Outdoors

Controlled burns boost elk habitat in Colville NF

Underbrush is burned in May 2012 on the Colville National Forest near Sullivan Lake to reduce danger of major wildfires later in the year as well as to boost the forage growth for elk. (U.S. Forest Service)
Underbrush is burned in May 2012 on the Colville National Forest near Sullivan Lake to reduce danger of major wildfires later in the year as well as to boost the forage growth for elk. (U.S. Forest Service)

PUBLIC LANDS — Fires were purposely set on the Colville National Forest last week to provide two big dividends later this summer: a hedge against catastrophic wildfire and a boom in lush tender growth to feed elk.

Colville National Forest crews have completed a 320-acre prescribed fire in the Sullivan Creek drainage in northern Pend Oreille County just east of the Cascade Cut-off Road (Forest Road 2200250). 

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation helped fund the effort to improve local forage for big game, reduce hazardous fuels in the forest and re-introduce fire into the ecosystem. 

 
Read on for details.

According to the Forest Service:

Aspects in the project area range from east to west but are predominantly south-facing. There are numerous benchy areas with flatter slopes. Vegetation consists of open stands of ponderosa pine or mixed conifers with a grass/forb understory. There are inter-mixed pockets of upland shrubs and aspen. Many of the shrubs had become overgrown tangles with large amounts of woody stems. Douglas maple, willows, serviceberry and wild cherries are among the important browse species present. The project area provides year-round habitat for elk, mule deer and other ungulates.

Newport/Sullivan Lake Ranger District fire crews used two firing methods to complete this project. Portions of the project area were hand-ignited using drip torches. Most of the area was ignited from a helicopter using a “plastic sphere dispenser”; Small, white, fuel-filled spheres the size of ping pong balls were droppedfrom the helicopter onto the project area, allowing ignition of a large area in a short time frame. Roughly 320 acres were under-burned. Later this year, the existing forage plants will respond vigorously, providing high quality browse and green forage for big game. The overall fuel reduction in the project area will help prevent future catastrophic wildfires.

The Colville National Forest completes many such habitat improvement projects in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Cooperative efforts such as these are essential for restoring and maintaining elk habitat on public lands.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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