For years now, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been working with private landowners to help improve feeding opportunities for deer, elk and cattle.
On Monday, roughly 300 acres of mountain sagebrush on private land adjacent to Hardware Ranch in Cache County was treated with an herbicide called Spike.
The end result will be a thinning of the sagebrush and a rapid growth of tasty grasses and forbs, primary food sources for both wild and domestic animals.
"For years the DWR has recognized that private landowners feed a lot of wildlife. And, over the years, we've worked with landowners to do habitat improvement projects with those owners willing to be involved," said Scott Walker, regional habitat coordinator for the DWR.
The areas targeted are those thick with mountain sagebrush, which, said Walker, "grows so thick because of the additional moisture at higher elevations that it chokes out the understory, the grasses and forbs utilized by deer, elk and cattle."
The project involves use of a helicopter to spread the herbicide over the thick patches of sagebrush. The herbicide targets only woody species, specifically sagebrush, and is used in a concentration that kills out only patches of sage.
"We don't want to kill all of the sagebrush. We want to come in and thin out the sagebrush because it's so competitive with understory species. As a result, the understory becomes very weak. Once we kill some of the plants, this allows the understory to grow," he said.
"Once patches of sagebrush are removed, the understory comes booming back because of the additional water and nutrients. We don't have to reseed these areas. We target the area where there is still understory present."
The Legislature provides for some funding. The remaining costs are shared by the landowner and state and federal agencies.
"It's important to recognize that this is mountain sagebrush found at higher elevations and not the sagebrush at lower elevations found on winter range. In the summer, wildlife and domestic cattle will not utilize the mountain sagebrush, preferring instead the lush grasses and forbs," pointed out Walker.
"In winter, however, sagebrush is very important to wildlife. Also, in the winter, the mountain sagebrush found at higher elevations is covered with snow. And, again, we're not removing all the mountain sagebrush, we're simply thinning it out so other things can grow."
Walker noted that elk herds in the area, and particularly those using Hardware Ranch as a winter feeding area, are doing well, "but the deer herds are struggling right now. Projects like this will help."
The DWR has been working with the South Cache Livestock Association on this project.