Cattle Recruited to Help Northern Snowy Range Elk

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Using a carefully designed grazing strategy, the Game and Fish Department and Sims Cattle Company of McFadden, are working together to improve grass communities on the Wick Wildlife Habitat Management Area on the north edge of the Snowy Range.

“Years of accumulated plant growth need to be removed to provide room for lush, palatable re-growth,” says Ryan Amundson, G&F habitat extension biologist. “We expect lush re-growth to be attractive to elk using the Wick (habitat area) in fall and spring. A number of techniques could be used to remove old rank plant growth, but after looking at all the options, we decided grazing would be the most efficient and cost-effective method at this time.”

Ranchers will use electric fences to concentrate about 300 head of cattle in 40-acre plots until a sufficient amount of forage is removed. This intensive treatment will take place June 1-20, and will require moving of the cattle herd on a daily basis from one pasture to the next. Approximately 280 acres of wet meadows and 240 acres of uplands will be treated in this manner. Intensive grazing will help remove noxious weeds and prepare a seed bed for the next stage of treatment. Forty acres of meadows will be reseeded, with assistance of trampling effects from cattle.

After the treatment is completed, the G&F will interseed a portion of the meadows this fall to ensure more grasses and forbs are available for elk in the future.

“Elk, hunters, ranchers and the G&F will all benefit from the treatment,” says Amundson. “Elk will have more and better forage. This forage should help keep the elk on the unit, reducing grazing competition with livestock on adjoining ranches. If better forage keeps elk on the Wick, hunters will have improved access to elk, which may lead to improved harvest success as well.”

But, the G&F says benefits from the treatment will not be evident immediately.

“The treated areas will look grazed this summer,” says Dave Lewis, G&F regional habitat and access supervisor. “The real benefits will not be evident until next spring when the increased grass and forbs production will begin.”

The G&F will monitor forage production, plant nutrient content and elk use throughout the year to determine if the grazing treatment meets the goal of enticing elk into the area.