Elk NetworkRestoring Elk Country – Susquehannock State Forest PA

Conservation , Restoring Elk Country | October 27, 2020

See how RMEF is Restoring Elk Country in Your Neck of the Woods


To help ensure elk have plenty to eat, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources created 145 acres of herbaceous forage openings in the Susquehannock State Forest thanks in part to an RMEF grant that helped open another 25 acres of dense forest habitat in 2019. Sixty acres of dense aspen stands were also thinned to encourage regeneration of young trees that are a protein-rich food source for elk. RMEF funds went toward the purchase of seeds, fertilizer, lime and herbicides to create and sustain these vital forage openings. The work should boost nutritious food sources for more than 100 elk and help expand their distribution away from developed areas into wilder spots across the region. 


Mountain pine beetles aren’t the only nuisance plaguing national forests in the Centennial State. Canada thistle and houndstongue are just a few of the noxious weeds taking root there. Unlike the beetles, these weeds are non-native and outcompete nutritious forage that is vital to the elk that roam almost half a million acres of public land within the Arapaho National Forest’s Sulphur Ranger District. The U.S. Forest Service sent in mule-mounted weed sprayers to treat seven backcountry locations last August. RMEF and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Middle Park Habitat Partnership Program helped fund the work, the latest phase of a 16-year effort.


Upwards of 700 elk summer near Rice Ridge, where a 2017 wildfire burned more than 160,000 acres on the southeast edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. In the process, it blackened 80 percent of the herd’s summer forage, which Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spotted as an opportunity to study fire’s effect on population distribution and habitat use. Sampling vegetation and mapping cow elk movements, preliminary results indicate that elk may favor mid‑severity burned areas above all else. RMEF funds purchased key equipment to help document elk movements.


Thousands of elk that roam the Blue Mountains in northeast Oregon now have better access to 85,000 acres of key winter range and calving areas. Funds from RMEF supported the second phase of a multi-year effort to replace woven wire fencing with big game friendly, high‑visibility fence. Workers also installed lay-down sections that allow safe passage during migration. This ongoing project is helping elk and other big game find forage and water while cutting the risk of entanglement, as well as chances of calves and fawns being separated from their mothers when unable to pass over or under fences.


In 2015, University of Wyoming researchers set out to learn why elk were thriving in the Greater Little Mountain area near Rock Springs, while mule deer were not. RMEF dollars are helping fund the study in the high desert, which traces elk migration patterns and calf survival rates across four years. So far researchers revealed the need for elk to cross vast areas in search of sparse resources. Next, they plan to evaluate whether enhancing mountain mahogany and other shrubs improves forage conditions there for mule deer and elk.


With more than 8,000 elk, the Yakima herd is among the state’s largest. A quarter spend their year in the Nile and Dry Creek watersheds above the Naches River on the east slope of the Cascades. But low cow numbers and poor calf survival has wildlife managers concerned, leading to significant cuts in the number of elk tags available to hunters. This heavily forested area hasn’t seen significant fire or commercial timber harvest in nearly 30 years. RMEF recently helped fund a Wenatchee National Forest project that thinned around 500 acres of small-diameter conifers to enhance stand conditions, establish strategic fuel breaks and improve elk forage.