Easing wildlife conflicts helps ranchers and habitat | TheFencePost.com

Easing wildlife conflicts helps ranchers and habitat

Shirley Kelly
Glade Park, Colo.

Over the last five decades there has been a large decrease in big game migratory corridors and winter range throughout Colorado. The two major factors are the loss of large ranches, being subdivided into smaller parcels and golf courses, and fire suppression policies.

Both factors have separate solutions that are currently being addressed. Fire suppression has caused unimpeded growth of oak brush closing off migration corridors and encroachment of pinion-juniper forest into historic sagebrush grassland winter ranges. Viable solutions for habitat restoration include controlled burns as well as mechanical and chemical manipulation. In 2005, sportsmen introduced a bill to create the Colorado Habitat Stamp. This bill passes by the Colorado Legislate, provided the purchase of conservation easements on farms and ranches to protect migration corridors and winter range development. While this has been a great success, paramount importance is the partnerships between sportsmen, landowners, Federal and state land use agencies and oil and gas operators to enhance habitat.

Controlled burns are the least costly and quickest treatment, but involves numerous variables that often prohibit their use. Mechanical manipulation is more costly, but very effective and allows for year round treatment where controlled burns are only suited for good weather conditions. With this information, the Colorado Mule Deer Association has taken the path of mechanical manipulation. The CMDA assessed the three major mechanical methods; Roller chopping, hydro-axe and the Fecon Mulcher and decided on the Fecon Mulcher because of its ability to work an area without much soil disturbance and leaves a fine mulch, facilitating the growth of new ground cover.

With the help of in-kind donations from River Bend Machinery ($20,000) and funds from our Governor’s tag account CMDA purchased a Fecon head for $41,000. CMDA worked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife Northwest Region Staff and the Grand Mesa HPP to identify a pilot project. The pilot project took place on the Old Miller Place, south of Molina and on two adjoining ranches, the Nichol’s and Walter’s ranches, the reason being it was traditional winter range sagebrush flat that had been encroached on by pinion-juniper forest. With a positive response to the treatment, The CMDA and the NWDOW Staff developed the concept of landscape habitat restoration. Thus the Molina Habitat Restoration Initiative was launched. The scope of the MHRI is 19, 000 acres of which 5,600 will be treated by mechanical manipulation or by a burn that the US Forest Service will conduct starting this spring.

There will be a number of ponds developed for wildlife and wildlife/ livestock use. Robbie La Valley from CSU Extension conducted transects on the areas and monitors plant growth and long-term benefits of the project. She expressed the need for such habitat work throughout Western Colorado and that the MHRI (Molina Habitat Restoration Initiative) was a great project. Chuck Nichol’s one of the ranchers in this project says he is excited to see ancient pastures reopened that border the USFA land and would like to see other landowners get involved with the project. John Walters praised the work completed on his ranch. The reopening of an old irrigation ditch and rebuilding of a pond on his ranch will provide water and irrigated pasture for wildlife as well as livestock.

The MHRI partners include Bill Barrett Corp., Encana, Marathon Oil, National Wild Turkey Federation, GMHPP, DOW and CMDA. This spring, the DOW and the CMDA will launch the second Habitat Restoration, the Battlement Habitat Restoration Initiative, which is twice the size of the Molina Project. This project covers 31,351 acres of which 12,000 acres is planned for rehab and pond Development. Nobel Energy has jump-started this project with $30,000 donation and other Players that are being talked to by CMDA are EnCana and Williams Energy, along with GMHPP. CMDA is planning hopefully to buy another Felon head and the plans for the future are the Piceance Basin and in the S.W Region.

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Shirley Kelly would like to thank Denny Behrens Field Representative for Colorado Mule Deer Association and Randy Hampton Colorado Division of Wildlife for information given for this article.