IDLEYLD PARK — The Diamond Lake Ranger District teamed up with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2007 to improve wildlife habitat in the Umpqua National Forest.
“Basicially, we’re building plots for elk forage enhancement, so we’re taking an area that has been a timber sale, and we’re contracting it out and removing all the stumps,” said ODFW Wildlife Technician Dominic Rocco. “We’ll disk it, till it up, drag it, level it out and then we’ll plant it with certain types of species of plants.”
The openings also entail fertilization, conifer control and regeneration of shrub species through mowing. Once each opening is completed, they close the area off to vehicles and maintain the plots every few years.
“They’re designed to open up some of our areas and allow the under-story and the ground layer vegetation to receive sun so the nutritional value of that layer is enhanced,” said Jeff Bohler, a wildlife biologist for the Diamond Lake Ranger District.
The agencies are currently conducting a study through a research biologist in Roseburg to determine the best forage mix for elk with which to seed the plots.
Along with the district and ODFW, partners who have helped with the project include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Oregon Hunters Association, Mule Deer Foundation, Umpqua Audubon Society and a number of volunteers.
They’ve worked to create and maintain 55 openings covering 158 acres of habitat since 2007. All 158 acres fall under Wildlife Management Units Indigo and Dixon, where the estimated elk population was 656 in 2006, grew to 707 a year after the opening creations began and averaged 809 elk through 2012, according to the state’s Roosevelt Elk Herd Composition Reports of 2006-2012.
This data suggests an estimated 23 percent population increase during that time frame, though wildlife population estimates are inherently variable.
“It’s important because we’re basically creating another food supply for elk to supplement the fact that they don’t have as much food as they’ve had in the past,” Rocco said. “There’s multiple reasons why we’re not seeing elk populations as we have in past. We’re not burning prescribed burns as much as we have in the past, predation has increased and logging has decreased, so we’re not generating new food for ungulates.”
With an increased, nutrient-rich food supply in these openings, the elk foraging there are reportedly healthier, more willing to fight off predators, less susceptible to diseases and have had higher reproductive success, leading to the increase in elk population.
Rocco said he sees elk foraging in almost every plot he’s maintaining this year. So far, 28 acres have been cleared and maintained this year between eight projects, including areas in Thorn Prairie, Mowich Park and Fish Creek Flats.
“It’s pretty cool to see it from start to finish,” Rocco said.
Within the last couple weeks, Bohler, Rocco and a contracting crew have been seeding the areas, planting herbaceous materials, grasses and strawberries, and mowing the areas to regenerate the shrubs.
The agencies and volunteers will continue to open the areas, conduct forage study work and data collection and manage the habitat. In addition to the big game habitat projects, they’ve conducted prescribed burns, maintained land bird habitat and worked on wetland projects designed to provide conducive reproductive sites for amphibians.
The Diamond Lake Ranger District has also been managing old logging trails to improve opportunities for forest grouse. “On those trails we’ve been trying to increase, through planting and seeding, some of the herbaceous and seed-bearing plants,” Bohler said.
They have recently planted serviceberries, strawberries and legumes in a meadow opening to specifically benefit land birds during the summer months.