RIRIE — It has been three years since the Henry’s Creek fire burned two-thirds of the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area. So what does it look like now and how is the area recovering? According to Ryan Walker, the manager of Tex Creek WMA and a habitat biologist for Idaho Department of Fish and Game, everything is looking good.
“We have had favorable growing conditions the last few years,” Walker said. “Last spring it was pretty lush and green out on the WMA with little trace of the burn other than some sagebrush skeletons.”
Since the fire, Fish and Game has used airplanes to seed 2,000 acres of the WMA with native bunch grasses and shrubs like sagebrush. The Bureau of Land Management has seeded an additional 1,100 acres. The shrub component of the habitat is what Walker is most concerned about recovering.
“Most grasses will do well on their own and come back quickly, but sagebrush are slow growing and can be hard to establish on the landscape,” Walker said.
Sagebrush is an important staple in the diet of both mule deer and elk in the winter months. Its height makes it more accessible in the deep snow and its foliage provides small amounts of protein to help animals survive the winter.
Volunteers and work crews for Fish and Game have been hard at work trying to replace the shrubs that were lost in the fire. Together they have planted more than 150,000 sagebrush seedlings on mule deer winter range to bring the deer back into the area.
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“I’m just doing what I can,” volunteer Jim Wolski said. “Hopefully when I come back up here in a few years, some of these plants will have made it.”
It will take almost a decade for the slow-growing sagebrush that Wolski and other volunteers planted to reach a size that can sustain heavy browsing by deer and elk.
“All we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best,” Wolski said.
A few of the trees and shrubs on the Tex Creek WMA have actually been stimulated by the fire and are responding well.
“Aspen, chokecherry and snowberries are sending up new shoots everywhere,” Walker said. “If the weather continues to cooperate, and we keep receiving moisture at the right times, Tex Creek could soon be in better shape than it was before the fire.”
Fish and Game would like to thank all of the hardworking volunteers that have taken part in the habitat restoration of Tex Creek. More sagebrush seedlings are being grown and stored at the Lucky Peak Nursery near Boise to be planted on the WMA next year.
For more information on volunteering for wildlife projects with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game you can visit https://idfg.idaho.gov/volunteer or stop by a regional office.