Decades of fire suppression and reduced timber harvest left many forests in an unnatural condition.
Specifically, they are overly dry, overly dense, lack lush vegetation on the forest floor and have unnaturally high fuel loads that impede wildlife movement and can result in catastrophic wildfire.
All that translates into poor habitat for elk and other wildlife.
Research shows applying prescribed fire to a forest reduces demand for resources across the ecosystem and can free up available water to increase drought resistance.
Prescribed fire can also increase soil moisture and stimulate soil nutrients, trigger the growth of more diverse vegetation and improve stream flow– all of which benefits wildlife habitat and overall forest health.
Recognizing the negative impacts of fire suppression in east-central Arizona, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation joined forces with the Apache-Sitgreaves (SIT’-greevs) National Forest to return the forest to its more natural state.
RMEF contributed $40,000 in grant funding and the Forest Service matched that amount with another 40-grand to carry out the Wallow West prescribed fire.
For several weeks, crews prepared an area covering 7,382 acres just south of Big Lake and then applied fire to the landscape over the two-day operation.
The project triggered a series of beneficial impacts including…
- enhanced habitat for elk, deer and other wildlife
- improved range for livestock
- the removal of encroaching trees and shrubs in meadows
- improved vegetation diversity
- the reintroduction of fire as a natural part of the ecosystem
- and reducing the possibility of destructive wildfires
Recent history shows forest restoration work not only improves forest health but it can also save human lives.
In 2014, the San Juan Fire torched nearly 7,000 acres and threatened the small community of Vernon, Arizona, but the flames drastically slowed when they hit a series of forest thinning projects sponsored by RMEF and its partners.
As a result, crews dug in and stopped the fire from advancing.
Restoring elk country is core to RMEF’s Managed Lands Initiative.
Since 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners completed more than 12,400 conservation and hunting heritage projects that protected or enhanced more than 7.9 million acres of wildlife habitat.