Stories from the Corridor

The Round Valley mule deer herd – nearly 3,000 strong – migrates twice a year to and from the high Sierra, spending the winter months on the Eastside in Round Valley, at the base of their migration corridor. In the summer, alpine meadows to the west provide an ideal location to give birth and to access good forage. However, the path to the high country can be dangerous. The portion of the corridor in Swall Meadows is only one mile wide, creating a bottleneck limited by the steep cliffs of Wheeler Ridge to the west and the deep canyon of Lower Rock Creek Gorge to the east. Along the way, deer come face-to-face with predators, highway traffic, and an increasing human presence.

Photo © ESLT Staff

ESLT improved the quality of habitat along the corridor in 2013 by planting bitterbrush, an essential food source for the deer. It is particularly vital in the fall, as the deer return to Round Valley for the winter.

The story of ESLT is closely tied to the perils faced by the Round Valley mule deer herd. As the community of Swall Meadows grew in the 1990’s, habitat and open space became scarce. Stephen Ingram and Karen Ferrell-Ingram began to explore ways they might preserve their property in Swall Meadows to provide a “safe zone” for the migration. With the help of Ralph & Lyn Haber, Karl & Laura Hinrichs, Rick Kattelmann, and ESLT’s current Board President, Tony Taylor, Stephen and Karen created Eastern Sierra Land Trust and donated a conservation easement on their property to the new organization. Shortly thereafter, another easement in Swall Meadows – owned by the late Tom McAfee – was similarly donated to the land trust in order to maintain vital habitat and a safe haven along the migration corridor.

Ten years after those first easement donations, ESLT has protected 269 acres along the migration corridor from future development. With more conservation easements in Swall Meadows, habitat fragmentation is reduced. While the deer’s path is still dangerous, we’ve been able to make it a little safer – largely thanks to the foresight of concerned members of the Eastern Sierra community, and the generosity of compassionate landowners living along the deer’s trail.

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The deer don’t seem to mind the presence of humans; we often hear close-encounter tales of their antics. Lee Naylon, an ESLT Landowner who took the pictures above from her property in Swall Meadows, says that her apple orchard is “one of the favorite resting and grazing areas for the deer,” and that it, “provides shade, water, and an abundance of apples, on a good year.”

Want to learn more about the Round Valley mule deer? Join ESLT at our upcoming event!

Mule Deer Migration Corridor Field Trip

Saturday, March 15


Visit our events page for details – click here. For more information and to RSVP, please contact Ali, Education Coordinator and AmeriCorps Member, at (760) 873-4554, or

Photo © Stephen Ingram.

Loyal ESLT volunteer Wally Woolfenden and his wife Linda live in Swall Meadows; they frequently witness “quite a show” as the deer pass through. One memorable evening during rutting season, the two were nearly flattened by a “little spike” hightailing it from the mating grounds of a much older four-point stag, close on his heels. Several homeowners in Swall Meadows have noticed that the mule deer seem to be spending more time nearby, rather than migrating through; this is especially true of such “little spikes,” bachelor bucks lacking the maturity to lead the herds on their migration. Photo © Stephen Ingram


ESLT Executive Director, Kay Ogden, recently moved to Round Valley. Her German Shepherd, Rush Creek, is quickly learning who’s “top dog” (hint: the deer aren’t too worried about their new neighbors). Rush’s pride may be hurt when they ignore his barks, but Kay enjoys watching them pass through her backyard. Once her garden’s in the ground, though, Rush may be getting some coaching in the art of sounding ferocious! Photo © Stephen Ingram