Collaboration in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest

The NWTF is collaborating with multiple partners to enhance wildlife habitat for wild turkeys and a variety of other game and nongame species in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest, located in NWTF’s Northern Rocky Mountain Focal Landscape, part of the Western Wildlands region in America’s Big Six of Wildlife Conservation.  

The Bitterroot National Forest in southwestern Montana and Idaho is 1.6 million acres and contributes to the largest expanse of contiguous wilderness in the lower 48. Hunters and outdoors enthusiasts treasure the area for its expansive beauty and bounty of wildlife.

Years of fire suppression on the land and nearby development have increased the need for active forest management practices, which improve wildlife habitat and safeguard the wildland-urban interface (area where large expanses of wilderness meet communities).

Since the project’s outset in 2018, the NWTF has provided in-kind technical assistance and helped procure funding through grants for a variety of forest management practices, including hand thinning understory, hand- and aerial-ignited prescribed fire and noxious weed treatments.    

Work scheduled this summer on the Bitterroot National Forest includes 200 acres of hand thinning of Douglas fir and meadow edges, 2,000 acres of total prescribed fire and 2,000 acres of noxious weed treatments through use of biological control insects that target and consume invasive weeds.

“These treatments will reduce conifer encroachment and will increase the quality and quantity of native grasses and forbs,” said David Nikonow, NWTF wildlife biologist in western Montana. “These plants provide critical food for ungulates (hoofed mammals like deer, elk, antelope), as well as abundant insect populations, which are needed by young turkeys and forest grouse.”

Partners that helped make this project possible include Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; USDA Forest Service, Mule Deer Foundation, Montana Wild Sheep Foundation and Ravalli County Weed District.

“The collaborative process is making this project a huge success,” Nikonow said. “When partners come together and help contribute toward a common goal, we’re able to make our combined resources go further on the ground.”

In addition to wild turkeys, this project will improve habitat for dusky grouse, big horn sheep, elk and mule deer.

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