Elk NetworkPrescribed Burn to Enhance Montana Wildlife Habitat

General | January 18, 2023

Below is a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), in cooperation with The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, is working to improve winter range habitat and manage fire resiliency on the 20,000-acre Sun River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) west of Augusta.   In the coming days, a 200-acre prescribed burn is planned on the WMA to assist Montana FWP with enhancing elk habitat and reducing fuel loads.

“This is a short disturbance for long-term benefits for wintering elk, which is the primary focus of management on the WMA,” said FWP wildlife biologist Brent Lonner.  “As partners and neighbors, we are working together with the Forest Service to improve habitat for elk and other wildlife while also improving fire resiliency of the landscape.”

The Sun River WMA, popular among wildlife enthusiasts and other recreationists, is closed to the general public until noon on May 15 in order to minimize disturbance to wintering elk.

Smoke from the WMA may be visible at times from Choteau, Augusta, and Great Falls. The project is weather dependent, but burning is expected to start in the coming days with most work to be accomplished in the first couple days with follow up hot spot checks after that.  A winter burn to follow up on previous conifer thinning treatments is ideal to remove downed trees, reduce fuel loads and stimulate vegetation growth leading into the spring and summer season.  To minimize smoke impact on communities, the exact timing of the burns will depend on weather, fuel moisture levels, and air flow.  Funding for this habitat management work was provided by both internal FWP funds and grants through the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Contact Brent Lonner at (406) 467-2488 or email BLonner@mt.gov for further questions specific to this project.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)