The Porcupine herd photographed last winter in their usual winter habitat north of Riverhouse BBQ & Events and east of Hwy. 191. The area was impacted by a wildland fire late in the fall of 2020. PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELLE NIERLING

Spring survival

Wildland fire eliminated typical food source, but the local elk herd is surviving in deeper snow

So far so good for the Porcupine elk herd that garnered concern from wildlife officials. Six hundred fifty acres of the herd’s winter habitat went up in flames in a late season wildland fire. The snow that fell helped quash the flames on the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) land, but also did not allow for the area to “green up”, which eliminated a chunk of their food supply.

Initial theories included that the herd would push further east into the Porcupine drainage to a less desirable location with deeper snow or venture across Hwy. 191 and into Ramshorn View Estates in the search for food. So far, few elk are in the burned area, though they have been passing through according to Forest Service West Zone Wildlife Biologist Randall Scarlett.

Most of the herd, comprised of 200-300 elk are up Porcupine.

“FWP is continuing to monitor the elk herd in the Porcupine area. At this point in the season FWP doesn’t see a need for further action but we’ll continue to monitor the elk use of the area, the weather, and other factors to determine if management action is needed,” said Forest Service West Zone Wildlife Biologist Randall Scarlett.

The fire, which occurred near highway 191 on Nov. 5 kicked off the same day as a 13-acre Forest Service controlled burn for aspen restoration that was over a mile away. It remains under investigation.

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