USIT scl elk meadow_3Trees that blew down in a windstorm this spring are helping to support elk forage restoration in the North Cascade Mountains.

The Upper Skagit Tribe’s timberland services department was contracted to help Seattle City Light (SCL) manage the project as part of mitigation for habitat lost due to the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

While clearing 14 acres in preparation to plant a wildlife meadow, timberland services manager Robert Schuyler and his crew salvaged the fallen trees to sell to Sierra Pacific to offset the cost.

SCL has acquired more than 10,000 acres in the Skagit and Nooksack watersheds as part of the 1991 Wildlife Settlement Agreement among the public utility, tribes, and federal and state resource agencies.

The Pacific silver fir and Western hemlock trees on this parcel had grown too close together, which, along with the fallen logs, prevented quality forage from growing and made it difficult for the Nooksack elk herd to pass through. The tribe and SCL are planning to seed the area in late summer with a nutritious, non-invasive blend of quality forage for elk.

Degraded and disconnected habitat is one of the main causes of the decline in numbers of Nooksack elk, which declined to about 300 animals in 2003. Since then, tribal and state co-managers have worked to improve elk habitat in the region, and the herd has recovered enough to allow limited tribal and sport harvest.

“Like salmon, elk and deer need quality habitat to keep their populations healthy and sustainable,” said Scott Schuyler, natural resources director for the Upper Skagit Tribe.