Caution: Elk Playing Jackstraw in an Effort to Restore Willow Trees

Caution: Elk Playing Jackstraw in an Effort to Restore Willow Trees

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jackson Hole, Wyoming –-( a variation on a kids’ game keep rapacious elk from devouring bird and fish habitat? Conservationists at National Elk Refuge, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, have embarked on a three-year experiment to find out. On a recent June weekend, representatives from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, Wyoming Wetlands Society and Trout Unlimited converged on the banks of Flat Creek to launch an experiment, while restoring willow on the refuge.

Excess grazing by ungulates, which are hooved mammals, such as elk, moose, mule deer and pronghorns, has decimated willows and other woody plants in the refuge that provide nesting habitat for songbirds and cover for fish.

The conservationists planted approximately 150 willow stems along a quarter-mile stretch of Flat Creek. Next, the crew hauled in logs from a dismantled hay stackyard and placed them haphazardly among the willows to create unstable footing and deter elk. The technique, called “jackstraw,” takes its name from the children’s game in which a set of straws is dropped in a heap, with each player in turn trying to remove one at a time without disturbing the rest. The jackstraw technique has been previously used in northern areas of the National Elk Refuge to promote regeneration of aspen.

The logs were also laid overhanging Flat Creek to provide cover for trout. An increase in willows may also eventually benefit songbirds, though the small scale of the test area is not expected to improve much of the bird habitat.

The three-year trial includes three small sample areas:

· One featuring willows underplanted with the jackstraw technique; · A second in which willows were planted without jackstraw (the control group); and · The third location with jackstraw in an existing browsed area to measure future use of the site and regeneration.

Biologists from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and National Elk Refuge plan to take measurements again in September to compare with data recorded in June.

For more information: or 307-733-9212.