Large wildfires have taken their toll on southwest Idaho big game winter range during the past two years, and now mule deer and elk herds need a helping hand.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is looking for volunteers to help rehabilitate hundreds of acres of winter range and speed up native plant recovery.
The planting effort begins on Saturday, March 3, and continues for three subsequent Saturdays, ending March 24. Planting sites include part of Squaw Butte north of Emmett that burned last summer, and parts of the Boise River Wildlife Management Area that burned during the 2005 Homestead Fire.
Volunteers have planted hundreds of thousands of seedlings during the past 16 years to restore native bitterbrush and sagebrush habitats in Southwest Idaho. In the process, they've saved the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Volunteers make habitat restoration possible by providing the workforce to plant," Fish and Game volunteer coordinator Mary Dudley said. "Lucky Peak Nursery propagates bitterbrush and sagebrush seedlings from seed that volunteers help us collect each year as well."
Bitterbrush and sagebrush-both are native shrubs-comprise an important component of big game winter ranges in Idaho and throughout the west. Besides being essential food sources for deer, elk and other wildlife, bitterbrush and sagebrush provide nesting habitat and cover from the elements and predators.
Even large animals, such as deer and elk, find shelter among mature stands of bitterbrush and sagebrush during winter storms. The animals hunker down under the shrubs, out of the wind and snow, to conserve precious body fat that they need to survive the lean winter months.
Because of their deep-rooted structure native shrubs stabilize soil, reducing erosion.
For information about the planting project, or about other volunteer opportunities with Fish and Game, call 208-327-7095 or 208-327-7099.
Information also is available at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/about/volunteer/southwest.cfm.