Arizona Elk Society – Making Habitat Happen

Arizona Elk Society conservation project
Arizona Elk Society conservation project volunteers.
Arizona Elk Society
Arizona Elk Society

Arizona –-( It was a good sign to see elk droppings everywhere they worked, during the Arizona Elk Society’s most recent conservation project.

Over the weekend of May 18- 19 2013, they gathered over 60 volunteers to improve the IDA Grasslands habitat for elk and other Arizona wildlife in Flagstaff.

The elk droppings meant that they were in the right place, at the right time, and with a legion of Arizona Elk Society volunteers, they were off to work.

The group removed small sized conifers that invaded many meadows that were once natural openings that allowed wildlife to move uninhibited between their summer and winter homes. The goal for the weekend was to remove as many of the trees from the meadows as possible. Most of the workers were armed with handsaws and tree loppers, but in a first for Arizona’s wildlife conservation community, AES had a dozen volunteer sawyers. These dedicated folks had previously gone through a 5-day training course put on by the Forest Service, certifying them to use chainsaws, that are needed to remove larger trees impeding movement and reducing habitat values for many wildlife species.

Steve Clark, AES Executive Director said, “It was really exciting to see the aftermath of the work that the saw crew completed. Literally thousands of trees blocked movements between two important wintering areas for elk, pronghorn and mule deer. When the crew was done, the area had once again become wildlife-friendly. This is a project that had been planned, but the Forest Service needed a hand from AES to get it done. Many thanks to the Forest Service staff who opened the door for AES volunteers to step up our game in a huge way with being able to use chainsaws.”

Arizona Elk Society Volunteer Sawyer
Arizona Elk Society Volunteer Sawyer

The IDA Grasslands is a large habitat restoration project that has been being worked on over the last few years. The 60+ volunteers and agency personal took to the field on May 18 and 19 2013, to help reverse decades of tree invasion to these grasslands and make them more suitable for wildlife.

Steve Clark said, “It’s difficult to guess how many trees were removed but they were able to clear a 100-acre meadow near Slate Lake, about 150 acres near Prong Lake, both on the Coconino National Forest.”

The saw crew opened a heavily wooded travel lane that comprised about 50 acres and the hand crew took care of a couple hundred acres on the Kaibab National Forest. The dollar value in federal match to the State of Arizona of the hours the volunteers worked and the miles they drove to this project is $17,182, but the value to the wildlife was “priceless.”

Jim deVos, Director of Conservation Affairs said, “The grasslands are an imperiled habitat in most of the American Southwest. Prior to settlement of these areas, naturally-occurring fires kept the woody plants out of the meadows, but changes in how habitats have been used since settlement has changed the fire regime and it is not a viable tool for habitat management until the trees are gone and the grass and forbs are better established. Habitat restoration is one of the most important tasks that we in the conservation organizations can do, particularly when the resources for agencies are declining and they can’t get all that is needed done.”

The volunteer force was a diverse group including the young and the not so young. It was fascinating to watch a family with two young children work through the day without slowing down, as they marched through the grasslands with loppers and saws removing hundreds of trees. There was also a Boy Scout Troop in attendance that took to the woods with youthful exuberance, making the world a better place by the end of the day.

This time of year, being the beginning of the AES work season; lends many more opportunities for new and old volunteers to get involved. Visit to get information on the rest of this season’s projects. Conservation projects are hard work, but work that pays big dividends for wildlife today and for years to come. Give something back to the wildlife that you enjoy as you take part in these work projects with the Arizona Elk Society.