Nearly ten million dollars have been leveraged since 1990 for habitat improvement, conservation education and research. These dollars have come from federal, tribal, state, county, and private sectors. In addition, dozens of private landowners have donated money, labor, materials, and equipment for projects on farms and ranches. Many private landowners have also received money and assistance to enhance elk habitat or alleviate problems with elk on their property.
For 25 years the BMEI has improved elk habitat and distribution across the Blue Mountains through forage and security enhancement projects including prescribed burning, seeding and planting, aspen enhancement, thinning, noxious weed treatments, road work, salting stations, water developments and fence improvements. The on the ground benefits for elk and other wildlife extend well beyond the boundaries of the land that has been treated. For example, damage from elk on private lands has been alleviated by improving forage and reducing disturbance on adjacent public land summer ranges.
Designing effective road systems is an effort to attract and hold elk for greater periods of time on public land. This reduces impacts to private land caused by elk and improves the health and productivity of the elk populations. Creating secure habitat on spring, summer and fall ranges involves providing reasonable motorized for recreation and management, with the need to attract and hold elk on their seasonal ranges.
The two day event included a visit to the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range. There the participants spoke about the four original studies; roads and traffic, intensive timber management, breeding bulls and forage allocation. On day two there was a Tribal Welcome and an Elder Prayer prior to the recognition and awards dinner hosted by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The keynote speaker was Jack Ward Thomas, the 13th Chief of the Forest Service and a former Director of the Pacific Northwest Laboratory in La Grande, Oregon.
Dr. Thomas noted the importance of seeking out partnerships as well as working at the local level with local politicians and community leaders. He urged the audience to be innovative and creative and make plans that work across all land ownerships; federal, state and private. And finally, to think big!
Mark Penninger, Wildlife Biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, noted “We are so busy these days, we rarely take a little time to reflect on where we’ve been and celebrate our successes. From this celebration we can chart a path forward with renewed enthusiasm and commitment.”
Current issues facing elk in the Blue Mountains include; poor elk distribution, low calf recruitment (survival) and invasive weeds that quickly overtake large areas, rendering them unusable for elk and many other native wildlife species. Future projects of the BMEI will improve habitat conditions for elk distribution including; continued prescribed burning, thinning of dense forest stands, and restoring aspen stands. Invasive weeds treatments will be implemented in ways that are suitable for specific locations and weed species. The BMEI will continue to improve fencing to minimize entanglement hazards and remove unneeded fences. Continued research on predation and nutrition will help with calf recruitment and calf survival. More information available atwww.fs.fed.us/pnw/