The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is an advocate of active forest management or, in other words, of conservation. Preservation, on the other hand, means to withhold any type of management and leave natural resources alone–often to the point of decay or overgrowth. There is a definite need for one approach over the other. The best way to demonstrate that difference is to take an up-close look at a specific habitat stewardship project that makes a positive, tangible difference for elk and other wildlife.
The Middle Fork Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest is vastly different than what most people envision for west-central Oregon. Instead of a rain forest setting with expansive swatches of thick, lush trees, it features drier and warmer conditions.
“Tens of thousands of acres in this area used to be made up of a few large trees and wide expanses of grass. Due to fire suppression, trees are taking over. This deprives wildlife of a habitat found very few places in the Western Cascades,” said Cheron Ferland, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist. “The work at Pinegrass is about more than returning to a historical condition. It’s about creating a landscape that is more resilient to future, drier conditions.”
“These openings are critical to habitat,” said Gary Thompson, retired forester and RMEF volunteer. “When we were logging and burning, we kept things open. As these areas got less and less, the herds got smaller and smaller.”
On-the-ground work began in 2014 as seven volunteers from the RMEF Willamette Valley Chapter used hand saws, weed eaters, and chain saws across 213 acres to prune, pile and place in bundles smaller, encroaching Douglas fir trees.
“Elk still use this area,” said Kati McCrae, Willamette Valley Chapter volunteer coordinator. “But the grass and forbs they use for browse are disappearing. If you create the habitat, they will come.”
Before thinning…. …after thinning
Work, as well as RMEF funding to support it, resumed in 2015 equating into hundreds of hours of donated RMEF volunteer manpower. The project will also carry over into 2016.