Getting it Done for Elk
By Dave Wiley, Agency Planning Team Leader, Oregon
Deep in the Oregon Cascades it’s the second week of November. I’m sitting in my rig on a ridge in the gray dawn waiting for the guys to show up. The elevation is about 3,500 feet. The clouds are down to the ground, and the wind is driving a mix of sleet and rain. What a great day to spend in the field!
A bunch of us are getting together to spread seed on the Willamette National Forest’s Detroit Ranger District, where wildlife forage is in short supply because of reduced timber harvest and fewer forest fires—the elements necessary to create the openings that feed elk and deer in this corner of elk country. The purpose of the project, which involves about 400 acres, is to cut back overgrown manzanita and ceanothus shrubs to encourage resprouting of highly palatable shoots, and to convert nearly eight miles of skid trails to forage pasture by ripping, leveling, seeding and fertilizing. Contractors cut the browse and prepared the skid roads for planting; the seeding and fertilizing is up to us.
Just as daylight breaks, Rick and the other volunteers—Joe, Larry, Arden and Jim—arrive. Together we represent the Elk Foundation, the Oregon Hunters Association and Back Country Horsemen of Oregon. We’ve got 700 pounds of forage seed mix to get on those skid trails before dark. We brought along three of our own ATVs with seed spreaders mounted on them. The machines will do the vast majority of the work, but a couple stretches of skid trail are so steep we’ll do them on foot with hand crank seeders.
All day we work as hard and fast as safely possible. The weather doesn’t improve even a little—wind, sleet and rain pelt us all day. By late afternoon we’re done. We are all tired and wetter than Labrador retrievers coming out of a duck pond, but every inch of eight miles of skid trails is seeded and everyone is safe. We make plans to return next spring to apply fertilizer right after the snow melts and to have a look at our handiwork.
A fella’s just got to feel good about doing a job like this, with good friends and in the great outdoors to boot. I’m sure the elk and deer will enjoy their new groceries come next spring.