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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Search of Public Access

“No trespassing.” The lettering on the sign appeared to stare as intently at me as I stared at it. There it was hanging on the same stretch of barbed wire fencing I’d crossed many times into what was my favorite closest-to-home hunting spot in western Montana. I wasn’t angry. I was mostly stunned. And then reality set in. I was no longer welcome on a tract of land where my son took his first doe at age 12 and where I shot a 5x6 whitetail buck. Its antlers (see below) still grace my office wall. In my particular case, a regional timber company that historically allows hunters, hikers, huckleberry pickers and others to enjoy their land started selling off large chunks of it as a way to better cope with a declining timber market. Bottom line: I was now permanently on the outside looking in.

Unfortunately, this scenario is being played out time and time again involving too many hunters around the nation. In fact, a lack of public access is reported to be the number one cause why hunters stop hunting. Many simply can no longer find a place to hunt so they give it up or, worse yet, decide it’s no longer worth it to pass on their hunting heritage to the next generation. And that decision has much more than just individual consequences. Fewer hunters mean the purchase of fewer guns, ammunition, bows, arrows and hunting licenses and fees which translates into less revenue generated specifically to fund land and wildlife conservation which is not good for habitat or the critters that rely on it.

The mission of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. Since 1984, RMEF protected or enhanced more than 6.4 million acres of habitat. If you do the math, that’s more than 588 acres per day, every day over its 30-year existence. A key part of that mission is an emphasis on public access. To date, RMEF opened or secured more than 713,000 acres for hunters. Again, if you do the math, that’s 65 acres opened or secured per day, every day since 1984.

In this “what have you done for me lately” world, RMEF remains active and vigilant. Staffers work with state agencies, federal agencies, landowners and other partner organizations and groups in seeking access to private land and through private land to landlocked public land. Below are five recent projects highlighting RMEF’s emphasis on public access:

July 2014
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) accepted a $50,000 grant from RMEF for expanding its Access Yes! program that will enroll approximately 40,000 acres of land to provide access to private land for sportsmen and women. IDFG is in a one year time frame between the expiration of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for access and applying for a second USDA grant. 

“RMEF is stepping up and helping out so we don’t have to terminate a number of agreements with landowners during this fall hunting season,” said Virgil Moore, IDFG Director. “We truly appreciate RMEF’s efforts to maintain recreational access for the citizens of Idaho.”

May 2014
RMEF teamed up with a group of conservation partners to acquire more than 4,000 acres of what was formerly private forestland in Washington and placed it into public ownership. It will now be managed and opened to public access with an emphasis on forest health and public recreation.

“This transaction was seven years in the making and involved a great deal of cooperation,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. “The lands acquired from Weyerhaeuser are now permanently protected and transferred to public management thanks to support from the Stemilt Partnership, a group of 25 conservation-minded partners.”

April 2014
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) accepted a $45,000 grant from RMEF to secure access for hunting and fishing through its Access Yes program. Every dollar provides access to 4.2 acres of land so the grant opens the door to approximately 189,000 acres for sportsmen and women. 

“RMEF is an outstanding partner and supports a variety of wildlife related projects in Wyoming,” said Scott Talbott, WGFD director. “Sportsmen will see many acres become available to them with this amazing RMEF donation.” 

December 2013
RMEF headed up a group effort to permanently protect and open access to more than 13,000 acres in the Headwaters of the John Day River in northeast Oregon. The transaction also secured access to tens of thousands of surrounding National Forest System lands.

"This is a victory for hunter-conservationists, anglers, hikers and anyone who wants public access to more than 13,000 acres of what was previously inaccessible private land in the heart of Oregon's elk country," said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO.

September 2013
RMEF improved access to nearly 18,000 acres of National Forest land in central Montana after acquiring a 40-acre tract with a common 30-foot border with public land. RMEF purchased the property for $190,000 and sold it to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for $50,000, in effect donating the remaining balance. 

“This strikes at the heart of what RMEF is all about,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “We are committed to opening more land for hunting and other year-round recreational public access and now the gate is open for hunters to more easily access thousands of acres of elk country previously almost impossible to reach.”

My little slice of western Montana hunting heaven may now be off limits but there are continuing efforts to maintain and improve what we have as a whole. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with sportsmen and women seeking to ensure and strengthen their hunting tradition for now and for generations to come.

Mark Holyoak 
RMEF Director of Communication

Go to www.rmef.org for more information.

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