Thank you, Eric Barker, for the Jan. 31 article [Lewiston Tribune] on elk studies planned for our area. As our elk numbers dwindle because of predation and lack of suitable range it is deplorable that we would spend six to seven million dollars on research and planning while we watch animal numbers continue to decrease. I take the position that Mike Schlegel holds that some of these research dollars should be spent on habitat improvement that will result in healthier elk herds and hopefully a better cow/calf ratio. As elk range is created through logging or burning, be it summer or winter range, the elk will find it and use it.
Longtime Forest Ranger Lou Hartig indicated to me the elk population blossomed after the 1934 fires that created extensive brush fields in the area. In the 1960s there was a cooperative program between the Forest Service and the Idaho Fish and Game that burned south and west facing (high energy slopes) in the Clearwater drainage below 3,000 feet, thus creating an invigorated brush field for winter range which was thought at that time to be the critical factor. Our target for this spring burning was 3,000 acres per year. During this same time period the Idaho Fish and Game trapped elk in the Pete King Drainage to measure general herd health, bull/cow ratio as well as cow/calf ratio. At this time it was thought that black bear predation on the calf crop was a factor in keeping herd size down.
In the 1980s and early ‘90s the Selway District of the Nez Perce NF did summer burning projects in the Glover-Gedney drainages of the Selway River. This area lies below Coolwater Mountain.
Certainly there are risks involved with this range improvement program. Brush fields are hard to get to burn unless moisture conditions are right. Air quality is a big factor; the Bitterroot Valley was heavily impacted by smoke generated in the Selway burns
My point is, at this critical time for our elk, we need a combination of research and an application of the knowledge we have. Mike Schlegel, Jim Peek, Jack Ward Thomas and others were and are experts on elk management. Their studies, while not recent, will still have merit and may save today’s scholars from reinventing the elk management wheel. Let’s do something positive and visible on the ground.
retired USFS Grangeville