and added scars on the landscape. Wildcat roads have long been a problem, particularly in areas close to major metropolitan areas. Public lands like U.S. National Forests, BLM lands, or Trust lands under the State Land Department all have innumerable wildcat roads along with the more than adequate sanctioned roads for people to enjoy their lands. Such wildcat roads are blights on the landscape, damaging wildlife habitat and threatening the watershed. They compact fragile soils and prevent new plant growth, or worse yet, start erosion into a new area.

The first habitat project for the Arizona Antelope Foundation for 2008 was a joint effort with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Prescott National Forest to reclaim a number of wildcat roads in Game Management Unit 21, in the Dugas area just outside of Cordes Junction. The work project was planned by Wildlife Manager Jake Fousek, Habitat Specialist Dana Warnecke out of the Mesa Region VI office, Prescott National Forest biologist Albert Sillas, and the Department’s Adopt-A-Ranch Coordinator, Troy Christensen. Some AAF members, like Projects Coordinator Scott Anderson, past president Dave Laird (with former Board Member Sue Foote), and active members Art and Mark Boswell from Tucson drove up early on Friday, March 14, to set up the campsite and put out signs for folks to follow to the camp. Joining in were current and former wildlife biology students from Arizona State University, and a forestry student from Northern Arizona University.

As with previous work projects in the area, the camp was at a wonderful site of mature cottonwood trees along Yellowjacket Creek off the Dugas Road (FR 68), about 4 miles east of I-17. Although the trees were still bare from winter dormancy, the site is a common camping area throughout the winter for people recreating on Prescott National Forest lands. By the time I arrived, more folks had arrived for an enjoyable, cool evening around the campfire. Current AAF President Tice Supplee arrived late in the evening with the AAF work trailer, but she had to return to Phoenix because of a work commitment on Saturday at the Tres Rios Nature Festival.

On Saturday morning, volunteers started to arrive so work could begin on reclaiming the roads. Included with others were AAF Vice-President Ken Langford, and Terry and Debbie Petko, from Hunt of a Lifetime Foundation, frequent cooperators with AAF on conservation projects. After folks signed in on volunteer forms, a line of vehicles was ready to go to the work site. The primary wildcat road, which ran north towards Hooker Basin, was just off of Yellowjacket Creek and Road 9622A. We split into 2 major groups so we could work on both ends to the wildcat road. Picks and other tools were used by current and former students, AAF members, and agency staff to break up the road tracks, so plants could re-establish in the compacted soils. Straw bales were then spread out over the roadbed to reduce erosion as the land heals. T-posts were driven into the ground across the roadbed to block off the entrances to the wildcat road, and finally signage was put up to inform the public of the closure for wildlife habitat restoration. The Adopt-A-Ranch program had made up special signs for the project, which were put up along side of the standard USFS road closure signs. The northside crew, of which I was a part of, broke up and spread straw over 75 yards of illegal road. The southside effort was just as successful.

After the primary wildcat road was closed off, the crew moved to a second illegal road. For this road, the strategy was to employee a different method of reclaiming the wildcat road. Soon, chainsaws were busy cutting down junipers on the grassland edge to be cut into slash. The volunteers loaded the slash on the agency trailers, which was then unloaded and spread on the roadbed. Over 140 yards of illegal roadbed were covered by the slash. This restoration method prevents further erosion on the roadbed as the land heals from the road closure. Again, T-posts were driven in and signs put up to inform the public of the closure of the road.

As the day moved towards an end, the agency biologists had one more illegal road to close off. This wildcat road was just off the Reimer Springs Road (FR 68D), which is part of the Great Western Trail through Arizona. At this site, T-posts were driven in across the roadbed, three wire strands were clipped onto the posts, and closure signs were put up. The work day was done.

Back at camp, AAF members had the camp stoves working full blast. AAF administrator Tracy Unmacht was up to help cook, display and sell Foundation merchandise, and sign up members. Appetizers, pops, and water bottles started out the evening meal. Soon, large T-bone steaks were grilling along side the baking beans. Ah, steaks cooked to order. No one left camp for home on an empty stomach. With threatening weather (it dropped to 27 F at the creek edge Saturday morning) arriving as forecasted, most folk headed home after the long day afield rather than spend another night out. Sunday and Monday promised sore muscles for many, as a day with a pick in hand in malapai country is not something anyone is used to. I for one, was plenty sore, but very satisfied at the effort put forth. Sore muscles and a satisfied mind, a good combination.

Hopefully, people recreating in the area will honor the road closures, and with a little luck and rain, the road scars will heal over. The juniper slash will become firewood for some future hunters after it has cured over the years and completed its job. And, pronghorn will again use the areas without disturbance from off-road vehicles. Ah, a satisfied mind.

The red on the map below represents several miles of road that was closed off through the efforts of several dozen volunteers.

Many thanks to the following for their help:
Ken Langford, Elizabeth Stewart, Joshua Gamble, Art Boswell, Mark Boswell, Randall Wolff, David and Sue Laird, Scott Anderson, Richard Ockenfels, Joseph Brehm, Heather Ray, Terry Petko, Debi Petko, Joshua Bahling, Terri Medina, April Hoffman, Jimmie Petersen, from the Horseshoe Ranch, Tracy Unmacht, Tice Supplee, Albert Sillas, USFS, Dana Warnecke, AZGFD, Jake Fousek, AZGFD, Troy Christensen, AZGFD

2008 March Unit 21 Project Photos


2008-03 Map of Work Completed



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