Hunters with the national nonprofit Mule Deer Foundation’s Mother Lode Chapter have secured $369,760 in state grant funding to help restore critical deer wintering habitat on Jawbone Ridge in Tuolumne County, and they are seeking donations for their 24th Anniversary Banquet & Auction on Feb. 23.

The restoration project area is about 350 acres in the Jawbone Lava Cap area of the Stanislaus National Forest, Bill Youngman, the Mother Lode Chapter chairman and a resident of Sonora, said Tuesday. Parts of the area burned in the 2013 Rim Fire.

Jawbone Ridge and Jawbone Lava Cap are high points between the Clavey River on the north and northwest, and the Tuolumne River on the south and east, east of Groveland and situated in the Groveland Ranger District. They are both visible on clear days from the Rim of the World vista on Highway 120 east of Buck Meadows.

The Mule Deer Foundation is a 501(c)(3) wildlife group dedicated to conservation of mule deer and mule deer subspecies, including blacktail deer, Youngman said. Members are also committed to improving mule deer management, protection, enhancement of deer habitat, and insuring the future of healthy, stable herds, Youngman said.

The $369,760 grant comes from a California Department of Fish and Wildlife big game fund to thin about 350 acres of trees and shrubs that survived the Rim Fire and are now too dense, with interlocking crowns that restrict deer access, mobility, and predator avoidance on the winter range, according to the Mule Deer Foundation and the Forest Service.

Objectives are to put in more oaks to produce nuts for wintering deer, to increase the quality and quantity of herbaceous and woody forage, to provide space for retained trees to grow with less competition, and to create patches of thermal and hiding cover, according to wildlife scientists who helped write grant applications for the Mule Deer Foundation.

The 350-acre project area is part of a 7,700-acre habitat restoration effort put together by Marcie Bambaugh, a Forest Service wildlife biologist with the Mi-Wok Ranger District. Kevin Zeman with the Mule Deer Foundation will manage the 350-acre project, which they hope to complete by fall 2020. The partnership is part of a Master Stewardship agreement with the Forest Service.

The Mule Deer Foundation Mother Lode Chapter’s 24th Anniversary Banquet & Auction is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Sonora Elks Lodge, 100 Elk Drive above Sonora High School. The schedule includes no-host cocktails at 5 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m., raffle and auction at 8 p.m.

Dinner tickets start at $35 each for ages 15 and younger, $70 pays for one adult dinner and includes Mule Deer Foundation membership, and $100 pays for a couple’s dinner and one Mule Deer Foundation membership.

Mule Deer Foundation Mother Lode Chapter members are seeking donations to be raffled and auctioned as fundraisers during their banquet, Youngman said Tuesday. Proceeds from the event will benefit Mule Deer Foundation projects and help establish unspecified wildlife programs.

Other habitat restoration projects, deer studies and local youth activities, including competitive shooting programs like the Sonora High Trap Club, have been funded by the Mule Deer Foundation Mother Lode Chapter, Youngman said. The chapter has already made a cash donation to the Sonora High Trap Club this year.

Other partners on Bambaugh’s 7,700-acre habitat restoration effort include the Wildlife Conservation Board, Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, the Tuolumne River Trust, Tuolumne County, the California Deer Association and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

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