Public lands managed by the BLM in Washington County support a great variety of plant and animal species. By law, BLM manages the habitats of these species while the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) manages the populations of plants and animals. As a consequence, BLM works very closely with UDWR and other interested government and non-government partners to promote viable populations of species through coordinated habitat management. Because BLM lands in Washington County include portions of three physiographic provinces, many wildlife species are at the far end of their natural ranges. Eleven species of plants and animals are listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as threatened or endangered within the Field Office under the Endangered Species Act. Numerous other species are listed by BLM and/or UDWR as candidate species, sensitive species, conservation species, or species of concern and are managed to prevent the need for their listing under the Act (see the section of this website on Threatened and Endangered Species).
BLM’s overall objective for fish and wildlife habitat management is to maintain habitats in properly functioning conditions to support natural wildlife diversity, reproductive capability, and appropriate human use and enjoyment. Many of the species make their home here year round while others, such as mule deer, migrate from higher elevations on the adjacent Dixie National Forest to lower elevations on BLM during the winter. Some of the more high profile wildlife species that are common within the field office include:
- Desert Bighorn Sheep, with a estimated population of 50-75 animals that can be found ranging along the steep, rocky slopes of the Virgin River Gorge and portions of the Beaver Dam Mountains;
- Mule Deer, common throughout much of the field office during the winter months of October through March, with 12,000 deer estimated in the Pine Valley management unit located on the west side of the Field Office and 7,500 deer in the Zion Management Unit located on the east side; and
- Elk, with a small population of about 50 that frequents BLM land in the Black Ridge area north of St. George.
Other common wildlife species found in the area are coyote, cougar, fox, bobcat and a variety of small rodents, lizards, and other reptiles. Popular upland game birds common in the area are Gamble’s quail, mourning doves, Rio Grand turkeys, and chukar partridge. The latter two are introduced species.
Major collaborative habitat management initiatives have been established in Washington County involving substantial acres of public lands and the cooperation of local, state, and other federal agencies and the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians. These include the Virgin River Program, the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan, the Utah Partners for Conservation Development initiative, and the Washington County Endangered Plants recovery task force. In addition, over 440,000 acres of public lands are managed under Habitat Management Plans developed by BLM in cooperation with UDWR for species such as mule deer, Desert Bighorn Sheep, elk, Gambel’s quail, raptors, waterfowl, and game fish. Projects completed under these initiatives include water developments, vegetation treatments, protective fencing, signing, animal translocations, habitat acquisition, increased stream flows, public education, and eradication of non-native plant and animal species such as Tamarisk or red shiners that compete for food, water, and space (see the sections of this website on Virgin River Programs and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve). An interagency Conservation Agreement and Strategy is also in effect to maintain viable populations of the Virgin spinedace minnow found along the Virgin River and some of its major tributaries.
For more detailed information on plant and animal species, go to the UDWR website.