The bullhog machine behind biologist Nicole Nielson kicks up dust as it shreds a juniper.
Crunch! Chips fly as a bullhog tears into another juniper at the Hiawatha-Miller Creek habitat site.
Like a bull with an attitude and an appetite, the machine roars and butts into an eight-foot tall juniper. It's no contest. The tree topples, and chips fly as heavy steel teeth on a rotating drum on the front of the machine rip through the bark and wood.
In about a half-minute, it's over. Another juniper has been reduced to mulch. The machine backs off and zeroes in on a nearby pinyon pine. For acres around, the ground is marked with a patchwork of shredded wood and bare earth. The fragrance is wonderful.
This is what it is like at the Hiawatha-Miller Creek Bullhog Project. Planned and managed by the Division of Wildlife Resources, it is intended to restore some 290 acres of land west of Highway 10 near the Hiawatha-Wattis Road for deer and elk winter range.
The trouble with juniper and pinyon pine is that the trees dominate the areas they invade, robbing the sage, grass and flowering plants of sunlight. "...And water, and nutrients from the soil," adds Nicole Nielson, the DWR habitat biologist who designed this project and a similar one near the Dugout Mine further east.
According to Nielson, removing the trees will open the areas so the smaller plants - the ones that deer like to eat - can recover. "Winter range is the limiting factor for deer and elk populations on the Manti," she explains.
The area has already been seeded with native plants by using a small airplane, she notes. The advantage of the bullhogs - those track-mounted vehicles that look a bit like Sno-Cats except for rotating teeth on the business end - is that they'll stir up the soil as they move so the seeds will get a light cover of dirt before winter sets in. The pinyon-juniper mulch left behind will trap soil moisture, which should also help.
Come spring, there should be seedlings, which will later provide a much-needed buffet for browsers.
So who's paying for all this?
Nielson explains that it's a consortium that is funding the project. Looking at a nearby gas well-head steadily pumping away, she says that Conoco/Phillips is paying for more than half the project cost at Hiawatha-Miller Creek. Additional funding is coming from contributions by the Mule Deer Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative. The rest of the balance is paid for by hunters through state tag and license fees.
At Dugout Canyon, Anadarko is providing full funding, Nielson says.
"It's impressive to see so many people coming together on this," she smiles. "The companies are saying they just want to do what's right for the land."
The land being restored at Hiawatha is owned by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The 200 acres at Dugout belong partly to SITLA and partly to the Bureau of Land Management. BLM will handle the restoration on its portion of the territory.