MISSOULA, Mont.–A new forest stewardship project in Idaho is showcasing a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation national program built to deliver conservation while boosting local economies.
Acting as a nonprofit partner with the Salmon-Challis National Forest, RMEF is overseeing a project to thin overgrown forest, improve habitat for elk and other wildlife, and reduce wildfire risk on 570 acres in the Hughes Creek area of Salmon, Idaho.
RMEF’s job is ensuring that conservation objectives are met and subcontracting with local companies to do the actual work.
For payment, subcontractors trade some of their services in exchange for goods–namely, the wood products harvested as part of the stewardship project. Forest Service funding as well as grants from other sources, such as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, cover the balance.
In addition to restoring the forest to a more natural condition, “One of the best things about the Forest’s arrangement with RMEF is the contracting process is more flexible and can take into account values that include, but are not limited to, price. Our community and local Forest Service need people in this valley who are capable and willing to work in the woods at a decent living wage. Hughes Creek is an effort to fix a system that felt broken to a lot of us,” said Gina Knudson of Salmon Valley Stewardship.
Knudson is part of the Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group, a collaboration of governments, industries, conservationists and homeowners concerned about the health of local forests. Together they designed the Hughes Creek Fuels Reduction Project.
Dale Kerkvliet of RMEF said, “The grassroots instigation and the continued support and active involvement of these partners has been contagious. Our shared vision is utilizing local talent and resources to make this watershed more resilient to wildfire–and more accommodating to elk.”
Habitat conditions in Hughes Creek have diminished over time in the absence of fire. Conifers have encroached into meadows and noxious weeds have become established. Forest thinning followed by prescribe burning will improve forage quantity and quality.
Similar conditions and potential remedies may be found all across the 194,000-acre North Fork Ranger District of the Salmon-Challis National Forest. In 2010, forest officials entered into a 10-year agreement with RMEF to oversee forest stewardship projects. The Hughes Creek project is the first to get underway.
RMEF’s Habitat Stewardship Services program, under the direction of Kerkvliet, is developing similar agreements and projects with other federal agencies and local communities across the West. Montana and Wyoming also have seen early successes.
In 2003, Congress authorized the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to enter into stewardship contracts and agreements with groups like RMEF, “to achieve land management goals for the national forests that meet local and rural community needs.”
The “community needs” part of the objective is especially meaningful for Dave Melton of Bighorn Outfitters, one of the local subs awarded a contract in the Hughes Creek project.
He explained, “I’m sure glad to be able to bid on work here in Lemhi County and keep our crew here in town. Otherwise, they may have to leave home to find work in North Dakota like many others have already done in these though times.”
For more information about this project, visit the URL below:
For more about the RMEF Habitat Stewardship Services program, visit the URL below:
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.9 million acres–a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.