Forest Service project will improve big game habitat |

Forest Service project will improve big game habitat

This map shows the locations for the South Rifle Habitat Improvement Project.

The White River National Forest will be implementing vegetation treatments in the Hells Gulch area of the Rifle Ranger District to increase vegetation and habitat diversity.

Mechanical treatment along Forest Road 816 will occur from late September through mid-October. The treatment will take place within two units, totaling 140 acres, within the Alkali Creek drainage.

“We are continuously working to improve habitat on the district,” said Sarah Hankens, Rifle district ranger. “Hunting is a major part of the local economy, and we work hard with our partners to identify areas where we can improve forage.”

Machinery will cut swaths of vegetation to create mosaics and openings to increase diversity within a variety of mountain shrubs, including oak and serviceberry.  The project is a continuation of the South Rifle Habitat Plan, which the White River National Forest is implementing to increase vegetation and habitat diversity on a landscape scale from West Divide to the Battlements.

Projects that have been implemented under this landscape restoration plan include prescribed burning, hand-removal of encroaching pinyon-juniper, water developments, noxious weed treatments, as well as additional mechanical treatments similar to the Hells Gulch Area project.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Habitat Partnership Program, and Laramie Energy have all contributed to projects within the South Rifle Habitat Plan to improve elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep habitat on the south side of the Rifle Ranger District.

“Opening the stand also provides increased travel corridors and line-of-sight for wildlife,” shared Kim Potter, wildlife technician for the White River National Forest.

Variety in vegetation pattern and openings in habitat are beneficial to wildlife for a number of reasons. Creating these openings allows for an increase of sprouting of young stems which are more palatable for wildlife than old woody stems. The lower canopy height makes browse more available. Mechanical treatment also increases grasses and forb production in the understory.

During the mechanical treatments, old stands of mature oak brush are not disturbed as these stands are a productive source of acorns, which are food for a variety of wildlife species.  These tall oak also provide good nesting habitat for a variety of song bird species.

This project is funded by the US Forest Service, National Forest Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. For more information, please call the Rifle Ranger Station at 970-625-2371.

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