MEEKER I The White River Habitat Partnership Program and the Colorado Division of Wildlife are currently conducting some significant habitat treatments at the Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area.
The work will highlight the good things that can be done “on the ground” in this area to benefit wildlife and livestock forage.
Treatments being conducted at Oak Ridge include mechanical treatment using heavy equipment and controlled burn treatments, which will occur later this fall when conditions allow.
The primary goal of this landscape-scale project is to improve key transitional and winter range habitats to minimize game damage conflicts between elk and livestock on private lands.
Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area, east of Meeker, was chosen as the starting point for this project and will serve as a showcase property to foster support and cooperation for future projects on federal and private lands in the area.
The White River Habitat Partnership Program (HPP) committee has hired a private contractor to mechanically treat approximately 250 acres of thick mountain shrub habitat on Oak Ridge SWA. Mechanical treatments are accomplished using heavy equipment such as hydro-axes.
The work creates a mosaic pattern on the landscape, which provides multiple small islands of varied habitat types and forage types and promotes better wildlife usage of treated lands.
Habitat treatments influence the plant community by setting back “succession” — the progression of plant species over time. Mature and decadent growths of mountain shrub can choke out access to habitat, decrease plant diversity and lessen quality of plants.
Thinning these decadent areas improves the quality and diversity of wildlife forage and cover on the treated sites, which attracts animals to these areas and away from private lands where they may cause damage.
The White River HPP committee is hopeful that additional habitat treatments can also occur on area private lands as landowners see the benefits for wildlife and livestock of the Oak Ridge work.
Colorado’s HPP was initiated by the Division of Wildlife in 1990 to better address damage to forage and fencing that private landowners face from big game animals. The HPP program is funded by 5 percent of the big game license sales in areas with HPP committees. Funds are allocated back to local committees to alleviate agricultural conflict through habitat enhancement and other projects. The local committees ensure appropriate public involvement in identifying big game management issues and possible solutions.
The local White River HPP committee works cooperatively with area landowners and government agencies to resolve immediate fence, water and forage conflicts and to develop and implement long-term strategies that resolve conflicts.
While conflicts between big game and livestock still exist in the White River area today, many conflicts have been reduced through the work of the White River HPP committee. The White River HPP committee currently includes: Mike Grady, landowner/chairman; Joe Collins, landowner/cattleman; Angelo Theos, landowner/woolgrower; Mary Taylor, BLM; Greg Glasgow, USFS; Rich Parr, sportsman; Bailey Franklin, DOW; and Ann Franklin, administrative assistant.
Local communities served by the White River HPP include Rangely, Meeker, and Buford. The local committee also works closely with the Northwest Colorado HPP Committee, based out of Craig, since many of the big game herds and conflicts are shared by both committees.
The expansive and diverse geographic area for the White River HPP committee includes the White River drainage from the headwaters above Trappers Lake west to the Utah state line. Approximately 27 percent of the total acreage within the White River HPP is privately owned land, while 54 percent is BLM, 16 percent Forest Service and 2 percent DOW.
In order to accomplish the goals and objectives of the HPP program, the White River HPP Committee utilizes a wide variety of projects and strategies, such as:
• Habitat Manipulation — prescribed burning, water development and improvements, weed control, fertilization, seeding and mechanical treatments.
• Fencing Projects — construction of new fences, fence repair, materials reimbursement, prototype or experimental fence designs for livestock and wildlife issues, and wildlife crossings or retrofitting of fences to make them more wildlife friendly.
• Game Damage Projects — stackyard repairs and new stackyard construction (materials and/or labor), big game distribution hunts and forage purchases during extremely harsh winters.
• Information/Education Projects — seminars, workshops, brochures, Web sites, etc.
• Research/Monitoring Projects — habitat, population, inventory and movement of big game animals.
By BAILEY FRANKLIN
Special to the Herald Times