Metolius Mule Deer Winter Range

Protecting habitat for sensitive species in Central Oregon

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What is the Metolius Mule Deer Winter Range?

The Winter Range is an area near the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project that encompasses approximately 160,000 acres of high desert grassland. PGE owns more than 9,000 acres of this land, preserved as critical wildlife habitat for sensitive species. 

A variety of animals rely on the area, including mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), which migrate to the Winter Range when the Cascade mountains become snowy and harsh.

Other portions of the Winter Range are owned by local, state and federal agencies as well as the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and private landowners.

PGE works closely with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Jefferson County and other agencies and nonprofits to preserve and enhance the area for wildlife.

Why is the Winter Range important for wildlife?

Over the years, wildlife habitat in Oregon’s high desert has dwindled, and the area no longer supports large deer populations like it once did. Human development, the spread of invasive species and fire suppression have all played a part in the degradation of once-abundant habitat. Learn more about how the Winter Range has changed throughout history.

Despite these changes, the Metolius Mule Deer Winter Range remains an important refuge site. When the weather turns cold, thousands of mule deer migrate east from the Cascade Mountains to the Winter Range, seeking protection in the sage and juniper-covered terrain. 

Here, you can also spot elk, bobcats, cougars, turkeys, hawks, songbirds and small mammals. These animals all rely on the grassland for food and shelter. But even on the Winter Range, surviving the coldest months of the year can be a challenge.

Aerial photo of deer on range
Mule deer typically take refuge in the Winter Range from December to April.

What can I do?

The Winter Range offers countless recreational opportunities, including hunting and shed collecting, hiking and bird-watching, but these activities can negatively impact wildlife. When you visit, please make responsible choices as you enjoy this unique land.

  • Follow all access restrictions posted on closed roadways and at informational kiosks. View the closures map before you go and plan your trip accordingly.
  • If hunting, abide by the latest Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife rules and regulations.
  • If collecting deer sheds, please use responsible practices, and avoid visiting the Winter Range until spring (March or April).
  • Report any poaching or illegal use. Call 800-452-7888 to report.
  • If you see wildlife, please enjoy their presence from a distance. If deer freeze up or move away when they see you, you are too close. Mule deer carefully conserve their energy through the winter, and any disturbance can lead to higher rates of mortality and reproductive failure.
  • Keep dogs on-leash.
  • Educate fellow land-users about how to enjoy the land responsibly.

Mule deer in snow
Winter is a time of high mortality for wildlife, as they must rely on fat reserves and sparse forage for survival.

Learn more about how disturbing wildlife can affect their survival in this Mule Deer Working Group Fact Sheet.

Landowners – lead the way

If you own land within or near the Winter Range, here are a few additional actions you can take:

  • Follow all land use regulations and county codes.
  • Remove fencing or construct wildlife-friendly fencing whenever possible.
  • Thin and remove young Western juniper trees on your property. This makes the landscape more resilient to wildfire and aids the growth of beneficial plants. Leave larger, older trees to provide shelter for wildlife.
  • Control weed infestations. Contact your county weed board for information and resources.
  • Plant native vegetation in disturbed areas.
  • Minimize the footprint of development on your property.

How is the Winter Range managed?

PGE’s terrestrial biologists work in several ways to protect wildlife in the Winter Range. This includes:

Seasonal road access restrictions

  • Reducing motorized traffic and human activity can help alleviate stress on deer, especially during the winter.
  • Access restrictions also help reduce erosion and runoff, contributing to better water quality.
  • Restrictions help reduce the spread of invasive weeds.

Thinning western juniper trees

  • Old growth western juniper trees provide habitat for birds and small mammals, but young trees can quickly dominate the landscape.
  • Junipers often out-compete other native species that wildlife need for food and can also increase the risk of devastating wildfires.
  • While we protect old growth western juniper, we frequently thin young junipers to reduce these risks and allow other plant species to recover. PGE has cut more than 800 acres of juniper on the Winter Range and funded additional projects through the Pelton Fund. Learn more about juniper management.

Invasive weed management

  • Noxious weeds out-compete and replace native vegetation, reducing the amount and quality of food available for wildlife. Their shallow roots can also promote erosion and run-off, whereas native plants help stabilize soils with deeper root systems.
  • Weeds often become established in areas where soils and native vegetation have been disturbed, and are spread by vehicles, animals, wind and water.
  • Noxious weeds that cause the most problems in Central Oregon include cheatgrass, medusahead, knapweeds and non-native thistles.

To help address some of the big issues facing wildlife, a group of local stakeholders formed a coalition in 2005 known as the Westside Stewardship Project. 

This group is working together to improve habitat for the benefit of mule deer and all other animals that call the Winter Range home. 4,000 acres of habitat have been improved through this partnership to date.

Why do PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs care?

PGE and CTWS are dedicated to the stewardship of Central Oregon’s fish and wildlife populations. We collaborate with partners throughout the Deschutes Basin to enhance habitat, protect clean waters and advance fisheries science. Learn more about our story on the Deschutes River.

Terrestrial resources by the numbers
Download Terrestrial Resources by the Numbers