October 5, 2022

Improving Elk Habitat

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I believe it is far better to spend energy and money to improve elk habitat than to provide supplemental feeding. Supplemental feeding during the winter months is a short-term cure for a long-term problem. Improving the habitat for elk has to be done in ways that does not run contrary to the habitat of other wildlife simply for the sake of the elk.
In Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation granted the Aspen/Sopris Ranger District $6,000 and the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Habitat Partnership Program kicked in $2,500 toward improving elk habitat in that area for about 200 elk. The problem there is not necessarily one of too many elk but more of a problem of an invasive weed that is not native to the area and is killing the natural vegetation necessary to feed not only elk but many other species as well.

The thistle, an invasive species that hopped a ride to this continent from Eurasia, is less nutritious than native plants and the elk generally won’t eat them, said Wayne Ives, a Forest Service range technician who is helping coordinate the project. The plant is a prolific seed producer and tends to spread fast, sucking up the available moisture and crowding out more palatable native species.

Wildlife managers are worried the thistle will colonize thousands of surrounding acres of critical winter and transitional elk habitat in the popular hunting area. Mule deer, wild turkeys, and countless other animals also rely on native forage around Red Canyon to help them through the winter.

Plumeless Thistle
With the funds available, crews went to work spraying and pulling to rid the area of the invasive plants. This summer about 40-50 acres, perhaps less than half, got treated. The treatment is not a one-time deal. It will become an ongoing maintenance to rid the area of that weed.

I believe under the circumstances of having a non-native plant destroying elk and other specie habitat, the efforts and dollars spent here are well worthwhile. This kind of wildlife management far exceeds the results of supplemental feeding at feedlots.

Tom Remington