Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fighting Fire with Fire: Burn Saves Town

It was a scene that has played out all too often across the West in recent years: a wildfire roars to life, forcing people from their homes and charring thousands of acres of forestland. This time it was in late June of 2014 just south of the small east-central Arizona community of Vernon. Massive plumes of smoke billowed into the sky and flames jumped from treetop to treetop in the White Mountains as the San Juan Fire raced across nearly 7,000 acres.

Wind gusts up to 25 mph propelled the fire through a forest parched by drought. Firefighters could do little as the fire behavior became extreme, with 100-foot flames burning as much as 6 miles an hour and embers spotting a half a mile out ahead. But the fiery fury of Mother Nature ran into a roadblock, of sorts, in the form of a series of forest thinning projects sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners. When the flames hit those areas previously treated by thinning and prescribed burns, the spread rate slowed to 1-2 miles per hour, flames dropped to just 8-12 feet and the fire was spotting just 150-200 feet ahead. 

Low intensity back burn in previously treated  area
“One of the first pieces of information from the San Juan Fire Incident Management Team was the account of the fire laying down when it hit areas of treatment in the pine,” said Jim Zornes, forest supervisor for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

One of those treatment areas lay at the north end or “head” of the San Juan Fire. Dubbed the Coon Mountain prescribed burn, a multi-year collaborative effort between the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona Game and Fish, Eastern Arizona Resource Advisory Committee and the RMEF, it was completed just two years earlier and positively affected more than 1,000 acres. The goal was to use prescribed burns to restore meadows, improve forage quality and quantity, and reduce hazardous fuels. 

High intensity burn within untreated area
The Coon Mountain burn was part of a larger effort known as the White Mountain Stewardship (WMS) program, designed to reduce fuels through thinning across the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. In Game Management Unit 1 (GMU 1) fire was part of the design of partnership projects to restore and enhance winter range for elk and other wildlife. Some of the projects overlapped in the WMS and the Forest Service was able to burn areas where projects had been completed. The 3,500-acre Iris Springs prescribed fire, also completed in 2012, was funded entirely by RMEF. Just across the way the Garris Knoll project (still in progress) covers 5,400 acres. So far, RMEF has contributed $40,000 to assist overall GMU 1 projects and committed another $80,000 for ongoing and future habitat enhancement work. That commitment helped leverage other partner funds and build support for future fire treatment activities on landscapes that need it.

Control line on San Juan Fire
“It is, and has been, wildly successful. Those continued partnership activities are what it is going to take to continue to make advancements in protecting communities and resources in the White Mountains,” added Zornes.

Fire is not just good for elk habitat, it’s essential. But in areas like this where fire has long been absent due to fire suppression, there can easily be way too much of a good thing. Thinning and prescribed burns allow foresters to restore healthy habitat while keeping people and their property safe. 

The success of RMEF collaborative projects in providing great forage for wildlife and slowing catastrophic wildfire goes way beyond the San Juan Fire. Another recent example occurred in October of 2012. The 340,000-acre Mustang Fire threatened several small, unincorporated towns in east-central Idaho and a nearby ski resort on the Idaho-Montana border. Officials credited the Hughes Creek thinning project, a 13,000-acre community-driven forest health effort funded in part by RMEF, for giving firefighters a location where they could confidently set up a last line of defense to dig in and stop the flames.

Mustang Complex Fire 2012
"The fuels treatments in the Hughes Creek area implemented by the North Fork Ranger District were put to the test during the Mustang fire," said Danny Montoya, Mustang Fire Team Operations Chief. "I firmly believe that they provided us with the opportunity to steer the fire away from the Highway 93 Corridor and the Lost Trail Ski Area." 

So far, all across elk country RMEF has helped fund more than 1,100 thinning and burning projects to greatly improve habitat on more than 1.3 million acres.

"These projects are win-win for everyone," said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. "Not only do they have a positive impact for firefighters, but the on-the-ground work itself improves vital habitat, travel corridors, and forage for elk and other wildlife."

And that’s a winning formula for forestland and wildlife whether in Arizona, Idaho or anywhere across elk country.

Mark Holyoak
RMEF Director of Communication

Aerial view of area impacted by San Juan Fire. Background shows high intensity fire which transitions to
low intensity fire in treated ponderosa pine stands at lower elevation. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Youth Get RMEF Memberships in North Carolina Elk Country

Cataloochee Valley, NC
(photo courtesy Chris Croy)
When you hear "elk country," what comes to mind? Maybe the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains ? What about North Carolina? Really? It's true!

The "Old North State," as many call it, is home to wild, free-ranging elk. Back in 2001, the National Park Service released 52 elk into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as part of a five-year experiment that was eventually lifted in 2011. Today, more than 150 elk roam on land managed by the park, the state and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. In fact, Cataloochee Valley is one of the best places to view elk east of the Mississippi.

With that in mind, 25 boys and girls now have stronger ties to North Carolina elk and elk country. Thanks to a donation by Ray and Ramona Bryson, they are now among the newest hat-wearing, card-carrying youth members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It happened at the 2014 RMEF Great Smoky Mountains Chapter Banquet. The kids also received RMEF bandanas thanks to the Tony Schmidt family. In the photo below, they are also holding their certificates of honorary committee membership.

Hopefully, these young folks will continue to enjoy the benefits of RMEF membership as they grow up to serve on the committee. (Hunter and Ainsley already have several years of volunteer time under their belts.) There are already three RMEF life members in the group.

Welcome aboard!

Learn more about the RMEF youth membership here.

Photo courtesy Anna Ferguson

Wyoming’s Women for WildLife are “Mad” About Elk

Members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation know all too well that when you get a group of women together –with NO MEN ALLOWED other than the ring crew– some pretty crazy things can happen. (Just attend any Ladies Luncheon and Auction at Elk Camp and you know what we mean.)

Check out the recent sights in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where about 140 people, mostly from Rock Springs but from across the state and as far away as Texas, gathered for what they called the Women for WildLife Gala. The theme was Alice in Wonderland/The Mad Hatter. As you can see, the women and girls more than looked the part.

Activities included both live and silent auctions that raised thousands of dollars for elk and elk country. Highlights from the live auction included a Pro Bull Riders package that sold for $3,300, a mini schnauzer puppy that sold for $2,200 and a custom built log and antler dresser that went for $1,400. Raffles stuck to the theme thanks to pink shot glasses with lanyards, purse charms, mini drink-me bottles and other decorations. There was also a costume contest.

“The Women for WildLife event really rocked the house,” said Jill Tonn, RMEF senior regional director. “The ladies from the Sweetwater Chapter put a lot of time into creating the d├ęcor and raffle trinkets. The ring crew was decked out in red union suits, cowboy hats and boots, and made sure the attendees had fun.”

The (ruggedly male) Ring Crew
Organizers turned to social media to publicize the inaugural event. They delivered some invitations and put up about 20 posters, but they created two Facebook pages to spread the word. It sold out just two days later and 12 of the 15 tables sold as corporate tables. That was enough to put a smile on the faces of both the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit.

“The whole event was amazing! The gals began planning next year’s event the day after!” added Tonn.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Washington Rendezvous: Smiles, Good Food, Good Work to Help Elk

Nearly 100 members and volunteers of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation capped the summer of 2014 by gathering in White Pass, Washington, about 100 miles southeast of Seattle, for the annual RMEF Washington Rendezvous. The White Pass Ski Area was an ideal location because it was an easy trip for most folks and is near the heart of prime winter range for elk.

The three-day event kicked off at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, an area that covers 64,200 acres that is home to elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, grouse, turkey, quail and other small mammals and birds. It is also home to the Oak Creek Feeding Station, a high-fenced area often supported by RMEF grant funding that provides a barrier between winter range and nearby orchard growers and livestock producers. The program is designed to reduce damage to agricultural lands and provide up-close elk viewing opportunities.

Photos courtesy Stephanie Pelham
Work gloves, wire cutters, shovels, posthole diggers and wrecking bars were the tools of the day as volunteers helped rebuild burned and broken fencing. Sweat, accompanied by a lot of laughter, poured as freely as compliments and slaps on the back from volunteers. 

RMEF co-founders Charlie Decker and Bob Munson welcomed attendees of all ages and thanked them for their dedication to and service for elk and elk country.

Charlie recognizes young attendees
Bob welcomes fellow members
Other highlighted activities included a potluck dinner, an update on elk hoof disease, geo-cache outing, National Archery in the Schools 3-D range, West Seattle Totems Shooting Club range, entertainment, games, dutch oven cooking, raffles, silent auction and other happenings.

Our thanks to all of the good folks in Washington for helping ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage in the Evergreen State.

Mission accomplished: The work crew gets 'er done

Rick Godwin of North Puget Sound Chapter receives plaque for becoming an Imperial Habitat Partner
Vicki & Bob Munson, Godwin, Charlie & Yvonne Decker (left to right)
Dan Loshbaugh of Sammamish Valley Chapter receives plaque for becoming a Habitat Partner 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tri-State Op-Ed Regarding Wolverine Conservation

Dear Editor:                                                                                      September 5, 2014

The states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have noted the recent criticisms about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s August 12 decision to not list wolverine in the western United States as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

For the record, our states opposed the Service’s original recommendation to list wolverines based on our concerns about listing a species that is at its highest population level in the past 80-100 years—and still increasing. This fact supports the conclusion that state management works for wolverine. The states also expressed our concerns over the uncertainty inherent in using projected changes in climate over the next 40-80 years to speculate what might happen to wolverine habitat and wolverine populations.

The Service, however, did not reverse its original proposal due solely to state input. The Service chose instead to convene an independent panel of climate and wildlife scientists to review and discuss the science underlying the original listing proposal. Endangered Species Act listing is a complex arena that requires decisions based on imperfect data, and we applaud the Service’s efforts to seek independent advice. It is likely the model used for wolverines, a model based on cooperation with the states, will have utility for future decisions. Ultimately, the Service made the right decision for wolverines for the right reasons. We thank the Service for its willingness to listen, to keep an open mind, and to utilize additional methods to fully explore science in its decision process.

Together we remain fully committed to the conservation of wolverines. 


Virgil Moore, Director              M. Jeff Hagener, Director              Scott Talbott, Director
Idaho Dept of Fish & Game   Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks     Wyoming Game & Fish Dept
P O Box 25                              P O Box 200701                           5400 Bishop Boulevard
Boise ID  83707                       Helena MT 59620-0701                Cheyenne WY  82006   

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Take a Kid Hunting? You Betcha!

“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
--Whitney Houston

If you plan on heading into the mountains, prairies or to the nearest marsh to hunt, here’s one simple suggestion: take a kid with you. A recent survey by Southwick Associates and HunterSurvey.com shows that nearly 46 percent of surveyed sportsmen and women took at least one boy or girl into the field with them in the past year.

“We remain committed to ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat, and our hunting heritage. And who holds the keys to that future if not our sons and daughters and grandchildren?” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. 

Passing on our hunting traditions to the generations that follow is a key component of RMEF’s mission. That’s just one reason why RMEF recently launched the new RMEF Youth Membership. The membership targets youth under the age of 18 and offers members online access to Bugle magazine, a hat and some other benefits. RMEF also sponsors youth camps, hunting and fishing clinics, and educational programs such as the SAFE Challenge and Elk Trunks, kits containing lessons plans and hands-on activities for educators to teach kids about elk and the outdoors. 

Survey results indicate most children that hunted within the last year did so with a parent. In fact, 59 percent did exactly that but outdoorsmen and women also reach out to other relatives and friends. Twenty-seven percent of respondents accompanied a girl or boy that was not related to them while 20 percent took a nephew or niece and 17 percent took a grandchild. Nearly four percent took a child as part of an organized activity such as scouting or part of a church group event.

“Sportsmen have long sought to share their love for the outdoors with the people in their lives, particularly young people, and when it comes to hunting, introducing kids to the outdoors isn’t limited to just immediate family members,” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates.

When asked how many children they took hunting within the past 12 months, 21 percent of those surveyed reported one, 15 percent took two, five percent took three, two percent took four and a little more than two percent took five or more. 

Madison Sergent, RMEF member and volunteer
from Delmarva Chapter in Delaware
“Right now, we’re busy passing on our hopes and dreams and the things we love most to our youth. Before we know it, though, we’ll be passing on the reins to this next generation of hunters and conservationists. We need to make sure their ranks are strong,” added Allen.

And what better way to do so than to take a young hunter into the field with you?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Got Great Recipes? Reality TV Wants YOU!

Pulled elk sandwich
Smoky elk mac & cheese
 It’s no secret that Americans love good food. It’s also no secret that outdoorsmen and women are some of the best cooks anywhere. Surfing the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation website offers many examples of that. After all, RMEF’s Carnivore’s Kitchen currently features such delectable dishes as pulled elk sandwiches, smoky elk macaroni and cheese, elk burgers with roasted jalapeno jelly and even pickled elk tongue tacos. The list currently features nearly three dozen mouth-watering big game recipes. It even offers a Wild Game 101 breakdown of various cuts of big game, where to find them and how to prepare them.

Maybe that, in part, is why the supervising casting producer of the Fox TV hit show MasterChef recently reached out to the RMEF. In her words, “We are looking for amateur home cooks, foodies, hunters, fresh personalities and people who are passionate about food. We really want to spread the word to pre-register on our website www.masterchefcasting.com.” 

Elk burger & roasted
jalapeno jelly
Pickled elk tongue tacos
So we thought we would pass along this note to our 203,000 RMEF member friends. The deadline to submit completed applications and video submissions is October 25, 2014, but the sooner you enter the better. 

Happy hunting in the field this fall and good luck to any and all seeking to become the next MasterChef. And remember, elk does a body good!

(By the way, if you do enter and win, make sure to send a couple of your winning recipes our way.)