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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Greater Yellowstone Area: An RMEF Footprint of Conservation Success

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was barely five years old when it garnered national attention by protecting key elk habitat in Paradise Valley immediately north of Yellowstone Park. The year was 1989, and RMEF's 3,275-acre acquisition at Dome Mountain would be the first of many projects the Foundation would accomplish in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

This effort grew in part out of an agreement between RMEF, the USFS Northern Region, Yellowstone National Park and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks that placed the Elk Foundation in a leading role in acquiring and forever protecting private lands within the migration route of the Northern Yellowstone elk herd. It also helped create a model that remains in place today for nonprofits to secure both habitat and public access in partnership with public agencies.

OTO Ranch 
In 1990, RMEF conveyed the 3,265 acre OTO Ranch to the Gallatin National Forest, soon followed by an additional 600 acres. In 1996, the 6,182 acre Porcupine project in the Upper Gallatin was added to the National Forest. Several smaller transactions were also completed around that same time, including property within the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.

RMEF then shifted to the west side of the National Park in 1994, completing a conservation easement on 7,527 acres in the Madison Valley at the foot of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.

Perhaps the biggest victory came in 1999 when RMEF reached a milestone agreement with the Church Universal and Triumphant. RMEF purchased 4,458 acres of the Church's Royal Teton Ranch land along the wild northern border of the National Park near Gardiner. It's now National Forest land that stretches down to the Yellowstone River and sits adjacent to the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. A conservation easement was also completed with the Church on another 1,500 acres.

Royal Teton Ranch
But RMEF's commitment to Greater Yellowstone goes beyond land protection. The Foundation has helped fund multiple wildlife research studies in the Yellowstone area and contributed funding for thousands of acres of prescribed burns, noxious weed treatments and other habitat enhancements on public lands in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

New projects have emerged in the Madison River corridor with the Bureau of Land Management and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks. One is on track for completion in 2014. The other may be launched in 2015. A bit further out are small, but significant projects including one to acquire land on the Nez Perce National Historic Trail for the Forest Service and another approximately 900 acres on the Idaho side of the park.

As wildlife starved by the thousands in the aftermath of the 1988 Yellowstone fires, the importance of healthy winter and summer ranges to these world-renowned wildlife herds was never more evident.

This helped propel RMEF and the federal and state agencies to assure that the rapid development brought on by the popularity of Yellowstone did not consume all the vital habitat beyond the Park's boundaries. It fit perfectly to the RMEF mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Landowners who love the land and habitat are the key participants in this continued effort, as is the support from the state and federal land management agencies and other land trusts. Several private and public funding sources have been vital in these efforts, particularly the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is up for renewal in 2015 but RMEF members and our partners have been vital as well, contributing their time, talents and money to this effort.

Since 1984, the RMEF and its partners have carried out more than 8,600 projects that enhanced or conserved more than 6.4 million acres of habitat nationwide including 271 specific projects in the Greater Yellowstone Area valued at $88,832,826 and positively affecting 765,319 acres.

-Bob Springer
RMEF Project Development Specialist

(This article will appear in Conserve Montana – a Project of the Cinnabar Foundation.)

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