Wildlife research at the Fort Valley Experimental Forest began with studies to determine how to control damage by wildlife and livestock to ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) reproduction and tree growth. Studies on birds, small mammals, and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) browsing were initiated in the early 1930s and 1940s but these were short term efforts to develop control techniques. While researchers at Fort Valley and other study areas expressed a need for more information on forest wildlife, there was no major effort in this direction until 1962 when the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station established the first Wildlife Research Work Unit in Arizona on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. In cooperation with state and federal agencies, research was started on non-game birds, wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), and effects of forest manipulation on mule deer and elk (Cervus elaphus) habitat. A major long-term focus was on the ecology and management of the Abert's squirrel (Sciurus aberti) and its relation to management of ponderosa pine.
Results of research from several state and federal agencies confirm that squirrels need a certain size, density, and arrangement of ponderosa pine to survive and reproduce. In turn, there is evidence that squirrels and other small animals recycle nutrients that contribute to the health of ponderosa pine. The Abert's squirrel and other small rodents have not caused damage to the extent predicted by foresters in the early 1900s and both are part of an ecosystem that has been functioning for thousands of years. It appears, from what we now know, discounting dramatic climate change, that future generations will continue to enjoy both the Abert's squirrel and ponderosa pine for another several thousand years.