Late Summer and Early Fall at Ray Kuhn’s WMA

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Late August, 2021 Wheat ripening under smoky skies

The historic Ray Kuhn’s homestead off Farm-to-Market Road between Kalispell and Whitefish is under MFWP management as the Kuhn’s WMA (wildlife management area). 100 acres of the 1556.5A parcel are leased for farming to improve the soil, control noxious weeds, and provide food and cover to benefit deer and upland game birds. In this article, you can read more about this public resource in our community.

9.27.21 Planting winter wheat

This section of the leased field has been treated to control noxious weeds and prepared for planting; now it’s time to get the seeds into the ground just before rain. A flock of ravens and crows were attracted to this operation! Just as the machinery arrived, Mountain bluebirds were picking up insects from the tilled ground, and a flock of Red Crossbills were working in the cones in the tops of nearby Douglas fir trees.

9.27.21 Binder from the past rests/rusts just feet from the path of the John Deere above

A little research helped identify this antique machine. It was used to cut grain – oats or wheat – and tie it into bundles, “shocks” which were probably dried and moved to a barn where it was threshed, or “thrashed” to separate the grain from the chaff. I stood looking at this horse-drawn, iron-wheeled machine as the modern diesel-powered monster rumbled past.

9.27.21 Beaver Creek flows through the parcel, bringing water for wildlife, Quaking Aspen, Canary grass, and other vegetation.

Countless wildlife trails cut through the tall streamside vegetation. At some point, Beaver Creek was ditched to control its flow. The MFWP plans to improve the riparian corridor along its length. Aspen trees, like this one, have been persistently browsed by deer. Native Bog birch and Black Alder are also consistently browsed. As I made my way along the edge of the tall grass, the colorful red head of a male pheasant popped up occasionally.

9.27.21 5A exclosure east of Beaver Creek

The objective of the WMA, providing forage and winter habitat for wildlife, was not being met in this quite barren field.

Inside the year-old exclosure, Aspen sprouts from trees outside the fenced area are showing significant growth. The whips planted in protective tubes had been eaten off at the tube tops; with just a couple years’ protection, they are putting on great growth. Without protection, vegetation had been browsed so heavily it had no opportunity to re-grow. It is projected that the exclosure will be removed after a few years.

The photos above are of a small exclosure near the homestead buildings. The clump of aspens had been scarred as high as the deer could reach. Any root sprouts were browsed as soon as they erupted. After 2-3 years of protection, sprouts are 4-5 feet tall. In the photo at right, it is clearly evident that the fence is key to the establishment of an aspen grove. The brome grass provides browse early in the season, but there’s not a lot of other wildlife fodder in this field.

9.27.21 Larch starting its fall show at the edge of a forested area with a big canopy where the wildlife seek shelter from winter conditions.

Kuhn’s WMA is open to the public seasonally; check signage or the website for dates. Parking is limited along Farm-to-Market Road, and the gated entrance must be unobstructed for official access. I’ve found it an interesting meander for bird-watching and wildflower investigation. The buildings are interesting, but it is not recommended that one enter or even get too close. Lots of pieces litter the ground providing possible hazards. If you do go there, be sure to carry bear spray: both grizzlies and black bears visit this site, too.

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