Elk NetworkRestoring Elk Country – Blackfoot Watershed Habitat Enhancement, Montana

Conservation , Restoring Elk Country | July 6, 2021

Since 1988, the Elk Foundation has been working to protect and enhance key elk habitat in western Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, home to upwards of 6,000 elk for all or part of the year. It all started with a $10,000 grant to study elk population dynamics in the upper reaches of the Blackfoot. Since then, RMEF has funded 71 stewardship projects, investing nearly $800,000 to better understand the valley’s ecology and improve its habitat. 

In a multi-phase project spanning close to 20 years, the Elk Foundation worked with multiple partners to expand the Blackfoot‑Clearwater Game Range by nearly 5,000 acres. Created in 1949 to secure vital winter range for elk and deer migrating out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the game range now encompasses more than 65,000 acres. 

But perhaps most impressive are RMEF’s cumulative totals in the valley: 67,000 acres enhanced, with another 5,500 permanently protected. 

Glacial lake outburst floods at the end of the ice age formed Montana’s Blackfoot River and its associated canyons and valleys, which created important habitat for elk and other wildlife.

Unfortunately, decades of fire suppression and other issues led to the degradation of habitat including ailing forage conditions for big game.

Since 1991, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation collaborated with various partners including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, The Nature Conservancy and others to carry out more than 50 different habitat treatment projects that positively impacted more than 70,000 acres in the Blackfoot Watershed.

$552,700 funding in RMEF funding leveraged another $2.5 million in partner funds over the years.

One recent project on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area focused on enhancing winter forage quantity and quality by thinning overstocked and beetle-killed trees within a swath of grassland and bordering aspen stands.

RMEF funds went toward removing young ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir that both clogged up the forest floor and served as dangerous ladder fuels for potential large wildfires.

The resulting treatment greatly enhanced elk forage, reduced the possibility of pine beetle infestation and improved overall forest health.

Restoring elk country is core to RMEF’s mission.

Since 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners completed 13,000 conservation and hunting heritage projects that protected or enhanced more than 8.1 million acres of wildlife habitat.