Cooperative Efforts Improve Habitat

Cooperative efforts near Bison, South Dakota, by the USDA Forest Service and the NWTF are improving habitat for many animals, including ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, Merriam’s wild turkeys, deer and elk.

 “Ponderosa” is a Latin word meaning “heavy, weighty or significant.” The Slim Buttes’ project goal included removing the hearty ponderosa pine, freeing hardwood trees to fill their natural niche, and improving nesting conditions and foraging habitat for wild turkeys and other wildlife.

The Forest Service provided $21,000, and the NWTF South Dakota State Chapter contributed $5,000 in Super Fund money, for a contract to hand-thin and remove ponderosa pines from 120 acres of woody draws, leaving hardwoods and shrubs. The thinning also encourages growth of native forbs and grasses, according to NWTF Regional Biologist Collin Smith.

“Many species of birds, including wild turkeys, and deer and elk, will benefit from the improved forage production,” Smith said.

A lack of prescribed fire, combined with decades of suppressed natural fire, had allowed many hardwood draws to become overgrown with dense stands of ponderosa pine. These draws had been rich with a diversity of ash, plum, chokeberry and other shrubs, which were being starved of sunlight and space, and diverse stands of plants and trees were declining in the Slim Buttes.

A low-intensity, short-duration wildfire aided on-the-ground efforts last April. The fast-moving fire helped improve conditions for wildlife and forest health in the northern portion of the Slim Buttes.

“The fire was followed by an unusually wet summer and, along with much of western South Dakota, this area has experienced greatly improved habitat conditions,” said Smith, who added that the hardwood draw enhancement project is helping to improve habitat for wildlife, forest health and grassland health. 

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South Dakota