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

Monday, April 29, 2013

RMEF War Cry: Save the Aspens & Kill the Weeds!

From elk to grouse to moose to woodpeckers, wildlife love aspen trees. Aspen stands encourage the growth of different types of grasses and shrubs that provide food and shelter for critters of all shapes and sizes. They have relatively short life spans of 80 to 120 years, but the root system of the colony can live up to thousands of years. However, there’s a problem. Aspens are becoming scarcer in the West. Some experts suggest aspen stands shrunk by 50 to 60 percent over the last 150 years because of disease, drought, overgrazing by wildlife and domestic animals, encroachment of coniferous forests and fire suppression. 

And then there are weeds. Those obnoxious invasive plants like to bunch together to crowd out the good. That’s where the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation comes into play. RMEF is committed to killing the noxious “greenery” to clear the way for native grasses while also carrying out habitat enhancement projects that benefit the white-barked aspens. Both those efforts recently came together in northwest Montana. But to better appreciate it, you have to take a bit of a historical approach.

Back in 1998, RMEF retained a consultant to work with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to carry out preliminary work that eventually led to a conservation agreement with Plum Creek Timber on private timber lands in the Thompson-Fisher drainages. The Trust for Public Land went on to complete the conservation easement between FWP and Plum Creek that permanently protected 142,000 acres from subdivision and development while opening the land to public access. 

2008 project site (pre-treatment on left, post-treatment on right)
RMEF volunteers, Plum Creek personnel and Mild Fence Company also combined on a project to build an exclosure to promote the regeneration of aspens within the conservation easement. Crews removed pine trees and constructed 9.5 acres of 8-strand fencing measuring 8 feet in height, built in two stages, to keep wildlife out. Monitoring shows the fencing is successful in keeping out wildlife but not the weeds. Knapweed moved in so subsequent treatment followed to deal with it and that created a lush growth of grasses. 

Fast forward to four years later when, in 2012, the fight continued. RMEF awarded Plum Creek with a $15,000 grant to chemically treated 220 miles of roads within intermingled Plum Creek and State lands within the conservation easement. Crews again went to work and also set up 22 different knapweed weevil biocontrol sites. 

The fight is not over. It will continue. The project area remains in high use as big game winter range. RMEF will keep monitoring the aspens, work to keep knocking back the weeds, and do what is necessary to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.                                 

Sportsmen’s Organizations Defend the Scientific Delisting of the Western Great Lakes Wolf Populations

Washington, D.C. – Hunters and advocates for sustainable wildlife management are joining together to fight a legal challenge to the delisting of wolves of the Western Great Lakes. The large collaboration is a unique endeavor for national and regional organizations who recognize wolves as recovered in the Midwestern United States and who strive to make certain that management of the predator species remains with state wildlife authorities.

The national hunter-conservationist organizations include the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Safari Club International (SCI), , and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF); the regional sportsmen’s organizations include the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Upper Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, and the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association. Collectively these organizations speak for those who hunt wolves, deer, moose, elk, and other game species and who seek to make sure that hunting remains part of sustainable management and conservation strategies for all wildlife.

The group, collectively named “Hunter Conservation Coalition” seeks to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live, and Friends of Animals and their Environment in federal court in the District of Columbia.

Wolves in the Western Great Lakes region, which consists of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and parts of bordering states, were removed from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection in January of 2012 after exceeding population recovery goals. If successful, the lawsuit would return wolves in the region to federal protection under the ESA, a move that would again prohibit state wildlife agencies from managing them.

Quotes from National Hunter-Conservationist Organizations:

“America’s hunting heritage is under attack from extreme organizations that seek to eliminate hunting by limiting opportunity and access for all Americans. Their efforts to oppose the removal of wolves from the Endangered Species List contradict sound science, which has determined that the wolf population is able to thrive under state wildlife management.” -- Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

“Numbering more than 4,000 strong, the gray wolf is fully recovered in the Great Lakes region and it is of paramount importance that everyone recognizes that states, not the federal government, are best qualified to manage the species. This lawsuit, like so many previous frivolous filings, will frustrate science-based management and cause conservation damage into the future. There is no credible science that supports claims that state management threatens to push populations to the brink of extinction. Wolf researchers and experts like Dr. David Mech, founder of the International Wolf Center, already stated that regulated hunting by states will not negatively affect the states' wolf populations. In fact there is very recent credible evidence in both Idaho and Montana that regulated hunting and trapping of gray wolves is not harming the overall wolf population as both states have the autonomy to manage their wolf populations and they are using best science practices." --David Allen, RMEF president & CEO

“Many of our organizations are seasoned participants in litigation that challenges scientifically based wildlife management. SCI and several members of our coalition have gone to court many times to defend against similar attacks by animal rights’ advocates. The anti-hunting organizations use litigation to drive their agendas, sidelining science and ignoring those who have a direct stake in the management of the species. They have attempted to undermine the delisting of Western Great Lakes wolf populations, as they have with the delisting of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming’s wolves. We hope the court sees through this feeble attempt to halt the management successes of the Western Great Lakes.” -- John Whipple, President SCI

“Wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes region have far exceeded all recovery goals set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite repeatedly fighting this issue in court, anti-hunting organizations are once again attempting to manipulate the ESA through the court system to overturn the delisting. Not only does this threaten the future of scientific wildlife management and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, it flies in the face of the intent of the ESA in the first place. If allowed to intervene, USSAF and the members of the Hunter Conservation Coalition will ensure sportsmen’s voices are heard in the case.” -- Bud Pidgeon, USSAF President and CEO

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

RMEF Volunteers Help Elk Quench Thirst in Arizona

Nothing hits home like a swig of water under the scorching Arizona sun. Same goes for elk. And those elk that live in the Kaibab National Forest in the north-central part of the state now have a new watering hole. Check that, they have three new watering holes!

Eight volunteers from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Flagstaff and Red Mountain chapters installed the 10,000 gallon water catchment tanks in Arizona’s famed Game Management Unit (GMU) 9. They teamed up with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (link) to finish the project last fall. The work included grading, excavation, construction and the assembly of tanks, plumbing, a drinker trough, an apron, apron fencing and a perimeter fence. 

Though the site itself is small, covering a mere one acre in size, its ramifications are far-reaching. GMU 9 has no perennial streams, rivers, lakes, or springs. The only natural waters are small, short-lived bodies that develop in low-lying areas where seasonal runoff collects so they don’t stick around very long. This habitat enhancement project reduces impacts to vegetation and soil resources around existing water developments by better distributing elk habitat use patterns throughout the district. It also reduces water hauling costs to wildlife water developments. 

And it doesn’t help just elk either. Mule deer, pronghorn, birds and other critters will also take advantage of the water supply, plus it will create a more sustainable system, allow for potential growth of the elk population, and potentially increase hunting opportunity. 

Thanks again to our dedicated RMEF volunteers! Combined, they worked 156 hours and traveled 1,574 miles to help elk better quench their thirst.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Put 'em Up: RMEF Recognized for Fight against Noxious Weeds

Nobody likes weeds—especially elk! Invasive weeds choke out grass and forage in critical range land across elk country. That’s why the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation seeks to constantly flex its collective muscle against all types of noxious weeds.

That’s also why the U.S. Forest Service recently honored RMEF with its 2012 Outstanding Partner Against Invasive Species Award which recognizes a partner or cooperator with the Forest Service that demonstrated outstanding collaboration, cooperation, and achievements related to the management of invasive species at the national, regional, or community level.

Tale of the tape: RMEF vs. noxious weeds
  • Weed control projects date back to 1989 
  • Funding provided for more than 679 weed control projects 
  • More than $5.6 million invested 
  • Public/private partners kicked in an additional $27 million 
  • More than 540,000 acres of prime elk habitat affected 
  • Contributed $2.5 million for efforts on National Forest lands 
  • 349 projects on 45 different National Forests and 3 National Grasslands 
  • Ecologists estimate for every acre directly treated, at least two more acres remain weed-free 
  • If you do that math, RMEF helped keep more than 1.5 million acres free of noxious weeds 

Below is the official declaration:

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, in recognition of their exceptional work as a partner with the Forest Service to manage invasive species threatening aquatic and terrestrial areas of the National Forest System and beyond. The RMEF partnership has helped restore and protect tens of millions of acres of habitat for native fish and wildlife, in multiple states and on numerous National Forests and Grasslands. Their work includes efforts to inventory and map invasive species, prevent and control infestations, conduct early detection activities, educate and raise awareness about the invasive species threat, provide funding for treatment equipment and supplies, and also to rally and unite a multitude of external partners in the public and private sectors to maximize the effectiveness of these invasive species management efforts across the broader landscape.

Deputy Chief, National Forest System

Monday, April 15, 2013

RMEF: Wolf Management is Working

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released data that shows there were a minimum of 1,674 wolves and a minimum of 321 confirmed packs in the Northern Rocky Mountain region at the end of 2012. The count represents a 12 percent increase in the number of wolf packs and a nearly 7 percent decrease in the overall population.

“This proves, in solid numbers, that the states are completely capable of managing wolves,” said David Allen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “This also shows that hunting and trapping did not decimate the wolf population whatsoever.” 

The FWS fully anticipated state management would result in reduced populations, given the management goals established in each state’s wolf plan. Despite increased levels of take resulting from sport hunting and control efforts, FWS Director Dan Ashe said the population continued to thrive. 
CID = Central Idaho Wolf Recovery Area
GYA = Greater Yellowstone Wolf Recovery Area
NWMT = Northwest Montana Wolf Recovery Area

“The recovery of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies continues to be one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act, and we are intensely monitoring wolf populations to ensure they remain healthy and robust under state management,” said Ashe. “We believe that professional wildlife management and the strong wildlife corridors we’ve established will ensure that the gray wolf remains a part of the landscape in the West for future generations of Americans.” 

The original recovery plan had goals of an equitably distributed wolf population containing at least 300 wolves and 30 breeding pairs in three recovery areas within Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for at least three consecutive years. Totals hit those objectives in 2002. The latest population estimate shows the overall minimum population is now at least five times larger. 

“This report supports the effective and appropriate management approach taken by the states, demonstrating that the implementation of their management plans continues to maintain a healthy wolf population at or above established recovery goals,” said Noreen Walsh, Regional Director for the FWS Mountain-Prairie Region. 

Wolf packs, especially breeding pairs, remain within the three core recovery areas in northwestern Montana/Idaho Panhandle, central Idaho, and the Greater Yellowstone Area, and again were confirmed in eastern Washington and Oregon. There are no documented packs in Utah. 

During the year, Montana removed 108 wolves by agency control and harvested 175 wolves in its hunting season; Idaho removed 73 wolves by agency control and harvested 329 wolves by public hunting; and in Wyoming, agency control removed 43 wolves while hunters took 66 through regulated hunting. Washington removed seven wolves. In Oregon, agency control removed no wolves. There was not a hunting harvest of wolves in Washington or Oregon. 

“Hunters have played a key role for decades in helping to manage and sustain dozens of game populations in North America, and they can do the same for wolves,” said Mike Jimenez, FWS Recovery Coordinator for the Northern Rockies population. “Hunting remains an accepted and successful wildlife management tool that helps to reduce conflicts with humans, maintain stable populations and generate public support. We’re encouraged by the results of the trophy game hunts in each state.” 

“We look forward to years of continued science-based state management to better keep wolf numbers under control,” added Allen. 

Read the full Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2012 Interagency Annual Report here. 

Disbursement of Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf Packs  

Friday, April 12, 2013

RMEF Gets a South Dakota Surprise

Everybody likes a surprise. And that’s exactly what happened when a couple of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation representatives showed up at a two-day South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) monthly meeting in Winner. 

RMEF Regional Director Tom Slowey and Volunteer State co-Chair Jerry Hirrschoff made a point to attend because the GFP Commission planned to discuss informational reports about elk and mountain lions. What they did not know is they too were on the agenda. Before they knew it, they got the call to come up front and receive a plaque for ongoing cooperation between GFP and RMEF. 

There are several ongoing cooperative efforts between RMEF and GFP. South Dakota issues a limited number of elk tags for Custer State Park. These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to hunt "any elk" in the park. In 1990, GFP gave one of these tags to the 18 RMEF chapters to raffle. All of the net proceeds go to assist elk via on-the-ground elk habitat projects in the Black Hills. The tag normally raises more than $20,000. Because of the declining number of elk in the park the commission redefined the tag last year so it is good anywhere in the Black Hills. In May, RMEF will draw for the tag. In July, the funds raised will be combined with the money RMEF already allocated to South Dakota’s Project Advisory Committee. This year, RMEF will have more than $85,000 to put toward on-the-ground projects. 

RMEF volunteers in South Dakota also helped stretch project dollars by volunteering for numerous GFP projects. Each year during the summer rendezvous (annual gatherings of RMEF volunteers that take place in each individual state) in June, volunteers meet in the Black Hills and get their hands dirty on projects arranged by GFP or the US Forest Service. These efforts may be centered on fence removal or improvement, water guzzler repairs or whatever the agencies come up with. At least one evening of the rendezvous is spent with biologists and other agency staff over steaks and burgers. A regular guest is the biologist conducting an elk study in the Southern Hill/Custer State Park area that RMEF helped fund since 2010. 

GFP Outdoor Campus-West (Rapid City)
Two years ago, GFP also used RMEF funds to help build a new Outdoor Campus-West in Rapid City which is used to educate youth and adults about outdoor skills, wildlife, conservation and management practices in order to preserve South Dakota’s outdoor heritage. 

RMEF and GFP have a relationship that dates back to 1990. Since then, RMEF and its partners completed 196 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects with a combined value of more than $32.3 million. That work includes prescribed burns, forest thinning, aspen regeneration, fence replacement, water development, elk and predator research, hunting heritage education for kids and adults, and protecting and enhancing nearly 62,000 acres in South Dakota. 
Tony Lief (GFP Director of Wildlife), Tom Slowey, Jerry Hirrschoff & Jeff Vonk (Secretary of GFP)
(left to right)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Public Approval of Hunting Hits 17-Year High

If you are a hunter, more Americans support that activity right now than at any time since 1995. A new survey conducted by the independent research firm Responsive Management for the National Shooting Sports Foundation shows 79 percent of Americans approve of hunting. 

Conducted in February 2013, the nationwide scientific survey showed public approval of hunting rose five points in the past year, up from 74 percent in 2011. 

The survey used using random digit dialing and supplemental cellular telephone sampling, was the fifth in a series of similar surveys by Responsive Management to track trends in public approval of hunting since 1995. Support for hunting remained generally consistent–73 percent in 1995; 75 percent in 2003; 78 percent in 2006; 74 percent in 2011; and a peak of 79 percent in 2013. 

“Approval of hunting among Americans is fairly stable and bounces between 73 and 79 percent,” said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Response Management. “The reasons for this increase are still unclear, but it is probably related to the increase in hunting and shooting participation.” 

The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation National Overview indicates 13.7 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older, went hunting. That marks a 9 percent increase in hunting participation since 2006. Duda also said shooting participation increased 18 percent since 2009. 

“Other studies we have conducted on public opinion on hunting show that the strongest correlation for approval of hunting is knowing a hunter–over and above demographic variables or anything else. With the increased number of hunters in the field and sport shooters at the range, it is possible that this is being reflected in this uptick in support for hunting,” added Duda. 

One thousand Americans 18 years old and older took part in the survey to achieve a sampling error of plus or minus 3.00 percentage points. More than half (52%) of those surveyed strongly approved of hunting. At the other end of the spectrum, 12 percent of Americans disapprove of hunting—the lowest such rate since public tracking began in 1995. Another 8 percent neither approve nor disapprove (total does not equal 100% due to rounding).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Soldier/Elk Hunter Gives a Shout-Out to RMEF from Afghanistan

Complacency is not an option. That can lead to dangerous or catastrophic results.

They work long, often monotonous hours with detailed precision but must constantly adapt themselves to change while remaining on the highest state of alertness. They go about their daily duties with the eyes of an eagle and the focus of a bloodhound. Simply put, they clear the way for those who follow. They are Army soldiers and members of the 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Route Clearance Patrol (RCP) 29. Their mission is to make sure the roadways of Afghanistan are free of improvised explosive devices so Coalition Forces, and Afghan civilians alike, can safely pass with confidence. 

Among them is Sergeant First Class Jeffrey Garland, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Army. Jeff is from a small town in the mountains of western North Carolina called Black Mountain. He is also an avid outdoorsman and an elk hunter. 

“I have hunted elk in Washington state and Colorado when I was stationed there. Since then my schedule has not allowed for me to make any elk hunting trips,” said Garland. “I have also enjoyed taking my sister and nephew to see elk for their first time in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina on leave prior to this deployment. Again, thanks for your efforts in that reintroduction.” 

Jeff is also a proud member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Longing for a piece of home, he recently contacted RMEF on behalf of the 34 members of his platoon. RMEF staffers, excited to help out, quickly assembled a care package that included Bugle magazines, Cabelas water bottles, travel mugs, stickers and 15 RMEF hats. 

“The hats are allowed to be worn in our work areas and living areas so it almost normal to have a regular hat which feels great,” Jeff added. 

RCP-29 calls Fort Drum, New York, its home base which is located in the North Country a mere 30 miles from the St. Lawrence River and the Canadian border. The platoon, however, is made up of soldiers from California, Maine, Virginia, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Jeff is quick to point out that he’s not the only elk hunter in the group. The others are SSG Trevin Sparks of Stockton, California, CPL Dannyl Eden from Powell, Wyoming, and SPC Cameron Day of Sandpoint, Idaho. And from the sound of things, they won’t soon be alone. 

“Several others of my unit would love to hunt elk given the chance as they are avid hunters,” said Jeff. “And many are joining the RMEF in the near future thanks to your generosity and better understanding of your organization.” 

To SFC Jeffrey Garland and the soldiers of RCP-29, we salute you! Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your honorable service in our behalf. Be safe in carrying out your daily duties. We look forward to your safe return home. 

Below is an email that Jeff sent to RMEF: 

We received our package from the RMEF today and it was like Christmas. We really appreciate all that you did for us and I believe you may have a few more members in the near future. My boys were so excited to have your support and we have your card posted in our platoon area so we can look at it when we need a little pick me up. You folks rock and I will always be a strong supporter of RMEF, not only because I love to hear a bull bugle on a cool fall morning (and thanks to you I can hear it now in the mountains of western NC where I am from), but because of all the support that you gave to my platoon. Words cannot express what that act of kindness does for my boys’ morale. I hope you enjoy the pictures and I am working on a flag that will be flown over our little Forward Operating Base Orgun-E and will come with a certificate. As for the pictures with 33 soldiers, it's like herding cats especially after they got all the goodies. 

Thanks for everything, 

SFC Jeffrey Garland and RCP 29 

(Jeff says he will “one day become a life member when the opportunity presents itself.”)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Volunteers Pull Up Their Sleeves for California Elk

In 2011, the RMEF acquired the 640-acre Willow Foothill property with the intention of placing a conservation easement on it and selling it to a conservation buyer. But when we began searching for that conservation buyer, we found that our options were limited because of the economy.

So we moved on to Plan B, which was to take the property off the market for two years and, in the meantime, enter into a partnership with the California Department of Wildlife to allow public hunting, host conservation education programs, and spruce up wildlife habitat on the property, which hosts up to 300 Roosevelt’s elk during the fall and winter months.

Willow Foothills is a spectacular chunk of northern California, with Mt. Shasta as its backdrop, magnificent oaks punctuating its rolling hills and rich grasslands, and a meandering seasonal creek. The best part is that the property is practically untouched, with only a single dirt road and very little infrastructure, making it a wild, lonely place not only for elk, but also the deer, quail and other critters that call it home.

Though it’s a haven for wildlife, the habitat on the property was not quite what it could be. Some of the old fences were in tough shape, and too many junipers had invaded the hillsides, stealing water and nutrients critical to grasses growing beneath. Work needed to be done, and thankfully there were plenty of warm bodies willing to help. 

Throughout 2012, volunteers from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Siskiyou County Agricultural Department and Portola High School joined forces with adjacent ranchers and committee members from several RMEF chapters—including Northern California, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendo Lake—to mend broken fences, cut invading junipers and seed areas in an attempt to make the property safer for elk and restore it to a more historic and desirable mix of grasses, forbs and shrubs. 

All told, the volunteers put in 50 work days on the property last year, and they aren’t done yet. This year volunteers plan to gather again to repair springs located on the parcel.

In 2014, RMEF will put the Willow Hills property back on the market protected by a conservation easement and—thanks to help from a whole lot of volunteers—sporting much healthier habitat to support elk and other wildlife for years to come.

--Mike Ford, Regional Director, Northern California