Competitive Graduate Student Assistantship Program

Improving Management Outcomes for Elk, Mule Deer, Black Bears and Mountain Lions Following Stand-Replacing Wildfires and Landscape-Scale Forest Restoration Projects

Project Leader: James W. Cain (Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Ecology,

Student: Unknown at this time; Funds would be used to recruit a highly qualified M.S. candidate.

Summary: Decades of fire suppression, logging, and overgrazing have altered the conditions of New Mexico forests resulting in higher densities of small-diameter trees and an overall increase in fuel loads. Increased tree densities are associated with declines in biodiversity, reduced habitat quality for many wildlife species, a reduction in forage for wild and domestic ungulates, and more frequent and severe wildfires. Catastrophic wildfires in New Mexico over the past two decades have resulted in an increased need for forest restoration projects designed to restore historic forest structure, plant species composition, and fire regimes. Furthermore, the increased temperature, drier winters, and earlier springs predicted for the Southwest under various climate change scenarios, is likely to increase wildfire activity further, particularly if forests are not restored to conditions that are more resilient to wildfires. This project proposes to develop guidance for land managers to improve their ability to evaluate impacts of landscape-scale forest treatments and wildfires over the short and long term, and provide ideas for project design that can integrate new information on wildlife habitat needs, thus providing for wildfire risk mitigation and more informed wildlife habitat manipulations. These efforts will include monitoring the changes in biomass and nutritional quality of forage plants for mule deer, elk and black bears in association with thinning, prescribed fire and wildfire in the Jemez Mountains and we will evaluate the influence of wildfires and treatments on habitat selection and resource use by mule deer, elk, mountain lions and black bears.