Helping fund cooperative biologist and forester positions with partners from all corners of the conservation industry is a common strategy the NWTF implements to enhance wildlife habitat and properly manage forests. These cooperative positions have proven to be successful for all organizations involved, and this success is no different in western Montana.
The western Montana cooperative wildlife biologist position was developed in partnership between the NWTF, USDA Forest Service, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Upland Gamebird Enhancement Program. In 2015, David Nikonow filled the position.
“The intent of my position is to provide technical assistance to federal land managers throughout the Lolo, Bitterroot, Helena-Lewis & Clark and Flathead National Forest to integrate habitat restoration activities beneficial to wild turkey and forest grouse,” Nikonow said. “Since September 2015, I've provided technical assistance on over 9,000 treated acres and helped to secure over $115,000 in grants to supplement project implementation costs.”
Nikonow often partners with the Forest Service on prescribed fire projects that restore ponderosa pine savanna habitat for wildlife. A notable prescribed fire project, ongoing since 2015, is the Frenchtown Face project in Missoula County, enhancing thousands of acres for wildlife.
“The Frenchtown Face project on the Ninemile Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest benefits both wildlife and human communities,” Nikonow said. “One of the primary goals is to reduce fire risk to communities in the Wildland Urban Interface (an area where undeveloped wildlands meet human communities). This is done by burning and removing overly dense understory trees that would otherwise allow a wildfire to burn uncharacteristically hot.”
The project also restores pine savanna habitat by reintroducing low intensity fire, which is a natural disturbance, resulting in new growth of grasses and forbs. This improved wild turkey and grouse habitat increases insect abundance for turkeys as well the growth of berry-producing shrubs that provide critical fall and winter forage for upland game birds. The NWTF partnered with Ninemile Ranger District on this project and several others, which helped earn the ranger district the Making Tracks Group Habitat Management Program Award in 2019.
The overall density of wild turkey populations in Missoula County and in the Frenchtown Face area are some of the most robust in the state of Montana, and this is due to the NWTF and partners working collaboratively on common goals.
To read about Nikonow, volunteers and partners enhancing aspen in Montana, visit: