by Pat Jaquith
The historic Ray Kuhns homestead off Farm-to-Market Road between Kalispell and Whitefish is under MFWP management as the Kuhns 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kuhns 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.