Elk NetworkArizona Elk Habitat Gets a Helping Hand

Conservation | March 8, 2017

Sometimes, native plant life needs a helping hand in its fight for survival. Such is the case in north-central Arizona where pinyon and juniper are taking a toll by invading historic grasslands for elk and other wildlife.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recently offered a helping hand by suppling grant funding to assist treatment on more than 1,600 acres of wildlife habitat. Specifically, the area lies within a portion of the Babbitt Ranches in Game Management Unit (GMU) 9, renown as one of the premiere elk hunting areas in the Southwest. RMEF previously collaborated with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to build the Tusayan pipeline and refurbish critical wildlife water catchments on GMU 9 elk summer range to provide reliable water sources.

Babbitt Ranches provided a skid steer with carbide teeth mounted on a drum which rotate at a high speed to shred trees that leave wood chips behind to serve as mulch which helps retain soil moisture. The resulting removal of trees leads to less competition for soil moisture which translates into more forage for wildlife and livestock.

Though the treatment area is on private land, it also benefits migrating wildlife on public land since it is adjacent to the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests as well as Arizona state land intermingled with private land. Elk use the area year-round but populations often double or triple in the winter months when snow pushes animals out of the high country.

To date, more than 35,000 acres have been treated. The project is a continuation of a grassland restoration effort Babbitt Ranches began in 2004. Since then, livestock weights increased, pronghorn reproduction improved, prairie dog colonies expanded and golden eagle nesting increased—all positive indications that overall grassland health is improving.