Elk NetworkHabitat Enhancement Project Benefits Montana Wildlife

General | January 7, 2022

Below is a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation worked with willing landowners to enlarge and provide public access to new acreage on the Mt. Haggin Wildlife Management Area with separate projects in 2019 and 2020. It also provided funding for the first phase of the project below in 2020.

The second phase of a conifer removal project on Mt. Haggin Wildlife Management Area was completed in 2021, improving hundreds of acres of habitat for many wildlife species.

In the second phase of the project, crews removed small-diameter lodgepole and Douglas fir trees from 208 acres of elk summer range. Many of these removed trees were gathered into burn piles to reduce their impact on grass and shrub growth. Juniper, five-needle pines, ponderosa pine and deciduous tree species were left standing to maintain adequate cover and diversity.

The first phase of the project was completed in 2020 and included treating more than 800 acres of winter range. Additional phases are being planned to continue this project in other areas of the WMA, with the goal of treating approximately 2,500 acres.

Photo analyses over the past 40 years revealed significant conifer tree expansion into sagebrush shrublands, grasslands, aspen stands and riparian areas on the WMA. Left unchecked, this expansion could negatively impact the big game populations that depend on these plant communities for calving and fawning, summer weight gain, and winter survival, along with other wildlife species such as mountain grouse, songbirds and small mammals.

The treatment is expected to increase year-round forage and browse available to elk, mule deer, moose, pronghorn and ruffed grouse. It is also expected to increase the amount of habitat available to numerous sagebrush- and grassland-dependent avian and small mammal species for the coming decades. These improvements are especially important for wildlife following 2021, a significant drought year.

Phase 2 of the project was funded by contributions from FWP, the Montana Dept. of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation.

(Photo credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)