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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Looking Back and Charging Forward

David Allen
Last year will go down as one of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s best yet. We capped it off by setting a new record for membership. As of the final day of December, 196,079 people belonged to the RMEF, almost 12,000 higher than at the end of 2011. This marks RMEF’s fourth consecutive year of record growth. Our TV show, Team Elk, won fan favorite for best new series at the Outdoor Channel’s Golden Moose Awards. This past fall and winter, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Minnesota held their first modern wolf hunts, and Montana and Idaho built on their recent success of managing wolves through hunting and trapping. Our Hunting is Conservation campaign gained tremendous traction in 2012. That’s no surprise, because it’s a statement straight from the heart of this organization.

Plain and simple, RMEF is an outfit made up of elk hunters and those who embrace hunting and conservation as a way of life. Together, RMEF members have conserved well over 6 million acres of prime habitat spread out all across our great nation wherever wapiti roam. We aim to keep charging forward in 2013, but I want to pause and celebrate all that you helped accomplish for our mission last year. I asked our Vice President of Lands and Conservation, Blake Henning, to provide his perspective. 

Black Mountain, Nevada
It’s an honor to help put RMEF member dollars directly to work for wildlife, and 2012 was a year filled with a number of great firsts. We recorded our first conservation easement in Nevada—647 acres of key elk habitat on Black Mountain northeast of Wells. That was one of 21 permanent land protection projects we completed this past year, forever protecting 49,878 acres of America’s finest elk country across eight states.

Volunteers also chalked up more on-the-ground projects than ever before, spending their precious free time busting their backsides to improve the lives of elk by pulling miles of old fences from key travel corridors, installing dozens of new water sources in parched lands, and a host of other important habitat work.

Sam Dean/The Roanoke Times
But for me, it’s hard to beat the “first” of having wild elk make tracks into a place where they’ve been absent for more than a century. In 2012, Virginia finally welcomed elk home. This is a cause RMEF—and its Virginia volunteers in particular—advocated for tirelessly across the better part of two decades, despite being told again and again it would never happen. As you can read on page 60, our crazy dreams appear to be coming true. Just across Virginia’s western border, the RMEF helped reintroduce elk to Kentucky 16 years ago. Since then, the herd—now 10,000 strong—has paid huge economic, ecologic and social dividends, including a wildly popular elk hunt. Restoring elk to Virginia should have the same positive impact.  

That’s not to say it was a banner year in every respect. Since RMEF had a dollar to its name, it has worked tirelessly to multiply those dollars and put them to work improving elk habitat. Yet 2012 was a challenging year for one of our sharpest tools in this effort. Through its history, RMEF has helped fund prescribed burns across more than 1 million acres of key elk habitat. Fire rejuvenates forage for wildlife on a landscape-scale like few other things can. But fire is a double-edged sword that can only be wielded safely under the right conditions. Those conditions were in short supply in 2012. Take Colorado, home to a quarter of the world’s elk. It suffered one of its worst droughts in modern history, shutting down any hope of prescribed burning on all state and federal lands. The same was true across much of the West. Despite this, RMEF succeeded in enhancing more than 81,000 acres of habitat by battling noxious weeds, enhancing aspen, thinning overgrown timber and many other methods to complete 211 projects in 21 states. Yes, that’s short of the 100,000 acres we aim to enhance every year, but still an incredible number no matter how you slice it.

RMEF also closed two more phases of the multi-year effort to forever protect 8,200 acres of vital habitat along Montana’s Tenderfoot Creek. All told once this project is completed it will open new public access on almost 20,000 acres. And this tenderloin of elk habitat will remain a treasure for generations to come. This is only the tip of the iceberg for what we aim to accomplish for creating new public access. All I can say is buckle your seat belts.

Tenderfoot Creek, Montana
Acres are just one measure of mission success. Getting young people, women, wounded veterans and others involved in hunting and conservation has always been one of RMEF’s primary endeavors. In 2012, we helped fund projects in 43 states, reaching more than 350,000 children and adults.

As I hinted at earlier, we’ve got some incredibly exciting things brewing for 2013 and beyond. The RMEF is as committed as ever to the future of elk and other wildlife—and the future of elk hunting. I believe we are more capable of ensuring that future than ever before. We appreciate all you do to support our mission. Generations to come will thank you for it.

--M David Allen, RMEF President and CEO

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