Elk season is over, leaving you with another autumn's worth of memories. While you're reminiscing, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) asks you to think about the country where you hunted, how it's changed through the years and how it's likely to change in the future.
Here are RMEF's top five signs that your elk hunting area may need more intensive habitat stewardship:
1. Habitat Fragmentation — Poorly planned subdivisions and ranchettes are eliminating or cutting off key habitat, particularly winter range and migration corridors.
2. Weeds Amok-Knapweed, yellow starthistle, leafy spurge, cheatgrass and other invasive weeds are consuming the West. These noxious exotics kill or displace native forage that elk and other grazing species depend on for forage.
3. Sick Forests — Years of fire suppression and lack of forest management have resulted in dense, choked timber stands piled high with deadfall. These conditions lead to massive beetle infestations, threaten catastrophic wildfire and offer little benefit, other than escape cover, for elk. Yet overgrown, undermanaged forests are becoming more rule than exception.
4. Vanishing Meadows and Aspen Stands — Fire suppression has also allowed pinyon, juniper, fir and other evergreens to overtake meadows and aspen stands. The resulting shade shrivels understory plants, cutting available forage for elk by up to 90 percent.
5. Lack of Water — Because of persistent drought in much of the West, many traditional watering holes are drying up earlier in the year. Elk are forced to abandon historic ranges and follow the water to survive.
Excessive predation by wolves and other predators is exacerbating these problems in many areas.
Since launching in 1984, RMEF has helped address these and other habitat issues on more than 6 million acres. Stewardship projects include weed treatments, prescribe burns, forest thinning, constructing guzzlers and restoring riparian areas, land acquisitions, conservation easements and more.
RMEF also is involved in legal efforts to manage and control wolf populations.
For membership information, visit www.rmef.org or call 800-CALL-ELK.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2011.