Unfortunately, it’s an all-too common dilemma across vast portions of elk country.
A past overemphasis on fire suppression resulted in forestlands that are uncharacteristically dense and plagued by insect infestation and disease.
And once-thriving aspen stands struggle because of encroaching growth of other tree species.
Looking up, overly thick canopies prevent the sunshine from reaching the forest floor, thwarting the production below of native vegetation or key forage for elk and other wildlife.
Such is the case in central Colorado where the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation teamed up with the Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office to carry out the Waugh Mountain forest thinning project.
The North Waugh Mountain area received continual attention over the past decade but needed more.
It has important habitat for a resident year-round elk herd, however a bark beetle infestation killed off more than 90 percent of spruce stands clogging up and degrading habitat.
RMEF committed $50,000 to the project combined with nearly $74,000 in BLM funding.
Crews utilized mechanical treatment to remove dead and dying spruce in five different areas over the winters of 2021 and 2022.
They also completed hand-thinning in another unit and applied prescribed burning techniques in yet another.
The result is higher quality grasses and forbs, improved big game distribution and better hunting opportunity for elk, mule deer and wild turkey.
Restoring elk country is integral to RMEF’s mission of ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.
Since 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners completed more than 13,000 conservation and hunting heritage projects that conserved or enhanced more than 8.5 million acres of habitat.