Carbondale Hill Elk Winter Range Enhancement Project 1998


Paul Jones


Carbondale Hill is the focus of an enhancement project to improve traditional elk winter range. The site was once considered ideal winter range that provided forage for hundreds of elk. At the present time the site is used minimally due to the high degree of brush encroachment limiting the availability of grass species. This has resulted in private lands to the east becoming more attractive to elk, which has led to increased rancher/elk conflicts. The goal of the project is to maintain approximately 350 acres of open grasslands to increase over wintering capabilities of Carbondale Hill. The project proposes to remove 50-60 acres of aspen and dog-hair pine from the upper site by mechanical means and to remove 100 acres of merchantable (lodgepole pine) and non-merchantable (aspen and small pine) from a lower site using advanced timber harvesting. 

Removal of aspen by fire, mechanical or herbicides will stimulate rigorous regrowth through suckering by shallow laterla roots. Timing of the removal may be critical in reducing the amount of suckering that occures the same or following year. Based on a literature review and phone interviews it was determined that August is the desired time to remove aspen resulting in less suckering. No matter when the aspen are removed suckering is inevitable. Methods employed to control suckering range from prescribed burning, herbicides, bark scraping, grazing and/or a combination of these methods. As cattle are grazed in teh area suring the summer, an intense short-term grazing rotation is likely the most appropriate methods to use to control the suckers. Bark scraping my be an alternative to grazing, but is more expensive and time consuming. 

A pre-assessment of the vegetation present on the upper site was conducted at 2 sites. The predominant grass species were Kentucky blue grass, timothy, hairy wild rye and traces of rough fescue and brome. Cow parsnip, tall buttercup, strawberry were prevalent at plot A with peppers grass and dandelion being the prevalent forbs at plot B. The post assessment of the sites cleared of aspen in the fall of 1997 revealed the same vegetation present as on the upper site. Timothy was the dominant grass with Aster sp., pepper grass and arnica being the dominant grasses and Canada anemone and strawberry the dominant forbs on plot C. Minor grazing by cattle was noted for plot C with negligible use occurring on plot D. Chips left from the mechanical clearing were less than 5cm deep but appear to act as a movement barrier for grazing animals. 

A meeting was held with Lands and Forest Service and Natural Resources Service, where a number of concerns were discusses regarding access and the advanced timber removal on the lower site. From the meeting it was agreed that access, where possible, shold be limited to ezisting trails and follow the guidelines established in teh Castle Access Management Plan (CAMP). Due to timber volume concerns and the presence of timothy, the removal of the merchantable and non-merchantable timber from the lwoer site would be put on hold. A revised proposal reflecting the removal of aspen from the upper site in August and the postponing of the timber removal from the lower area ws prepared. 

Removal of aspen from the upper site was conducted by Drain Brothers Construction Lotd. and began September 1, 1998. Approximately 6.5 acres of aspen was removed from an 11.1 acre area. The removal of aspen increased the size of the existing meadow by approximately 15%. Aspen removal ceased on September 12, 1998 in order for all reclamation work to be completed prior to the opening of general elk hunting season. The two berms removed to facilitate access to the site were replaced upon completion of field work. Disturbed trails and 2 berms were reseeded with a native grass mixture. All reclamation work was completed by September 13, 1998. A total of 3395m of 2m wide belt transects were established and cleared of pellets in the areas cleared of aspen in the fall of 1997 and 1998, areas proposed for clearing in 1999, and a control area. Transects will be counted in May of 1999 to determine winter use by ungulates. 

Future project recommendations are given including additional aspen removal from the upper site in 1999, placement of signs informing the public of the enhancement project, and the initiation of a timothy management project. 

Download PDF