Tuesday, August 16, 2022
Aug. 16, 2022

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PacifiCorp buys land for Mount St. Helens’ elk

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter
Published:

COUGAR — PacifiCorp has purchased another 1,880 acres of wildlife habitat in the Marble Mountain area north of Swift Reservoir.

The approximately $3.2-million purchase, from California Fruit Growers Supply, brings the utility’s holdings in the Swift-Marble area to almost 4,500 acres. The land is contiguous to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

“This forest land is crucial habitat for Roosevelt elk,’’ said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “It’s now forever protected and conserved in a region where designation of the Mount St. Helens National Monument restricts management options.’’

PacifiCorp was granted 50-year federal licenses in 2008 to operate Merwin, Yale and Swift hydroelectric dams on the North Fork of the Lewis River. The utility has a large number of fish, wildlife and recreation requirements to meet as part of the licenses.

“Conserving and managing this habitat on the southwest slopes of Mount St. Helens, where elk are threatened by forage loss from forest succession and habitat loss to development, is just a part of PacifiCorp’s ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship,’’ said Todd Olson, the company’s compliance director.

The 4,470 acres originally were in a checkerboard ownership pattern, but are now blocked and provide connectivity with state and federal lands. The lands were acquired in 2009, 2010, 2012 and this year.

PacifiCorp now manages more than 15,000 acres for wildlife habitat in the Lewis River watershed.

“Federal forests near Mount St. Helens are overgrown and contributed to the decline of what was once one of Washington’s most-productive elk herds,’’ Henning said. “This project greatly improves forest management which is a huge benefit for elk and other wildlife.’’

The purchase closed in March.

Kendel Emmerson, a PacifiCorp wildlife biologist, said the 1,880 acres have been logged within the past 12 to 15 years, and most of it within the past year or two.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for wildlife, especially deer and elk.

Elk, particularly, are browsers and benefit from the growth of grasses that occur following openings in the forest, primarily from logging or fires.

PacifiCorp manages much of its lands to maintain a mosaic of late- and early-successional habitats throughout the watershed, with the goal of retaining big-game forage as long as possible.

Emmerson said the company reforests its lands less densely than timber companies to provide more sunlight to reach the forest floor to benefit browse species. The utility does not do widespread spraying of herbicides, but instead does hand spraying by backpack to just target specific species.

Much of the 1,880 acres contains a dense covering of logging slash. In selected spots, that debris will be removed, seeded and new meadows created.

“This will be early successional for a very long time,’’ Emmerson said.

PacifiCorp’s replanting of trees involves a mix of noble fir, Douglas fir and Pacific silver fir, along with some cedar, she said.

The goal is for forests mimicking nature, rather than plantations of Douglas fir, which is the most valuable commercially.

With a few exceptions for public safety, PacifiCorp wildlife lands are open to non-motorized public access including hunting.

Emmerson said elk hunters using PacifiCorp’s lands on the south side of Mount St. Helens often depart from Gifford Pinchot National Forest road No. 83 then work their way downhill to a second vehicle on forest road No. 90.

Although the roads in the newly acquired lands are gated closed, entry by foot or bicycle is allowed.

Emmerson said the utility continues to look for additional opportunities to buy wildlife habitat in the area.

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