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Make way for more elk

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A companion to the state Game and Fish Commission’s work to improve elk habitat on the Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area is the federal government’s Bearcat Hollow Enhancement Project on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. The project would convert 20,000 acres adjacent to Gene Rush WMA and the Richland Creek Wilderness Area to oak and pine savannah to benefit elk and non-game species, including quail and songbirds. The project would include timber clearing, burning on some 6,000 acres and pond construction.

The last phase of the project calls for creating buffers to keep elk from going onto private property.

The Newton County Wildlife Association and the Headwaters Chapter of the Sierra Club object to the plan, and have appealed the Forest Service’s decision to go forward with the project, saying it will adversely impact the Richland Creek Wilderness Area.

Not only are they worried about elk herds destroying sensitive river ecology, they deem elk habitat construction to be destructive.

“The Forest Service right now, there’s still a lot of debris from the logging they did 10 years ago for elk,” said Kent Bonar, a naturalist with NCWA. “And they plan to clear a lot more. Right now they’re spraying four different types of herbicide, along pond banks, right-of-ways and in the forest in unspecified locations. They don’t post signs so it makes it real dangerous for folks to harvest herbs here. And then they plan to burn the entire area, in phases.”

The NCWA and the Sierra Club are asking the National Forest to focus instead on controlling elk carrying capacity.

“Elk clump up in the winter and head down in huge numbers off the mountains into the river valley where they over-browse and batter the landscape,” Bonar said. “A solution would be to provide artificial feed, dump hay — and not allow the herd to grow any larger.”

— Jacqueline Froelich

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