Volunteers Pull Up Their Sleeves for California Elk
By Mike Ford, Regional Director, Northern California
In 2011, the RMEF acquired the 640-acre Willow Foothill property with the intention of placing a conservation easement on it and selling it to a conservation buyer. But when we began searching for that conservation buyer, we found that our options were limited because of the economy.
So we moved on to Plan B, which was to take the property off the market for two years and, in the meantime, enter into a partnership with the California Department of Wildlife to allow public hunting, host conservation education programs, and spruce up wildlife habitat on the property, which hosts up to 300 Roosevelt’s elk during the fall and winter months.
Willow Foothills is a spectacular chunk of northern California, with Mt. Shasta as its backdrop, magnificent oaks punctuating its rolling hills and rich grasslands, and a meandering seasonal creek. The best part is that the property is practically untouched, with only a single dirt road and very little infrastructure, making it a wild, lonely place not only for elk, but also the deer, quail and other critters that call it home.
Though it’s a haven for wildlife, the habitat on the property was not quite what it could be. Some of the old fences were in tough shape, and too many junipers had invaded the hillsides, stealing water and nutrients critical to grasses growing beneath. Work needed to be done, and thankfully there were plenty of warm bodies willing to help.
Throughout 2012, volunteers from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Siskiyou County Agricultural Department and Portola High School joined forces with adjacent ranchers and committee members from several RMEF chapters—including Northern California, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendo Lake—to mend broken fences, cut invading junipers and seed areas in an attempt to make the property safer for elk and restore it to a more historic and desirable mix of grasses, forbs and shrubs.
All told, the volunteers put in 50 work days on the property last year, and they aren’t done yet. This year volunteers plan to gather again to repair springs located on the parcel.
In 2014, RMEF will put the Willow Hills property back on the market protected by a conservation easement and—thanks to help from a whole lot of volunteers—sporting much healthier habitat to support elk and other wildlife for years to come.