On a winter day in January of 2016, a bulldozer is plowing through a stand of aspen near Tok in Interior Alaska. It's pulling a big rolling drum studded with chopping blades. The dozer blade snaps the trees off at the base and the roller chopper breaks them up.
Aspen is a botanical Phoenix, flourishing in the wake of destruction. The lush growth that emerges after an aspen stand is burned or crushed is ideal for moose and grouse, and that benefits moose and grouse hunters.
Fish and Game has partnered with the state division of forestry and the Ruffed Grouse Society on this habitat enhancement project near Tok, and this winter more than 250 acres were treated. It's the second year of a five-year project that aims to treat about 750 acres. This winter they treated about 16 acres per day, about twice what they did last year. That's with a D-5 and a D-6 cat, each pulling a roller chopper, covering about eight acres per machine each day.
Winter is the best time for the work and produces the greatest return. A temperature range from fifteen-below to zero is ideal. The green stems break easily when it's cold, and with the root base frozen in the ground. In winter, when the trees are dormant, all the nutrients are in the root system, and the root system can put it all back into the new growth the next growing season. The frozen ground also protects the root base from being torn up and crushed.