Mule deer and elk are the principal big game species in the Red Leaf Resources Utah oil shale leases, with the leases occupying favored winter range for both species. Herd sizes and survivability are determined primarily by food availability through the full range of possible winter conditions in these winter range areas. Mule deer are primarily browsers, preferring shrubs and forbs, but they will also eat grasses and sage. Elk are primarily grazers, preferring grasses, but they will also eat shrubs and forbs. The environment of the Seep Ridge site of Red Leaf Resources is of three basic types:
Dense Forest: Dense forest occupies the largest portion of the area. There is virtually no food for deer or elk in these areas.
Sparse Forest: Sparse forest occupies a large portion of the area. There is a small amount of grasses and shrubs, with sage comprising most of this.
Sage Flats: Sage flats occupy a smaller area. There is more food in this area, with more grasses and shrubs, primarily sage.
Taken as a whole these areas provide the best winter range for deer and elk in the area, but the capacity to support animals in the worst of winters is still very limited. All of these photos were taken on September 15, 2017, with perhaps the best fall crop of food plants for the past several years. In a research collaboration with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Habitat Program Manager, several shrub, forb, and grass species that are native to the region were selected to suit the precipitation in the area of the Red Leaf leases, and a subset of species were further chosen to provide maximum protein for the full range of historically experienced winter conditions.
The chosen mix of plants was then seeded in shale mining debris on the Seep Ridge Red Leaf lease in the fall of 2013. This research plot was fenced and allowed to grow without disturbance. Contrary to the popular conception that mined oil shale debris is barren, this planting continues to flourish, as shown below. The results of this research will be used to provide an abundance of rich feed for mule deer and elk in future reclaimed areas of the Red Leaf oil shale leases.
Penstemon Grahamii is a beautiful and rare flower that is native to very limited regions of the high desert, and is relatively widespread in the general area of the Red Leaf oil shale leases. There has been concern that this plant may be endangered. There is a widespread belief that it cannot be deliberately planted and successfully grown in the wild, with the implication that destroying growing plants or disturbing undisturbed areas where they are found to grow will endanger the survival of these plants. In particular, it is widely believed that mining in the areas of growth of these plants might endanger them. In an effort to explore this thesis, State of Utah researchers, in collaboration with Red Leaf staff, planted several of these plants in shale mining debris on the Seep Ridge Red Leaf leases, fenced the planting to protect it from small animals, and observed plant behavior. As shown, these plantings showed excellent growth after more than one year.