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MDF Partners with AZGFD, ADA to Focus on Kaibab Plateau

MDF Partners with AZGFD, ADA to Focus on Kaibab Plateau

The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) is partnering with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the Arizona Deer Association to host a habitat project manager to coordinate mule deer conservation projects on the Kaibab Plateau and the Arizona Strip. Funding for the projects comes largely through the sale of coveted special big game tags, including the Arizona statewide mule deer tag that sells at MDF’s Western Hunting & Conservation Expo; in 2022 the tag sold for $400,000 and 100% of that funding is dedicated to Arizona mule deer habitat projects. Todd Buck, who served as a wildlife manager and law enforcement officer for the AZGFD on the North Kaibab since 1992, was recently hired to implement habitat projects and began his work with MDF on October 5.

“The Arizona Strip and North Kaibab are legendary mule deer areas that have seen some population impacts due to years of extreme drought and declining habitat conditions,” commented Mule Deer Foundation President/CEO Joel Pedersen. “The Mule Deer Foundation is excited to work with our partners at Arizona Game and Fish and Arizona Deer Association to host Todd Buck who brings so much experience and credibility to the work that will be done in this region.”

Renowned for record book bucks, the Kaibab mule deer herd has a prominent place in conservation history. The herd was the subject of one of our nation’s first attempts at large-scale wildlife population management, starting in 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt established the plateau as a game preserve. Mule deer population studies on the Kaibab—some of which were administered by one of the fathers of wildlife management, Aldo Leopold—provide the foundation for how wildlife managers regulate herds and the field of population dynamics.

To help manage the habitat critical to maintaining the state’s wildlife, Arizona’s Habitat Partnership Committee (HPC) allocates revenues generated through the sale of Commission Special Big Game Tags. The HPC has directed over $540,000 to mule deer habitat projects in Game Management Units (GMU) 12AW and 12AE, and a total of almost $1.3 million across the Arizona Strip. This funding is matched by millions more provided by project partners such as the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Grand Canyon National Park, and MDF. Capitalizing on these funds, the partners will start by removing encroaching conifers on more than 2,000 acres using $100,000 from AZGFD’s Habitat Enhancement Program and are also planning a significant expansion of work in the region

The habitat enhancement projects will be coordinated by Todd Buck who has spent three decades working on the North Kaibab. In addition to being a full-time law enforcement officer, Todd has worked on projects in every facet of wildlife management in Arizona. He designed and implemented large scale habitat projects for mule deer, developed and implemented a water distribution plan that included 32 new water sources (as well as the repair of over 40 other water catchments) to improve water availability for wildlife on the Kaibab, and assisted with a project to redevelop structures in critical Apache trout habitat. Todd’s project work resulted in over $4 million infused into GMU 12A during his career and he developed a myriad of partnerships with ranchers, contractors, landowners, and both state and federal employees. The USFS recognized Todd’s knowledge and stewardship of the North Kaibab with an award in 2022 and he received the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Manager of the Year in 2021. Todd is excited to continue developing and implementing projects for mule deer across the Arizona Strip and the North Kaibab.

“Todd knows the Kaibab well and has extensive contacts and an outstanding reputation of getting work done on the ground,” concluded MDF Chief Conservation Officer, Steve Belinda. “We are happy to have him join our conservation programs team to expand the partnership opportunities with Arizona Game and Fish, Arizona Deer Association, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, and to implement the habitat projects that will make a difference for these storied mule deer herds.”

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