LEWISTON – Officials on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest are leveraging grants to help rejuvenate isolated aspen stands important to biological diversity, with a particular emphasis on improving elk habitat.
The agency received more than $130,000 in grants this year from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to do the work. The U.S. Forest Service is also using the funding to treat noxious weeds and improve stands of ponderosa pines. All of the work is being done to improve conditions for elk, but it also brings benefits for other species, said Michael Pruss, wildlife program manager for the forest at Kamiah.
The 4-million acre forest is known more for its vast stands of conifers such as western larch, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and western red cedar than aspen. But Pruss said the isolated clumps of trees, known as clones because they all stem from the same root system, are used by elk as a food source and provide habitat to many other animals, like insects and cavity nesting birds.
“In the northern Rockies, it’s typically just small isolated patches. We are trying to expand those patches,” he said. “They are extremely high in biologic diversity. They are really important for us to manage from a wildlife standpoint.”
Pruss said many of the clones on the forest have grown old and no longer offer the same nutritional value to elk, deer and moose, or they have grown large enough that the animals can’t reach them. They are also being encroached upon by the more dominant conifer species and being shaded out.
To help the aspen clones, the agency is reducing competition from conifers and in some cases using prescribed fire to reset the trees with white bark and quaking leaves that turn gold in the fall.
The grant from the elk foundation is being used for on-the-ground work, such as girdling of encroaching fir trees and prescribed burns that prompt aspen to send up new shoots. Money from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is being used to locate previously undocumented aspen stands in remote areas.
“Idaho Fish and Game staff has identified over 300 new clones that we were unaware of on the forest,” Pruss said. “It will allow us to get out and evaluate what needs to be done.”
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