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Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area Management Plan

Category: Habitat - Wildlife Area Management

Date Published: November 2006

Number of Pages: 69

Author(s): Brian Calkins


The Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area (2,744 acres) was established in 1990 for the purpose of protecting and managing elk winter range habitat on the North Fork Toutle River mudflow that resulted from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St Helens. The property was acquired through a land exchange with the Weyerhaeuser Company with assistance from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Fifteen smaller satellite units comprising an additional 1,200 acres have been acquired since 1990 and are located in Lewis, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Clark and Skamania Counties. They are managed for a wide diversity of species and habitats.

The primary management emphasis for the property located on the North Fork of the Toutle River is to provide elk winter range for a portion of the Mt. St. Helens elk herd. Prior to WDFW ownership the mudflow had been seeded to reduce erosion and transport of sediment downstream into the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers. This planting effort resulted in an area that was highly attractive to elk particularly during the winter months. Erosion of the mudflow in the mid-1990’s and landscape scale vegetation changes due to maturation of surrounding commercial forests have reduced the watershed’s capacity to support wintering elk populations despite WDFW’s efforts to expand and enhance forage production on the mudflow. Public attention has been directed toward reducing elk winter mortality due to malnutrition on the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area.

The primary management concerns and public issues identified in the Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area Plan are:

  • Protecting the remaining forage base from further erosion losses.
  • Increasing the quality and quantity of forage produced in existing areas.
  • Expanding the forage producing acreage.
  • Reducing the impact of public use on wintering elk.
  • Manage the elk population to a better balance with its habitat.
  • Controlling scotch broom and other noxious weeds.
  • Protecting and enhancing existing ESA listed fish habitat.

In 2006 WDFW continued planting efforts to control erosion, and improve winter forage production on the site. Measures to reduce harassment on the winter range are also being implemented which include closing the wildlife area to public access during the winter months and prohibiting dogs on the site. A winter elk-monitoring plan (Appendix 7) is in place to assess the condition of elk using the mudflow.

Many of the enhancements to the mudflow were lost early this winter due to floods. Efforts in 2007 will be directed toward replacing the erosion control plantings and pursuing funds to install wood or other structures to better secure the remaining mudflow area and give the plantings more time to mature.

The Mt. St. Helens Wildlife Area Plan compliments the Mt. St Helens Elk Herd Plan, which provides a more comprehensive review of elk management in the larger geographic region.