Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) wants to thin out some trees on the Calf Creek Wildlife Management Area in the Sapphire Mountains on the east side of the valley. There's a draft Environmental Assessment online that describes the project, and FWP is requesting public opinions until March 8th.

The plan would cut down conifer trees that have been taking over some grass and shrubland in the grassy part of the WMA. Thinning would also open up areas in the forested area for wildlife. Both merchantable and sub-merchantable trees would be removed, along with some prescribed burning. The project includes reclamation after logging - native grass seeding and some noxious week control. Two culverts on Stuart Creek would be replaced and some road work would be done before the project would begin.

The goal of the project is to improve deer and elk winter forage, restore more native grass and shrublands, promote more aspen stands and decrease wildfire risks.

The area was heavily logged about 80 years ago, with Douglas fir trees replacing ponderosa pine and other species since then. Most live trees over 80 years old in the grass and shrubland areas generally would be left, along with quaking aspen and cottonwood. The final decision will be made by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, possibly in April. If approved, the work could begin this December.

The Calf Creek WMA was created as a winter range for elk in 1960 and expanded in 2011. Of the 2,400 acres in the management area, about a thousand acres would be involved in the habitat project. The area borders the Weber Ranch and the Frost Ranch and is used by the public for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding in the summer and hunting in the fall. An elk herd uses the area for winter range and many other animals can be found there - including deer, moose, mountain lion, wolf and a wide variety of birds.

The Environmental Assessment and places to comment are at the FWP website under "News and Public Notices." You can also call 406-542-5540 or e-mail shrose@mt.gov .

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