Home Biologist East Saddle Forest Management Project Improves Elk Habitat

East Saddle Forest Management Project Improves Elk Habitat


The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and Clearwater Region of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) work together on management projects that improve wildlife habitat on national forest lands. One such project is East Saddle, where the Forest Service recently implemented a prescribed burn to improve habitat for elk and other wildlife.

The East Saddle Integrated Restoration Project, a collaborative project between the Forest Service and the IDFG, is located in the North Fork Ranger District of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, in areas of the Cayuse Creek drainage in south of the Old Kelly Creek work center, extending west. from the work center and north of Kelly Creek to the North Fork of the Clearwater. The primary objective of the project is to improve grazing for ungulate species, such as elk and deer, while improving summer and winter range and calving habitat for elk. Prescribed burning, timber harvesting and aspen restoration are all used in the project plan as means to achieve these goals.

On October 19, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests conducted a prescribed burn as part of the East Saddle Project. Several units have been successfully burned, totaling approximately 1,000 acres.

“We’re really pleased with the results,” Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests prescribed fire and fuels specialist TC Peterson said of the recent East Saddle prescribed burn. “On average, this burn consumed 80-90% of the targeted fuels in designated units, which is an excellent success rate.”

Supporting elk populations in this area of ​​the National Forest is a management priority for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The Lolo area The elk herd reached its peak of around 16,000 animals in the late 1980s, and the population has been in long-term decline ever since. Projects like East Saddle are collaboratively designed to enhance key summer, winter and transitional habitats that are needed for elk forage and calving habitat.

“The East Saddle prescribed burn is a great example of how fire can be used as a tool to improve forest conditions and wildlife habitat,” said Tara Ball, Regional Wildlife Biologist at IDFG. “Not only does prescribed burning stimulate new growth that improves forage for elk, but it also creates a mosaic of new and old vegetation, providing diverse habitat within the forest system that is important for many wildlife species. »

Although smoke is an inevitable by-product of prescribed burning projects, the smoke produced by a planned burn is far less than that which would be produced by a wildfire.

“Smoke from the October 19 fire at East Saddle rose about 2,000 feet above the ground and drifted east,” recalls Jim Wimer, fire information specialist at the National Forest. “During the afternoon, the winds were light, so the smoke mostly stayed over the Kelly Forks drainage.”

Smoke monitors deployed in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys showed no impact on air quality during these prescribed fire operations. Later that night, smoke briefly drifted across the Continental Divide, but it dissipated quickly and air quality was unaffected.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Forest Service plan to continue partnering with projects like this.

“These kind of projects are what we expect to see more of, thanks to the Good Neighbor Authority agreement in place between the Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game,” Ball said.

If you have questions about wildlife habitat improvement projects in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, please contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (208-799-5010) or the forest service (208-451-5585).