Elk NetworkRestoring Elk Country – Lake Wazee, Wisconsin

Conservation , Restoring Elk Country | December 30, 2020



GPS collars show that more than two dozen elk from the newly restored Black River herd converge on Wazee Lake for spring calving. To ensure pregnant cows and newborn calves find ample forage there, RMEF partnered with Jackson County and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to burn 240 acres and plant 21 acres of forage openings. Workers also cleared 2½ miles of firebreaks to allow for more burning on an annual basis to boost prairie grasses and other native forage.


Cheatgrass loves invading recent burns to soak up soil moisture and fill the void with highly flammable stalks of little value to wildlife. A vicious cycle follows, vastly increasing the risk of future fires that spread more cheatgrass. RMEF recently helped the Teton County Weed & Pest District fund spraying of 4,365 burned acres on the National Elk Refuge, Bridger Teton National Forest and nearby public and private lands, to keep cheat from covering critical habitat for thousands of elk.


RMEF’s proud history of land protection began in 1988 with 17,000 acres east of Dillon, now known as the Robb-Ledford Wildlife Management Area. That commitment continues on this winter range for up to 3,000 elk and 5,000 mule deer. RMEF and its partners recently helped thin 1,000 acres of conifers crowding sagebrush and grasslands, followed by prescribed burning of slash, part of the Southwest Montana Sagebrush Partnership that has rejuvenated more than 10,000 acres since 2017.


More than half of all reported crashes on Highway 160 between Pagosa Springs and Durango involve wildlife, namely elk and mule deer. RMEF is contributing $75,000 to help drastically reduce those collisions. The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to start this spring constructing a wildlife overpass and underpass as well as two miles of eight-foot fencing and cattle-guard-style barriers on side roads on both sides of U.S. 160 to funnel animals safely across the busy thoroughfare.


RMEF is helping fund a study using GPS collars to see how forest structure and timber harvest history influence cow and calf survival amid rising wolf populations. This multi-year project is focused on the Selkirk herd of northeastern Washington, a population of 2,500 elk that share habitat with multiple wolf packs. With declining elk numbers, this work should provide answers about the impact predators are having—and what role forest conditions play in that equation.