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Going Green for Mule Deer

April 22 was Earth Day, and it seemed like the whole week was set aside to celebrate the environment and learn ways to better care for Mother Earth.

Whether you opened up a news paper, turned on the television, or visited a community celebration, common Earth Day themes centered on the concept of "Going Green."

Friday, April 25, about 56 students and three teachers from Soda Springs High School decided to "go green" for mule deer. They teamed up with a few folks from Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management to plant 1,300 mountain mahogany plants on some fire-scarred slopes in Ninety-Percent Canyon near Soda Springs.

Despite cooler weather, blowing winds, and occasional snow storms, the students scraped soil, augered holes, and planted the mahogany - all to help improve mule deer habitat on this valuable and critical winter range.

Before the planting event, Fish and Game employees visited the high school to talk about mule deer biology, habitat needs, and the efforts Fish and Game has taken to try to help improve mule deer populations. Fish and Game presented to students of Jeff Horsley and Charlie Kator, science teachers at Soda Springs High School, as well as students of Shawnae Somsen, PE and health teacher.

Horsley was excited about incorporating such a presentation and worthwhile activity into this year's science curriculum.

"Activities like this expose students to a potential career path and help them take ownership of the wildlife resource," he said.

Somsen also saw great value in the exposure her students were getting.

"This gives them a chance to be involved in their own community while doing something that is physically active. We live in a recreational paradise, and we all need to take ownership in preserving it as well as enjoying it," Somsen said.

Fridays are not school days for students at Soda Springs High School. Horsley, Kator and Somsen lured their students to the activity with the promise of extra credit. Though students came for the boost in their grades, many left with a personal boost - a feeling of accomplishment - that they had done something beneficial for wildlife.

Cecil Jensen, a senior, said that though the extra credit is nice, he really loves being outside and being with his friends.

Colter Evans, also a senior, surprised Fish and Game when he mentioned he wasn't here as part of any class. He had heard about the planting and just wanted to help out.

"I wanted to make a difference to those in the community who enjoy the landscape we have here in Soda Springs and the mule deer who use it," he said.

The students also had an opportunity to use telemetry techniques to track down a hidden radio collar like those used by Fish and Game to mark and track mule deer. This was a fun break from planting efforts, but was not as easy an endeavor as some may have originally thought.

Following a slippery but successful journey up and down snowy slopes, Sari Barker, a senior from Kator's fish and wildlife class remarked, "I am amazed that Fish and Game takes so much time to make sure the mule deer in our state are doing okay."

Cecil Jensen likened the tracking experience to a "search and rescue" operation for mule deer.

The planting activity started at 9 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m. Fish and Game knew that planting all 1,300 seedlings by the designated quitting time of 1 p.m. would be next to impossible.

"We told the students they could head back and staff would take care of the remaining plants," said Stacey Osborn, Fish and Game mule deer initiative technician who organized the event. "The students were so excited and committed to the project that they turned down the prospect of a warm school bus to help us finish what we had started."

This year numerous plantings have taken place across the region here in southeast Idaho with various high schools and sportsmen's organizations volunteering their green thumbs. Hand plantings coupled with scheduled tractor plantings this year will result in over 100,000 bitterbrush, sagebrush, and mahogany seedlings going into southeast Idaho's soil.

Kermit the Frog once lamented "It isn't easy being green." Though that may be true, youth throughout the region have shown that it is possible.

Jennifer Jackson is the regional conservation educator in the Southeast Region.