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

Friday, July 11, 2014

Habitat Council Celebrates Momentum, Views Successful Project, Plans to Do More

Yvonne & RMEF co-Founder Charlie Decker, Habitat Council
co-chairs Nanch & Howard Holland, Vicki and RMEF co-Founder
Bob Munson (left to right)
It was a record-setting weekend to remember for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Eighty-seven members of RMEF’s Habitat Council (HC) –the most ever for such a gathering– came together June 19-21, 2014, in Vancouver, Washington, for the annual summer retreat and meeting. Some made the cross country trek from as far away as Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In all, HC attendees represented 18 different states.

But this was not any sort of formal, stuffy meeting. When the HC comes together, laughter, smiles, handshakes and hugs abound. In reality, it is a gathering of “family.” Members are bound together through friendship, common bonds and shared belief in family, country, God and RMEF’s mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. 

On board the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler

A caravan of ten RMEF-marked passenger vans transported the group across the Oregon-Washington border to Cascade Locks, Oregon, for a dinner cruise on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler. In addition to the on-board meal, HC members walked the three decks of the paddle-wheeler to take in breathtaking 360 degree views of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. They also watched Native Americans continue their centuries old tradition of fishing for salmon from along the many riverside platforms.

The following morning, the convoy headed south to Portland for a tour of Danner, a sponsor-partner and friend of the RMEF. Participants witnessed the hustle and bustle and yet controlled precision of a state-of-the-art facility that cranks out American-made boots for hunters, hikers and others to enjoy. There are approximately 253 steps to make one single boot and the factory churns out about 1,200 boots per day. Then it was off to the nearby “candy” store. That is, a Danner store where racks and racks of boots of all styles, shapes and sizes, plus other Danner hats and apparel, were available for purchase. 

The business portion of the weekend took place on Friday afternoon. It included State of the RMEF and mission update reports as well as an overview of the following day’s field trip. 

“We are the strongest that we’ve ever been in our 30 years,” said Lee Swanson, chairman of the RMEF Board of Directors. “If I were a corporate stockholder I would say ‘I want to buy more stock in this company’ because the RMEF is that good.” 

The main focus of the meeting shifted to an HC strategic plan review followed by a brainstorming breakout session.

“You are the investors. You put your assets forward expecting a return,” said Nancy Holland, HC co-chair. “Our goal with our strategic plan is to harness the passion you have and push that out and grow the levels of members within the Habitat Council up the donation chain.”

“Eighty-eight percent of you in the room have donated in the last 36 months. That says a lot about the passion and drive and quality of everyone here today. Forty percent of you already made gifts in the first five months this year.” added Holland. “We have a tremendous trend started. It means what we’re doing is working. It means people really like the mission of this organization. They are committed to this organization.”

The breakout session allowed individual members to chime in on action items designed to move the HC and its strategic plan forward. That was followed by individual presentations and a group discussion.

“My vision is to elevate the business model of the organization. My other focus is to increase the development area including a larger Habitat Council, more activities and recognition of those who have supported the RMEF,” said Swanson. “This organization should grow proportionately with the rest of what we do. My view is it’s going to grow.”

The highlight of the weekend was Saturday’s project field tour designed to give HC members a first-hand look at wildlife habitat management on land conserved by RMEF and PacifiCorp in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens. With input from RMEF, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service, PacifiCorp manages more than 13,000 acres of forestland. 

“We purposely look for land to create high nutrition forage for elk,” said Kirk Naylor, PacifiCorp principal scientist of Wildlife and Forestry, and also an RMEF life member. “If you don’t have significant forage for elk in the summer, they are not going to survive the winter and produce calves in the spring.”

The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, though devastating in many respects, was also extremely beneficial for elk and other wildlife. The blast created an abundant amount of forage. However, as time passed and the forest canopy above shielded sunlight from the forest floor below, that forage disappeared and gave way to ferns and other plant life not palatable by elk.

Mt. St. Helens
“Today 80 to 90 percent of forage is not favorable for elk. Minimum nutritional levels are not being met for most elk,” added Naylor. 

PacifiCorp acquired land below Mt. St. Helens to connect habitat, assist big game migration corridors and thwart the threat of nearby development. Naylor also oversaw thinning projects and the implementation of a series of clearcuts and subsequent planting and seeding specifically designed to improve feed.

Clearcuts (left) provide plentiful forage for wildlife but thick forest canopy provides little feed on forest floor
“We supply grass seed at 20 pounds per acre. Where possible, we mow and fertilize meadows and our transmission right-of-ways to provide permanent forage for elk,” said Naylor. “We plant trees but also prune trees to allow light to the understory. There is no light to the understory after eight or nine years in typical forest plantation. Pruning allows light to the understory for 15-16 years and that allows more forage production. Pruning, unfortunately, has also increased the amount of bear damage to trees because they have access to the tree trunk and they like it to get to the cadmium by stripping off the bark. While this impacts our tree production, the program is designed for enhancing all wildlife habitat while also retaining a sustainable forest."

We spotted several elk on the PacifiCorp land

The RMEF-PacifiCorp relationship is a solid and successful one. PacifiCorp is a gold benefactor of the RMEF, thanks to about $560,000 in contributions. The two groups teamed up to conserve nearly 1,000 acres of habitat in 2011 and more than 2,000 acres more in 2012.

“The future of elk in this area is good but not what it’s been in the past. What we’re doing is extremely important to maintain all our species—not just big game,” added Naylor. 

Following lunch, a number of vans headed toward much cooler temperatures underground at the popular Ape Caves in the Mt. St. Helens National Monument. Measuring 13,045 feet or more than two miles in length, the caves make up the longest lava tube in the continental United States. It formed about 2,000 years ago when lava poured down the southern flank of Mt. St. Helens in streams. As lava flowed, the outer edges of the lava stream cooled forming a hardened crust which insulated the molten lava beneath allowing it to remain hot in a “lava tube” as it flowed for months during the eruption. The lower cave, as pictured, is approximately .75 miles long and took us about 45 minutes to cover from one end to the other. 

At the farewell dinner that evening, friends shared goodbyes and made plans to meet again at upcoming RMEF events scattered across the nation later in the year (see below). They also shared the satisfaction that together they are making a significant difference for elk and elk country.

“This is not a distinct or separate group of the RMEF. This is the RMEF. The difference is we choose to provide charitable giving to the organization in addition to the other roles we fill,” said Holland.

And that, for the Habitat Council and other members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, is what donating to further the organization’s mission is all about.

To learn more about RMEF’s donation programs, go here

Below is a list of 2014 Habitat Partner Receptions/Stewardship/Cultivation/Rendezvous Events:

January 6-8        Cultivation Event Duck Hunt in NC
January 11         Habitat Partner Reception in Evansville, IN
January 17-18    Texas State Workshop
January 22-24    Cultivation Event in South Carolina
January 23          Habitat Partner Reception in Thermopolis, WY
January 24          Habitat Partner Reception in Kentucky
January 24-25    Wyoming State Winter Workshop in Thermopolis, WY 
February 14       Habitat Partner Reception in Columbus, OH
February 19       Habitat Partner Reception in Rancho Mirage, CA
February 21-22  RMEF Board Meeting in Phoenix, AZ 
February 22-24  Habitat Council Meeting & Retreat in Phoenix, AZ
Feb 28 – Mar 2  Habitat Partner in Reception in Rochester, NY
March 1             Habitat Partner Reception and BGB in Pittsburg, PA
March 21           Founders Breakfast in Sioux Falls, SD
March 17-20     4th Annual Southern Strutters Turkey Hunt in FL
March 27           Habitat Partner Reception in Grandville, MI
March 28           Habitat Partner Reception in Denver, CO
April 2                Habitat Partner Reception in San Antonio, TX
April 2-6            Stewardship Event Texas Turkey Hunt in San Antonio, TX
April 10              Habitat Partner Reception in Catskill Mountains, VT
April 11              Habitat Partner Reception in Alamo, CA
April 25              Habitat Partner Reception in Hood River, OR
May 5-9             Stewardship Event Montana Volunteer Turkey Hunt in MT
June 19-22         Habitat Council Meeting & Retreat in Vancouver, WA
June 19-21         Country Jam VIP Event Reception in Grand Junction, CO
June 28               Habitat Partner Reception in Cross Plains, WI 
July 10                Project Celebration/Tour of Headwaters of the John Day River in Prairie City, OR 
July 11                HP Reception in Atlanta, GA
July 11-13           Oregon Rendezvous in OR
July 24-26           RMEF Founders Tour in Troy & Missoula, MT 
August 9-10        Habitat Partner Tour & Reception in Boise, ID
August 15-17      Washington Rendezvous in WA
August 16-17      Cultivation Fishing Trip in VT
August 15            Habitat Partner Reception in Branson, MO
September 6        Habitat Partner Reception in WV
September 6-7     Bugle Days in WI
September 12-14 Habitat Partner Reception in PA
October 9-11       Step Up Event in Sunday River, ME
October 22-26     PBR World Finals in Las Vegas, NV
November 17       Stewardship/Cultivation Event – Whitetail Hunt in IL
December 4-7      Elk Camp in Las Vegas, NV

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