Carbondale Hill Elk Winter Range Enhancement Project 2000
Linda Cerney and 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. In 1999/2000, the project proposes to remove aspen and conifer from a sub-alpine area to stimulate growth of bluebunch wheat grass and enlarge the meadow in Area B.
All sites had vegetation assessments completed in 1999. Areas A & B were proposed for complete aspen removal, however no removal occurred in A. Only a small section was removed in B, therefore creating 2 plots, a residual and a treatment. The predominant grass species in the previous year were hairy wild rye, Kentucky blue grass, timothy and traces of rough fescue and brome. In 1999, the predominant grass species were timothy (plot A, B (residual) and C), and an unidentified trisetum species (plot B (treatment)). In plot D there was no significant grass or grass like species. The forbs have almsot changed completely with the only commone plant over the two years of assessments being wild strawberry (plot A & D) and cow parsnip (plot A). Showy aster (plot A, B (treatment) and D) were the most dominant forb species. A new five acre sub-alpine site was established in August 1999, and had a pre-assessment completed shortly before the trees were removed by chain and brush saws. The dominant grass species for both sites, (1 and 2) are bluebunch wheat grass and fescue species, with harebell (site 1) and common yarrow (site 2) as the dominant forbs.
Ungulate use of the area were assessed using pellet transects. These transects were established with in 2 m. wide belt transects in 1998 and pellet group counts were recorded for ungulate winter use and then cleared of the pellets in June 1999 with the exception of Area A, (they were discontinued due to no aspen removal). Also discontinued from the pellet transects were the non-treatment sites into the coniferous habitat as it was felt that they would not provide appropriate comparison with the treatment areas, The total transect lengths for the winter counts initially were 1700m. Improvement of the transects with wooden stakes were placed along the transects in October 1999 to increase their visibility and then re-cleared of pellets. The pellet transects (1840 m total) were again recorded and cleared (of pellets) in areas B-E and the new 2 sub-alpine sites for summer usage. Based on these pellet group counts, ungulate use indicated (although minimal), that elk were the dominant species using the areas in both winter and summer counts. A significant amount of pellet groups were located on the control (plot E) and the sub-alpine sites.
Aspen removal was conducted from 1997-1999 by means of a gyro mower (lower sites) and chain and brush saws (sub-alpine site). Areas proposed for aspen removal (A and B) were not completed except for a section in area B (6.5 acres). A further 20 acres was removed in Area B by a D8 cat in January, 2000 bringing the total for area B to 26.5 acres. A total of 15 acres were removed in 1997 from area C and D combined. A single acre of aspen and conifers were manually removed from the sub-alpine site. For the 3 years of tree removal on Carbondale Hill a total of 42.5 acres have been removed.
Future project recommendations are given including continued vegetation assessments, further winter pellet evaluation in all areas and the placement of a sign informing the public of the enhancement project.