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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Elk-Loving Insomniac

I cannot get to sleep tonight.
I toss and turn and flop.
I try to count some fluffy sheep
while o'er a fence they hop.
--Kathy Kenney-Marshall

What is it with insomnia and counting sheep? Has counting sheep actually helped anyone anywhere fall asleep?

A recent Facebook post caught our attention. It comes from Lacey Jae Christinson out of South Dakota. 

Now that makes sense! Good night Lacey and pleasant dreams!

Courtesy RMEF Facebook page/Hector Olavae
(Lacey, you could also try counting elk--see more photos on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Facebook page.)

Courtesy Daniel Bowerly

A Bull Elk's Bugle in Favor of Conservation

Mike Mueller lets out an elk bugle call
(Photo via Thom Bridge/Independent Record)
An elk bugle call echoed across the foothills of the Big Belt Mountains on a damp autumn day, in between the passing of two rain storms, northeast of Townsend in west-central Montana. It came from the calling tube of Mike Mueller, senior lands program manager for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. There was no response, no confirmation…at least not immediately.

Mueller was part of a small but enthusiastic group of about 30 people who gathered in mid-October 2014 to celebrate a land acquisition project, brokered by RMEF that transferred nearly 1,000 acres of prime elk country from private to public ownership.

“We’re truly blessed today. This is a big deal and you know we need to pause and take time because we worked so hard for this,” said Mueller, as reported in the Independent Record.

It would not have happened if four sisters decided to sell their land –the former Neild family ranch– to private interests. Instead they teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service, RMEF and other partners to sell the 988 acres and watch it be conveyed to the Helena National Forest. The transaction also improves public access for hunters, hikers, anglers and other outdoor lovers to more than 6,000 additional acres of public land.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet day for us,” Barbara O'Dore, one of two Neild sisters on hand, told the Independent Record. “We have a lot of memories up here; you know we used to trail cattle up here and come up on picnics and pick choke cherries. Now the good thing is we can still come. It is a beautiful piece of property.”

In addition to being prime elk habitat, the property contains a segment of Ray Creek that covers more than two miles. 

Photo via Thom Bridge/Independent Record
“It was a fantastic day of celebrating partnerships,” said Jennifer Doherty, RMEF director of lands. “So many entities and people came together to make this project happen and it was evident that it was at the heart of what so many people value: public access for Montanans and habitat for elk and pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout.”

The dedication ceremony continued with a sign unveiling, recognition, picture-taking and the sharing of many heartfelt feelings of gratitude. In the midst of it all, it finally came. Although barely imperceptible, several in the celebration party heard it. A bull elk chimed in with a distant bugle, seemingly in approval and appreciation of the successful conservation efforts directed at its homeland.

Below are the words of RMEF President and CEO David Allen, shared by Doherty at the dedication:

“This is what it’s all about. This projects hits at the heart of the mission of the Rocky Mountain Elk foundation. It’s an incredible project that permanently protects almost a thousand acres of prime elk habitat while also providing a new access point for sportsmen and women…AND making it happen alongside a great group of conservation partners who understand and appreciate its importance.

“RMEF is proud to have collaborated with the Neild Family, US Forest Service, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Cinnabar, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and all of those who worked to secure federal Land and Water Conservation Funds. 

“This project celebrates many winners. It’s not only you and I and the people of Montana, but also elk, mule deer, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, other critters and, of course, the pure-blood westslope cutthroat trout that live in Ray Creek. 

“We express our sincere thanks to all who made this day possible. Again, we thank our partners, our volunteers and members, and each of you for your support of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.”
Mike Mueller, Barbara and George O'Dore, Edwina Hankinson (Barbara's sister)
and Bob Dennee, retired US Forest Service team leader
(Left to right)
MT Fish, & Wildlife Conservation Trust Manager George Bettas, Jennifer Doherty, RMEF Board of Directors member
Mike Baugh, George and Barbara O'Dore, Edwina Hankinson, Bill Orsello of the MT Fish & Wildlife Conservation Trust
and RMEF Board of Directors member Chuck Roady
(Left to right)
Ray Creek Conservation Project

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Public Access Secured to 41,000 Acres in Southwest Montana

MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation teamed up with a private landowner, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service (USFS), Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and local sportsmen groups to secure permanent public access to approximately 41,344 acres of public lands in time for Montana’s 2014 general big game hunting season.

“This strikes at the very core of our mission,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “RMEF is committed to seeking and finding avenues like this particular project to open public access for increased recreational opportunities like hunting.”

RMEF funding assisted in the purchase of a 30-foot wide permanent road easement to cross 0.66 miles, in three separate road segments, of a private ranch through two drainages in the Medicine Lodge area approximately 35 miles southwest of Dillon in Beaverhead County. The project improves access to both the Tendoy and Beaverhead Mountains. 

More specifically, the easement provides 0.16 miles of motorized access to Ayers Canyon (Hunting District 328) between the Medicine Lodge Road and BLM ownership as well as motorized access to Kate Creek (Hunting District 302) through two private segments of 0.29 and 0.21 miles on the northwest corner of Ellis Peak. (These areas are also included in Hunting District 300 for antelope.) The road previously alternated between BLM and private ownership, and the public portions are designated as Road 70095 on both the BLM and USFS ownership. (See maps below.)

 “These types of collaborative efforts continue to ensure that sportsmen and women have access to public lands throughout Montana,” says FWP spokesperson Ron Aasheim. “Partnerships are key to FWP’s management of resources which we hold in trust for all Montanans.”

"Improving public access to encourage the public's responsible use and enjoyment of their lands and resources continues to be a high priority for BLM, both locally and nationally,” said Cornie Hudson, BLM Dillon Field Office Manager. “The partnerships that made this project possible could be a model for future access projects of this nature. Thank you partners!”

RMEF also partnered with the BLM Dillon Field Office in 2013 to complete construction on a road project that re-opened and improved public access to more than 9,355 additional acres at Cow Creek in the Medicine Lodge drainage (see map below).
“When you combine our work from last year with these two new projects, RMEF has now improved access to more than 50,000 acres of public lands in this drainage over the last two years alone,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. 

Other project partners include the Beaverhead Outdoors Association and the Skyline Sportsmen’s Association.

Since 1984, RMEF has opened or secured access to more than 215,000 acres in Montana and 758,000 acres nationally across elk country for hunting, hiking, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded over 30 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of more than 200,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 6.5 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A "Gang" of Elk?

They're calling us what?
(Photo courtesy Charlie Cropp)
A link recently popped up on my TweetDeck titled Ten Things That Might Surprise You About Elk. Elk are amazing creatures and have all sorts of unique characteristics so, given that I work for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, I was a bit intrigued.

Once I started to skim over the list I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t really that surprised. Though nothing close to any kind of wildlife biologist, I do know a little something about elk. In fact, much of what I learned comes from one of the best online sources of elk biology—just click on the Elk Facts link on RMEF’s website, www.rmef.org

Back to the list. Near the bottom of it something surprising did jump out at me. Or should I say it snuck up on me like, well…this is what it stated: 

“You think you see a bunch of elk? No, you see a gang of elk.
Their group name is gang. How cool is that?”

Gang? A gang of elk? A herd of elk, sure I’ve heard of that. Or say...50-head of elk, I’ve heard folks refer to a group of elk in that manner too. But a gang of elk? I needed to get to the bottom of this. 

A massive gang of elk? (Photo courtesy Rapid City Journal)

So what does one do when he or she needs instant information? Hello Google! I typed in “What do you call a group of elk?” What I found surprised me. 

The very first link from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, one of 18 science and technology centers in the Biological Resources Discipline of the U.S. Geological Survey, offered a list of animal congregations (see table below). And there it was located between elephants and ferrets at the number 12 slot: Elk = a gang

So does that mean we should refer to a bachelor group of elk as a gang of elk? I wasn’t satisfied. I visited the offices of our Bugle magazine staffers. Between the four of them, they have more than six and a half decades of experience researching and writing about wild wapiti. 

“Have you ever heard of a gang of elk?” I inquired of one of them. “No, but I like the sound of that,” came the answer in return. It turns out not one of them had ever heard of the word gang when referring to a group of elk.

A bachelor gang? (Photo courtesy Nancy Leja)
I then headed down the RMEF headquarters hallway to chat with our director of science planning. He is a man who spent more than a quarter century as a biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department before coming to RMEF. On top of that, he was based in Jackson which is home to the National Elk Refuge, a place where hundreds if not more than a thousand elk spend their winter months. He knows more about elk, especially from an up-close and hands-on biological perspective, than anybody I know. His response? “No, never heard of that,” and he chuckled as he answered.

Another RMEF staffer pointed me in the direction of what may be the genesis of the great elk gang debate. Apparently, according to Wikipedia anyway, “the best known source of many of the bizarre words used for collective groupings of animals is The Book of Saint Albans, an essay on hunting published in 1486.” That’s 528 years ago!

Many of the terms of venery (with venery as an ancient word for hunting) or groupings’ names are interesting and creative, but not scientific. Some of them are down-right humorous. Below are some of my favorites:

Animal               Collective Noun

Antelope              tribe
Ape                      shrewdness
Bear                     sloth
Bison                    obstinancy
Cat                       cluster
Crocodile             congregation
Giraffe                  tower
Gnu                      implausibility
Hyena                   cackle
Octopus                consortium
Owl                       parliament
Penguin                waddle
Starling                 murmuration
Tiger                     ambush
Wildcat                 destruction

Interestingly enough, among those species not mentioned on this specific list is the crow. The collective name for a group of crows is a flock or a murder. But back to our quest. 

Other species given the collective group name of gang include bison, weasels and turkeys. I still don’t think gang scientifically applies as the correct word for a group of elk but I believe, if not scientifically then at least realistically according to my experience, it most definitely applies for one particular species. 

A gang of grouse?
The collective names I researched for grouse include pack, brood or even thunder, however gang most definitely applies. Any elk hunter must certainly agree. After all, how many times have you had just about every sense –sight, sound and smell while also monitoring the breeze– on high alert as you slowly and stealthily make your way through the silence of the woods or along a calm forested mountain ridgeline and, ostensibly out of nowhere, a grouse explodes from beneath your feet and flies into the air? Scare…me…to…DEATH! It’s happened too many times. My heart rate immediately spikes and each time I wonder how many minutes or hours or months such scary encounters shaved off my life. That’s my gang-related reaction to a solitary or a group of grouse.

So is it a gang or is it a herd? I guess you can call a group of elk whatever you’d like. I call elk many things—majestic, regal and elusive are a few terms that immediately come to mind. And if I’m fortunate in the field this fall, I’ll place one in the freezer and then I’ll call it dinner.

Mark Holyoak
RMEF Director of Communication

Photo courtesy Don Detrick

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Admiral Michelle Howard Talks about RMEF[1]

With a smile on her face and the internal drive to match her ongoing commitment to her country, Michelle Howard stepped to the front of the room at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, and had four-star shoulder boards pinned to her shoulders. That simple act made her the first woman to be promoted to the rank of four-star admiral in the 239-year history of the United States Navy.

(July 2014) Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, left, and Wayne Cowles,
husband of Adm. Michelle Howard, put four-star shoulder boards on Howard
(US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist
Peter D. Lawlor/Released)
“It’s a great Navy and a great opportunity for women,” Howard said immediately after the promotion ceremony. “My rank today lets them know that they can go from ensign to admiral.”

Michelle Howard grew up in Aurora, Colorado, before heading off to the U.S. Naval Academy.  She graduated from Annapolis and was commissioned an Ensign in 1982.  She now serves as the 38th vice chief of naval operations.

“I figured out a long time ago there are 168 hours in a week and you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do with them, what you’ll focus on and make sure you cover everything,” said Howard.

(Sept. 2013) Aboard the Japan maritime Self- Defense Force
helicopter destroyer JDS Hyuga in Tokyo
(US Navy photo by Mass
Communication Specialist 1st Class
Joshua Karsten/Released)
Howard is obviously no stranger to brainstorming, formulating plans and executing those plans by successfully working with others. She and husband Wayne Cowles, a hunting guide for nearly two decades, are long-time members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation who joined in 1994. They also served alongside other RMEF volunteers as committee members.

“He heard about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and said ‘Hey, there’s a chapter here in D.C. Let’s go to a banquet.’ I said ‘Sure, I’m in.’ We were members and I bought Wayne’s life membership as a gift and then I bought my life membership as a gift to myself. I’ve tried to be a sponsor member every year. We sponsored a couple of rifles at banquets. I think it’s been 10 years I’ve been sponsoring.”

Wayne and Michelle fishing for Wyoming
trout in the 1990s
When asked whether she hunts, Howard answer is simple but impassioned. “No, I fish. And I don’t get to fish much anymore either which is exceedingly disappointing. I’m a big trout fisherman! With Wayne, there were a couple of times when he would go hunting and I would go along. He says, ‘You’re the perfect hunting buddy because you can tag along, keep up on the trail, help around camp and, of course, because you don’t hunt you don’t have as good as hunting stories as I do.’ Even the last two years, if he has a day to go bird hunting out locally, I’ll go out with him.”

Wayne and Michelle own a Weimaraner hunting dog that is both an amateur and field trial champion.

Greeting President Obama at
Naval Station Norfolk
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass
Communication Specialist 1st Class
RJ Stratchko/Released)
“It’s just fantastic to watch the dog work and Wayne’s a very skilled shooter watching him bring in the birds. And the pheasant is so good to eat as well. It’s always a good thing to be outdoors and see people in the sporting element and get to watch the dogs work, ride a horse, fish…those are great days when you can fish.” Howard added.

Looking ahead, Howard relishes opportunities to safeguard her country and serve her fellow Americans in her new position. She also appreciates those who serve by looking after America’s vital landscapes.

What appeals to me most about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is the purpose to make sure the wildlife that’s out there that we have today is still out there for generations to come. In pursuing that angle of making sure elk have a healthy habitat, have a place to breathe and thrive, we save so much of the country for other species and sporting endeavors whether it’s fishing, bowhunting or even taking photographs. By conserving this landscape we do so much more for this country, our fellow citizens and future citizens.”

Congratulations Michelle Howard. We salute you for your continuing service to our country and for your dedication to elk and elk country.

[1] The views expressed by Michelle Howard are offered in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the US Government.

(July 2009) As commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, Howard visited with junior enlisted Sailors on
the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry stationed in the Red Sea 

(May 2009) Addressing Sailors and Marines assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Boxer on the Indian Ocean
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Laura A. Moore/Released)

(June 2010) Aboard the Royal Danish Navy command and support ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the Baltic Sea
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Jenniffer Rivera/Released)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Elk 101-Do Elk Eat Dirt?

Below is an excerpt from the November/December issue of Bugle, magazine of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

If you took vitamins as a kid, your parents probably told you they would help you grow up big and strong. The minerals in the supplements were important for your body. They’re important for elk, too. Of course, elk don’t take vitamins. They just eat dirt. 

Elk love mineral salts, including sodium, and elk will often eat mineralized soils or drink salt-bearing waters to get them. 

Just as eating only burgers every day wouldn’t give humans the balanced diet we need, grazing and browsing doesn’t necessarily provide all of the nutrition an elk requires either. Mineral licks are great sources of what grass and shrubs lack—not only sodium, but magnesium, phosphorus, carbonates, sulfates and inorganic sulfur.

The minerals found in salt licks help elk to recover from hard winters, grow antlers, keep a healthy coat and lay down fat stores for the coming winter. They also help nursing cows restock on the nutrition they lose through lactation. 

Carbonates help elk digest new spring growth, which can otherwise be hard on an elk’s stomach. And inorganic sulfur is used by microflora, tiny microorganisms that live in elks’ rumen, to create certain amino acids. When the elk later digests the microflora, the amino acids are used to help grow connective tissue and that highly-prized set of antlers. 

Courtesy Antler Canyon Outfitters
Elk will habitually flock to salt licks, so much that some have seen hundreds of years’ worth of lapping tongues. In Pennsylvania, some ancestral elk and deer paths leading to salt licks near the Susquehanna River were so large and well-trodden that the state co-opted them when they chose routes and built what have now become major roadways. 

Mineral licks are so attractive to elk that most states prohibit the use of any artificial licks during hunting seasons and punish offenders for illegal baiting. 

While a dirt snack might not sound like the most appetizing thing on the menu now that you’re grown up, for elk it remains a favorite for everything from calves to herd bulls and lead cows. 

Kasey Rahn, Bugle Intern

To get your own subscription to Bugle magazine by becoming a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, go here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bill Hines: A Friend to Oregon Elk

Bob and Tucker accept RMEF Conservation
Partners Award
Oregonians have a better view of elk thanks to Bill Hines. A life member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and retired biologist after 34 years with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Hines recently received the RMEF Conservation Partners Award for his outstanding efforts and long-standing commitment to Oregon’s elk country. Unfortunately he was unable to accept the award in person due to a bout with advanced Parkinson’s disease so his son Bill and grandson Tucker accepted in his behalf.

Hines is revered as a visionary. He brokered a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and ODFW to create the 1,040 acre Dean Creek Wildlife Area. Located in the beautiful Oregon Coast Range east of Reedsport, the popular Roosevelt elk viewing area was once a private ranch. Today, it stretches three miles along Highway 38 and includes more than 1,000 acres of marsh, meadow and forestland. That critical habitat remains protected for elk and other wildlife to enjoy. It also brings enjoyment to more than half a million of us who travel there every year to watch elk in an up-close manner. 

“Bill recognized the value of this land for both the elk and the public. He worked for many years to see this become a reality,” said Steve Denney, former ODFW southwest region manager. “The elk viewing area essentially created a refuge for elk, addressed a past damage problem, and continues to give the public an opportunity to see elk and other wildlife up close.”

Dean Creek Wildlife Area is home to a resident elk herd numbering up to 200 as well as black-tailed deer, coyotes, heron, osprey, bald eagles, waterfowl and a variety of other bird and animal life. It also provided a unique research opportunity for area universities. Hines further enhanced the elk viewing experience of all wildlife watchers by developing a low wattage radio station that visitors can listen to as they pass through.

ODFW previously honored Hines with a plaque set in stone and benches near the interpretive kiosk at the viewing area. RMEF, too, thanks Bill for his years of dedication to Oregon’s elk and elk country. We now have a better view thanks to your efforts.

A beautiful day at Dean Creek Wildlife Area