Habitat & Conservation  |  01/12/2022

Brush Management Projects Benefit the Largest Elk Herd in America

A hydro-axe shreds oak brush at the project site, creating openings that promote new growth and better forage for wildlife while improving migration corridors for big game.

By Rebecca Burton, Working Lands For Wildlife Biologist in Craig, Colorado

In eastern Moffat and western Routt counties in Colorado, Pheasants Forever has multiple active brush management contracts through Environmental Quality and Incentives Program (EQIP) to treat mixed mountain shrub communities.

The mountain brush is primarily composed of Gambel’s oak, serviceberry, chokecherry and snowberry. The goal of these projects is to increase optimal habitat for elk and mule deer while minimizing the wildlife conflict on higher production agricultural fields.

Due to the lack of wildfire, the brush becomes decadent, dense and unpalatable to game. Most of the work is completed with a large hydro-axe that mulches and spreads the brush across the treated areas. This protects the soil from erosion, reduces evaporation and creates a suitable seed bed for the numerous grass and forbs to prosper. The treatments are completed in a mosaic pattern to leave areas of scrub brush for escape cover for wildlife.

Most of the sites are within the migratory corridor for mule deer and elk between the national forest and winter habitat in central Moffat County. These treatments last 10 to 15 years depending on the amount of elk use. Since the brush is only hydro-axed down to approximately six inches above the soil surface, most brush re-sprouts. Livestock also benefit due to the increase in herbaceous production available for grazing.

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Winter Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!