Skokomish Tribe, Forest Service collaborate on elk habitat restoration

The Skokomish Tribe and U.S. Forest Service collaborated this fall to plant native trees and shrubs on 30 acres of previously pre-commercially thinned stands in the South Fork of the Skokomish River to improve elk habitat in the Olympic National Forest.

Plants included red elderberry and snowberry bushes and willow and red osier dogwood trees. During the fall of 2009, cuttings of the four species were obtained from the watershed and the plants have been growing for the last year with Sound Native Plants of Olympia, Wash.

The native plants make for good habitat because they appeal to the animals and are highly nutritious, said Bethany Tropp, the tribe’s wildlife biologist. She hopes the herd of 43 elk that live in the area, State Game Management Unit 636, will use the area more now that there is better habitat.

“These plants also provide food for a number of other mammal and bird species,” said Betsy Howell, an Olympic National Forest biologist who worked with Tropp on the project. “We know these stands that have been clearcut generally have lower plant species diversity. Augmenting what is there with nutritious wildlife forage is one way to improve that.”

Slash in the stands was cut and piled to make planting easier and eliminate migration hazards for the herd.

“Elk won’t enter areas full of brush because they can break their legs easily,” Tropp said. “They are more likely to go through areas with easier access such as clear cuts, but those areas may have lower quality nutrition. Hopefully they’ll utilize these improved areas more.”

Funding for this project came from the tribe and the Olympic National Forest.