The Arizona Elk Society was the first group to donate money to this program. Ron Eichelberger, Wallow Fire/AZGFD/Ranchers Liaison, responded immediately to the AES Board after receiving the request for funding. Ron’s response to the request was, “this is the reason we started the organization, to be able to respond quickly in emergency cases for the benefit of elk and our partners such as the Arizona Game and Fish and ranching community.“
Because the Wallow Fire has impacted the amount and quality of forage and water on portions of the Apache National Forest, some property owners located in and adjacent to the burn areas are experiencing increased wildlife use on their private lands and pastures, primarily displaced elk. Elk have congregated in areas in Apache and Greenlee Counties just outside the north and east flanks of the burned areas, as well as some private properties wholly contained within the wildfire area.
The plan has two objectives. The first is to supply alfalfa to feed livestock as a replacement for what elk consume on private pastures. In return, property owners will agree to allow elk to persist on their property. The second is to hold these elk, to the extent possible, on private lands to keep them from further impacting already fragile riparian zones on the forest.
“One of our primary intents is to gain acceptance of the elk being present on these private lands until such time that the forest lands are producing grasses and other forage sources such that elk begin to naturally return to the forest lands,” says Mike Godwin, wildlife manager supervisor for the Game and Fish Pinetop Region.