BHA Volunteers Help Expand Elk, Deer & Bear Habitat in Northwest California

On a hazy, smokey Friday evening in Humboldt county, BHA members and volunteers gathered at Mad River Brewing Company to toast to the upcoming B1 deer and bear season opener and to put finishing touches on a plan to improve elk, deer and bear habitat at the Lacks Creek Management Area. The tables were a buzz with excitement as a red sun set over the ocean; with a nearby lighting complex fire the culprit, there was palpable relief all around that the fires didn't sabotage another hunting season in the Golden State.

On opening morning, BHA members dispersed into the surrounding forests, walking through pacific redwood, madrone, pine, oak and maple trees and into the pockets of grassland prairies in search of elusive coastal blacktail deer and black bears. Fun fact, falling ash makes a great wind indicator, but adds a layer of complexity to the hike in...

After a morning hunt 15 BHA volunteers, many experienced foresters themselves, gathered at Faulkner Prairie within the Lacks Creek Management Area for a safety meeting before turning loose on the numerous douglas-fir trees that are suffocating the surrounding oak stands and native grasses within this prairie habitat.

Lacks Creek Management Area includes 8,949 acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and primarily serves the public as a recreational area for hunting, mountain biking, hiking and wildlife viewing. The area is largely a mixed conifer forest with pockets of oak woodlands and home to ten different prairies totaling about 140 acres. The BLM is working to enhance prairies by reducing conifer encroachment through hand thinning at Lacks Creek Management Area. These efforts will enhance habitat connectivity and increase forage yield for Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer, and black bear. Currently, a herd of over 300 Roosevelt elk are known to utilize the northernmost portions of Lacks Creek. By reducing conifer encroachment on native prairies this work aims to encourage range expansion of Roosevelt elk across the Lacks Creek Management Area, providing greater opportunities for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts on public land.  

Equipped with axes, hand saws, loppers and hatchets the crew removed douglas-fir trees with extreme prejudice. Hacks, hoots and shouts of "timber" could be heard resounding throughout the prairie as the crew mowed through any trees in their path with the instant gratification of opening up oak stands and paths through the prairie. All felled trees were put in piles with major limbs removed to facilitate future control burning or expedited decomposition in order to reduce fire risk. 

After a hard days work, volunteers then went back out their separate ways to seek solitude amongst the many praries and oak woodlands with bows in hand. Several hunters were able to spot and stalk bears but no one able to get within bow range for an ethical shot. Volunteers were treated to a wild game dinner prepared by Dave Allen, a board member for California BHA. The delicious elk, and deer meat was washed down with Steelhead Pale Ale generously donated by Mad River Brewing and the whole meal finished with blackberries foraged from the surrounding forest.

The next morning when the team returned to Faulkner Prairie to resume removing encroaching conifers, the team found fresh elk beds about 20 yards from where we had thinned out a big patch of douglas-firs. Encouraged by the fresh wildlife sign and approval of our work, we continued hacking and sawing until our hands had blisters and our backs were covered in sweat.

Before...

After...

As the sun set on Sunday evening a Southern breeze brought storm clouds and rain from Hurricane Hillary, dousing several of the remaining wildfires. Even though we removed hundreds of encroaching conifers, there are plenty more at Lacks Creek that need to be removed in order to ensure the wildlife can expand and have access to the important forage they need to survive and thrive in the wild woods of Northwest California.

A big shout out to Mad River Brewing and Victory Archery for their generous donations to support this project! 

We look forward to doing it again next year. Be sure to sign up for our mailing list to get notified of new projects in your neck of the woods.

About Devin O'dea

Devin grew up abalone diving, spearfishing, and backpacking in CA before discovering a love of bowhunting and wing shooting. He worked as a marketing manager for a carbon division of Mitsubishi, but the allure of adventure and wild places led him to BHA