Mule Deer - Range and Distribution

Range and Distribution

Did you know that California has three of the four major deserts in North America? Vast parts of the Great Basin, Mohave, and Sonoran deserts are in California, only the Chihuahuan Desert is not in California. CDFW's Inland Deserts Region covers all three deserts, hence the Region's title. In addition the Region also covers high elevation mountain ranges like the San Bernardino Mountain Range and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, where resides the magnificent Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. The Inland Deserts Region is a vast area. As one can imagine, the weather and habitat types are diverse as one travels through the Region. Deer are distributed throughout the Region, however, their density varies and is most dependent on the quality and quantity of forage and cover available.

The majority of deer habitat is on public land administered by the U. S. Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or on private land. Only a small percent of deer habitat is owned and administered by the State of California as state parks, forests, and wildlife areas. Consequently, CDFW has to work closely with other land owners, public and private, to improve quality and quantity of deer habitat.

Most habitat management projects that the Region is involved in are funded in part by other public agencies or wildlife conservation organizations, like the California Deer Association (CDA), Desert Wildlife Unlimited (DWU), and Safari Club International (SCI). The type and extent of habitat projects throughout the Region vary by need, as well as availability of CDFW staff and resources. Some of the Region's recent habitat projects are listed below.

Habitat Enhancement Projects

  • The Slinkard Valley Wildlife Area Browse Enhancement and Protection Project in Mono County is a cooperative partnership between the CDFW, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the California Deer Assocaition (CDA).
  • The Inland Deserts Region, Lands North Program (Bishop field office) is currently collaborating with the United States Forest Service (USFS) to restore Wheeler Creek and the surrounding meadow on the Burcham and Wheeler Flats Wildlife Area (BWFWA).
  • The Buttermilk Wildlife Area Habitat Fencing Project in Inyo County is currently in the works. Riparian habitat within the Buttermilk Wildlife Area provides important fawning areas as well as excellent forage and cover during the winter, spring, and fall months.

    A fence surrounding this critical habitat is necessary to protect high quality aspen groves and riparian vegetation as well as bitterbrush habitat from being trampled and damaged by livestock, which are currently being grazed on adjacent USFS lands. This fence will keep livestock out but allow deer to utilize the site. The USFS will be contributing funds for this effort. Check back for more information as it becomes available.
  • Prescribed burns for brush removal in one area may be detrimental in another habitat. In the San Bernardino Mountains, CDFW staff have recently assisted the USFS in determining best locations for prescribed burns that will reduce the fuel load and benefit California's wildlife.
  • In the Sonoran (or Colorado) Desert all sorts of wildlife use artificial water systems. CDFW, volunteers and numerous conservation groups fund, install and maintain water systems throughout the Inland Deserts Region. Drinkers provide life-giving water for a variety of species, from amphibians to deer and desert bighorn sheep. Once installed, regular evaluation of the systems is necessary to ensure the system is working properly. Remote infrared camera systems document the variety of species that utilize these artificial water sources in the hot, dry desert, where water is limited. See some of the types of animals that have been caught on the candid cameras.

    With the help of many volunteers, CDFW was able to install a water drinker system in the East Chocolate Mountains of the Sonoran Desert, Imperial County, during 2009. This project provided permanent, reliable water to an area of the desert which is deer habitat but deer can't exist because there is no available year-round water. This project was primarily funded by link opens in new tab or windowCalifornia Deer Association.

Desert mule deer range and distribution in the state of California
California mule deer range and distribution map
(click to enlarge) (PDF)

Mule Deer browsing Slinkard Valley
Mule deer group foraging in 2009 treatment area , Slinkard Valley Wildlife Area Browse Protection and Enhancement Project, Mono County.

Mule Deer browsing Slinkard Valley
Mule deer group foraging in area thinned and then mowed during 2009 work, Slinkard Valley Wildlife Area Browse Protection and Enhancement Project, Mono County.