Anderson Mesa Work Project
May 16-18, 2003

The Irony of Anderson Mesa

This story is more than a synopsis of a successful AAF work project the weekend of May 17, 2003.  It will review the work and efforts of some dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen, but also touch on the complexities of the problems surrounding the Mesa.  If you ask someone who's been around awhile for their thoughts on Anderson Mesa, you're likely to get an answer, but it will just as likely relate to only one segment of the entire issue.  Therein lies the problem.

The recent AAF work project centered on the elimination of juniper trees in the grassland ecosystem.  By all accounts we were successful, cutting down hundreds of trees in various sizes, over many acres!  As it turns out, our overall success was only limited by the volunteer turnout we had which could be described as "Disappointing" at best!  A LOT of people and groups are complaining about what's happening on Anderson Mesa, but take an account of who showed up to do something about it...11 AAF members, 4 Game & Fish personnel, 2 Diablo Trust people (the rancher & his son who's managing the land), and 1 volunteer (sportsman) looking for community service work, who saw the project notice in the AZ Daily Sun.  Many Thanks to the Volunteers!

When it comes to pronghorn and the Mesa, most people will state the obvious, the population has plummeted.  It's a complex matter however, that has evolved over several decades.  The last few years have opened the door on the problem, and exposed one of the big issues out of our control...DROUGHT...we haven't had a good year of timely rainfall in the last 5+ years.  Soil moisture has been non-existent, and grass and forbs growth matched the moisture.  No food, no animals.  Some of the junipers cut were 15 years old, and stood only 2 feet high!  The tree ring count was just as interesting, the last 5-6 years were represented in a ring approximately 1/8 " wide.  Some of the single rings in earlier years were that wide.

Speaking of JUNIPER ENCROACHMENT, the trees are growing all over the Mesa, why, and what does it matter?  Natural fires used to take care of the young junipers and keep them in check.  The lack of those fires and fire suppression over the last 100 years have led to the massive juniper invasion.  The junipers take moisture away from the grass and forbs, and as a consequence reduce the forage available for cattle, elk, and pronghorn.  They also provide cover for predators.  Sight and Flight are the pronghorns safety mechanisms, if they can't see them, they don't run.

We saw no pronghorn over the course of the project, but we did find the relatively fresh remains of a pronghorn fawn's rear leg.  Well chewed, with only the hoof and bones left.  It was found next to a stand of junipers. 

The other observation around the junipers was the ever-present, pungent odor of ELK!  There were elk beds everywhere, with fresh droppings and wet urine in abundance.  From the looks of it, we had moved them off the beds.  The elk love the juniper stands, seeking shade and cover.  One amongst our group of volunteers, found no less than 4 shed elk antlers, from a 2 point, all the way up to a 6 point.  We found no other sign of pronghorn however.

The pronghorn surveys from January 2003, show a herd count of 314 animals in 5B, and 286 animals in 5A.  Another survey will take place in July to give us some data on fawn recruitment.  In the meantime, the Game and Fish Department is also going to radio collar 12 animals with GPS collars, which will give them some excellent data on migration and movement.
It was green on the Mesa, the grass, forbs and weeds were making a comeback.  Amazing what some rain will do!  The cover was about a foot high in most places, good, but could be better.  Maybe this year's overall fawn crop will have a chance?  That brings up AERIAL GUNNING...the reports this year were 1.5 coyotes removed per hour of flying, 32 coyotes in total taken out.  Was that successful, I'd suggest yes, some would say no, some would and did, simply object.  The measure of success could probably be summed up by the report that the flyers saw a doe chasing a coyote.  They flew back and took the coyote out, and saw the doe return to the area she was first sited.  The doe picked up her twin fawns and ran off!  What else can you say?  There was a last minute move by an animal rights group to stop the aerial gunning, fortunately they didn't succeed this time.

Intense grazing by CATTLE has created problems over the last several decades. Some people believe cattle are the sole reason the pronghorn population has diminished. While they have had a dramatic impact on the forage on the Mesa, they aren’t they only reason for the decline in numbers. Some of the ranchers are trying to do a better job of managing the range.  In the area we were working, the Flying M Ranch pulled their cattle off the ground voluntarily last year because there wasn't any grass.    

Some have opined the TYPE OF WATER now available has been altered to the detriment of pronghorn.  That could be an issue, although if it's in earthen tanks, and in open areas, pronghorn wouldn't stay away.  The water might be cleaner absent cattle, and with marsh areas surrounding the source, (and waterfowl may find it more to their liking) but we're not aware of any research that indicates the former is detrimental to pronghorn.  There might be more cover in the marsh, hiding more predators, but you could take the other tack, more cover would hide the fawns.  Then you're making the assumption the fawn will be born near the water source.  If there's grass on the prairie, that maybe wouldn't be the case.

There's no easy fix for the Mesa, and many factors are being played out.  We (the AAF) have aligned ourselves with the Diablo Trust, to address the many issues involved.  As we continue to do that, we'll also continue to chip away at some of the factors at work, like the juniper project this past weekend, and the fencing projects last summer.  One day, we anticipate all our collective efforts will alter the population decline, and reverse the pronghorn population trend in a positive direction.  So with that said, we'll continue to walk the talk, and get the job done, while others will continue to complain and do nothing constructive to help impact the problems at hand.

Jim Unmacht

Project Volunteers

David Brown

David Butkay

Larry Cullen

Dennis Darr

Sue Foote

Larry Green

Jerry Guevin

Bill Keebler

Mary Keebler

Dave Laird

Carl Lutch

Jim Mehen

Jack Metzger

Robert Metzger

Rick Miller

Mike Morgenthal

Ron Seig

Jim Unmacht



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