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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

More Fun than Work

Earlier this year, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers helped researchers from the University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit capture and radio collar elk in order to track their movements to find out whether migration patterns are being altered by tree fall from beetle kill.

RMEF volunteers  help researchers place
radio collar on an elk
The negative impact of pine beetles doesn’t end when a tree dies. Dead trees tend to topple over, and when too many do in a specific area, it can affect the migration habits of elk and other wildlife. To better understand if and how elk migration patterns might change due to beetle kill, researchers at the University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit are radio collaring elk in the Sierra Madres to collect data on their movements. RMEF is helping to fund their efforts.

But to collar elk you first have to capture them, and that’s where two RMEF volunteers come in. Earlier this year, workers netted cow elk one at a time using a helicopter, then transported them to waiting biologists and volunteers. While the volunteers blindfolded and held down the elk, biologists collared them, took tooth samples to check age, administered antibiotics, collected fecal and blood samples, and performed ultrasounds. Six of the seven cows captured that day were pregnant.

“It was more fun than it was work,” says RMEF life member and Wyoming state co-chair Dennis Hughes. “I enjoyed the heck out of it.” Hughes had heard about this project at a state co-chair meeting and recruited another volunteer from the Sweetwater Chapter, Mike Christensen, to drive the 150 miles with him to help out with the elk capture.

Christensen was excited to be able to help, saying that it was “as much fun as branding.” He got involved with RMEF because he and his wife were looking for an organization they both connected with. “We’ve made a lot of friends since joining RMEF,” he says.

Matthew Kauffman, the primary researcher on the project, says this is the first time the research unit has studied how elk respond to this kind of change in their environment. Using GPS, the collars record the location of each animal every one to two hours. The information is stored on the collar, and after two years the collars drop off. The researchers then retrieve them and access the data.

Kauffman says organizations like RMEF, who also helped fund the study, are key to making these sorts of projects happen. “We’ve been excited to partner with RMEF for the past eight years in our research endeavors,” he says.

The research unit also plans to connect with hunters to determine if and how tree fall from beetle kill affects their hunting patterns. The data from the two studies will help the Wyoming Department of Fish and Game better manage elk and hunting in the Sierra Madres.

There are plans to do another elk capture in February, and Christensen says he will without a doubt be there to help out.

Shandra Jessop
Bugle Intern 

RMEF Grant, Volunteers Help Young Potosi Shooters

A Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation state grant and volunteers from the River Bluffs Chapter in Iowa helped the newly formed Potosi School District Clay Shooting Team in Wisconsin get off the ground and achieve success last spring.

Potosi School District Clay
Shooting Team
Elk don’t recognize state borders, and RMEF volunteers don’t tend to pay them much heed, either. Earlier this year, a group of volunteers from the River Bluffs Chapter in Dubuque, Iowa, took their support of hunting and outdoor programs for young people across the border into Wisconsin to help launch a new trapshooting club at the Potosi School District. 

Potosi, population 700, is a tiny and tight-knit community. This spring, the school district decided to join the Wisconsin High School Clay Shooting League. The program welcomes youth grades 6-12, with the only stipulation being they hold a hunter safety certificate. 

The Potosi team consisted of 10 participants, including seven boys and three girls. After rounding up support—which included an RMEF state grant, donated use of the local Southwest Wisconsin Sportsmen’s Club, local gun dealer and RMEF volunteer LaVerne Lehman reloading shells at cost, and many personal donations—the team began shooting in late April. Each team member shot 50 clay targets every Thursday night and some Saturdays at the sportsmen’s club for nine weeks, wrapping up their season in late June. 

Six adults volunteered to coach the team, including Don and Nancy Johnson (owners of the sportsmen’s club), Gene Kieler and Ed McKenzie—all from the River Bluffs Chapter. Some of the kids had been shooting for years while others were just beginners. The coaches taught them the basics of shooting safety and helped with marksmanship. 

Sometimes the smallest adjustment from a coach made a huge difference. For instance, one boy had too large a gun, so McKenzie loaned him one from his personal collection. The boy improved his shooting by 25 percent the very next round and about 50 percent overall by the end of the season. 

Another boy kept hitting only a couple of clays per 25 without improvement. Don Johnson checked to determine his dominant eye, found he was right-eye dominant, switched shoulders and the boy instantly went from one or two hits out of 25 to 8-10, and was shooting 15-18 out of 25 by the end of the season. 

Sportsmanship, respect and courtesy are also important aspects of the program. One parent commented that she was amazed that a group of 6th-12th graders could get along so well and be so helpful to each other. 

When it was all said and done, the team earned spring league awards for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for highest state girl league shooters, 1st and 3rd place for highest state boy league shooters, 1st place in the conference, and 1st place for highest overall average shooter. They attended the High School State Tournament in Rome, Wisconsin, on June 13, where the girls earned 1st and 2nd place. 

“Not every kid has the physical ability or desire to play baseball or football,” says Nancy Johnson. “In trapshooting, there are no bench warmers. Everyone gets to shoot and participate the same amount of time as the next person. It is up to the individual how far they want to take it and how much they are willing to improve.” 

It certainly seems like the Potosi trapshooting team is shooting for the stars. 

Denise Kieler
Chair, River Bluffs Chapter

Whackin’ Weeds and Having Fun in the Raggeds

RMEF North Fork Chapter volunteers work
fight noxious weeds
This past summer, the Paonia Ranger District on Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s newly formed North Fork Chapter hosted “Whack’n the Weeds,” a day-long weed education and identification project in the Raggeds Wilderness, home to hundreds of elk. Twenty-seven volunteers—including youth and their adult sponsors from the Hotchkiss Grange—and Forest Service staff spent a Saturday hiking into the wilderness to learn more about noxious weeds, how to control and/or remove them, and to get their hands dirty eradicating them.

At the top of the “Hit List” was houndstongue, which produces flowers and seeds during its second season of growth and can cause organ failure in elk and livestock if eaten in sufficient quantities, and decrease forage quantity and quality for wildlife. After the group hiked a few miles into the wilderness, they spent the day chopping and bundling houndstongue from a nearly 4-acre meadow. 

A surprise, and very welcome, partner on the project was the Rocky Mountain Mule Pack String, which is a working pack string that assists with trail, wilderness and backcountry projects across the Rocky Mountain region. The pack string just happened to be in town that weekend for the Paonia Cherry Days parade. When it was all said and done, each mule hauled out about 300 pounds of noxious weeds in it's panniers. 

Rocky Mountain Pack Mule String carried
weeds out for the crew
Paonia District Ranger Levi Broyles says, “A lot of great things happened through this project. A lot of people got excited about the work and were eager to lend a hand. Citizens stopped to ask what was going on and applaud the groups’ efforts. And of course, the pack string was a great addition.” 

After their hard work, the volunteers hiked out and were rewarded with sandwiches, chips, drinks and some cold watermelon prepared by Forest Service staff. 

Weed Day was a great success, and both the North Fork Chapter and Paonia Ranger District hope to continue this effort next year, encouraging more volunteers, youths and groups to help, learn and have fun! 

Dan Gray
North Fork Chapter

Cultivating the Next Generation of Hunter-Conservationists

About the only thing most RMEF volunteers like better than conserving elk country is getting out into it with their bow or rifle. If they can help cultivate a young hunter while they’re at it, that’s icing on the cake. 
Since 2007, RMEF volunteers from the Flagstaff and White Pine chapters in Arizona have stepped up to host or support junior hunter camps aimed at youths whose parents don’t have the skills or experience to introduce their kids to hunting, shooting and the outdoors. Through mentoring and hands-on training and instruction, the camps build skills, knowledge and confidence—and instill what RMEF volunteers hope will be the beginnings of a lifelong love for hunting and the outdoors. 

All big game hunters under the age of 14 in Arizona are required to take hunter education, and in most cases the courses are taught in a traditional classroom format. But not in Flagstaff. Instead, participants ages 9-12 attend a weekend family campout held each summer at the Northern Arizona Shooting Range east of town. Hosted by the Flagstaff Chapter, the Coconino County Campout Hunter Education Class offers instruction in survival, first aid, map and compass, an introduction to muzzleloaders and archery, blood trailing, field dressing, proper methods to cape and skin an animal for the taxidermist, wildlife identification, rules and regulations pertaining to wildlife in Arizona, safe use of firearms, types of firearms and ammunition, camp sanitation and food preparation. All students practice their shooting skills with .22 rimfire rifles on the 50-yard range, including instruction about range procedures and commands. 

RMEF Arizona State Grant funds help purchase ammo, targets and miscellaneous range and camp supplies, water and food for this popular event. In addition to teaching classes and setting up and taking down camp, RMEF volunteers also provide dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday for all students and their families. 

Because they just can’t get enough, the Flagstaff Chapter hosts a second event aimed at youths each fall at Mormon Lake—an area where excellent opportunities exist for young hunters. Coined the Unit 6A Junior Elk Hunter Information Camp, the clinic is held over four days in October for anyone who drew a junior elk tag in Unit 6A, along with their hunting parties. The first evening, RMEF volunteers present information about hunter safety, care and handling of elk carcasses, and current elk concentrations in the area before providing dinner and a drawing for raffle prizes. Volunteers then staff the camp continuously for the next three days to provide coffee, cocoa and pastries each morning and assist hunters with information about the area. 

The RMEF’s White Pine Chapter has also been doing its part by co-sponsoring the White Mountains Youth Hunter Camps, held at various locations on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Hosted by the Arizona Fish and Game Department and Youth Outdoors Unlimited, the program offers three junior hunter camps each fall (small game, antlerless elk and predator) to provide youths ages 8-17 with hands-on instruction in safety and ethics, tracking and calling game, shooting, field dressing and skinning, and conservation. A fourth camp held in the spring teaches youths interested in turkey hunting about wild turkey biology, habitat, surveying, management and translocation. RMEF Arizona State Grant funds help provide camp supplies and food for each camp, and White Pine Chapter volunteers are on hand to help staff the camps, mentor hunters, help with tracking and calling, retrieve game and cook meals. 

All told, the Flagstaff and White Pine chapters have dedicated countless hours over the past seven years to help bring more than 2,100 youths into the fold through junior hunter camps. And you can bet they’ve enjoyed every minute of it along the way.

Opening Up More Pennsylvania Elk Country

A foggy day in Pennsylvania elk country
It was the perfect kind of September day to be an elk in east-central Pennsylvania—overcast, chilly, foggy, drizzly and with the kind of dampness in the air that chills you to the bone. But it was a glorious day. In fact, the circumstances could not have been better.

Dozens of elk lovers put on an extra layer or two as they gathered to celebrate and dedicate the latest land acquisition by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s elk range in Elk County’s Benezette Township, dedication ceremonies recognized yet another successful collaborative effort between the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and RMEF to permanently protect, conserve and open public access to another 81 acres of prime elk habitat. 

The Woodring Farm project, as it’s called, is now a part of State Game Lands 311. It will eventually include an overlook, trails and parking areas that will make it easier for wildlife viewers to better experience Pennsylvania’s growing elk herd. RMEF stepped up with a $100,000 commitment to help make it happen.

“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has been a monumental partner over the years for the Pennsylvania Game Commission in regards to elk management,” said Barry Zaffuto, PGC Northcentral Regional Director. “Those that have ever seen an elk in Pennsylvania owe that experience to the men and women of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.”

Since 1991, RMEF and its partners completed 311 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Pennsylvania with a combined value of more than $22.6 million, including 10 land acquisition purchases that opened or secured public access to 8,465 acres. 

Like much of the eastern United States, elk once historically roamed throughout Pennsylvania, but the last was killed off in 1867. The state released 145 elk brought from Yellowstone Park into seven counties between 1913 and 1926. By 1998, Pennsylvania’s herd had grown to 312, and the PGC relocated some animals to establish a new herd in the Sproul State Forest. Today, approximately 900 elk roam Pennsylvania and an elk hunt takes place every year.

RMEF, and our 11,000 Pennsylvania members, are proud to be part of a continuing effort to bolster elk and elk country in the Keystone State.

Winslow Hill, PA (Courtesy Ronald J. Saffer)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Good Times at Elk Festival!

What lasts four days, draws folks from across the Upper Midwest and ends with scores of people --young and old-- returning home with full sets of antlers? It's gotta be the annual Elk Festival in tiny Atlanta, Michigan. This year's festival was the event's 30th. Activities included a parade, fish fry, street vendors, raffles, fun run, greased pig contest, live entertainment, pie eating contest and much more.

Among those on hand were volunteers of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They offered youth and adults alike the opportunity to learn the proper aspects of firearm safety and shooting through the SAFE (Shooting Access for Everyone) Challenge program. SAFE offers participants the chance to shoot a BB gun and also learn about the hunter's role in wildlife management, the importance of hunting as a conservation tool and education about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. Boys and girls, and their parents, also learned more about elk and elk habitat.

Historically speaking, settlers killed Michigan's last elk in 1877, but by 1915, the state released 23 elk brought from Yellowstone Park. Nine of those went to Cheboygan County. The herd prospered, growing to 1,500 animals by the 1960s. Habitat loss and poaching reduced it to 200 animals by 1975, but better habitat management helped the herd bounce back. Today, about 1,000 wild elk live in Michigan.

Thanks to our dedicated volunteers for helping to spread the word about the RMEF, conservation, elk and elk country!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Rut: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Andy Williams wasn’t crooning about the rut when he released his hit Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” way back in October of 1963. (At least, we don’t think he was.) For elk hunters, it’s a hands-down, slam dunk, no-doubt-about-it no brainer. The rut is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

As August draws to a close and the calendar page flips into September, the days shorten; temperatures cool and snow starts to fall in the high country. It’s mating season. Elk begin moving to lower elevations. Bulls wallow in mud to coat themselves with urine “perfume” to attract cows. They bugle and rub trees, shrubs and the ground with their antlers to attract cows and intimidate others bulls. Mature bulls stake their claims to harems by moving in among a group of cows and calves. Sometimes, they wage violent battles for a harem, even fighting to the death on occasion. The harems remain a scene of constant action from September through October, and sometimes through November.

Hunters head to the forests and mountains to see and hear the action. Bulls let out bugles, haunting screams that are among the more beautiful in all of nature. The bugle advertises their presence and fitness to both females and other males. They bugle to lure in cows. They also bugle to announce or accept a challenge from another bull. It is their most vocal time of the year, and a time of the year when a hunter can often get the closest to the herd because of all the commotion.

For wildlife viewers, the scene is just as mesmerizing but for those not familiar with elk and their mating habits, it can be downright dangerous. Aggressive bulls take out their frustrations on cars, trucks and people who just don’t seem to recognize or understand that the animals are indeed wild. Below is just one example of what happens every summer in Estes Park, Colorado—a haven for elk and for tourists who get dangerously close.

As the rut begins, media reports from Yellowstone Park to Canada to the Smokies issue warnings to visitors to keep their distance. 

So if you’re viewing elk from inside a car or truck from afar or chasing them up-close with a bow or rifle, be careful and enjoy. It certainly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Children, Parents Flock to the Waters

13th Annual Talking Trees Children's Trout Derby
There they stood in a line stretching a quarter of a mile up and down the waters of Oconaluftee River. Some of them were up to their knees while others waded up to their waists. All of them waited and watched in eager anticipation of a tug on the line or the bobbing of a bobber. 

More than 2,000 boys and girls ranging in age from 3 to 11, along with an estimated 4,000 doting mothers and fathers, gathered in Ocanaluftee River Island Park in Cherokee, North Carolina, for the 13th Annual Talking Trees Children’s Trout Derby. The two-day family-oriented gathering offered kids the chance to catch their own dinner. There were also fly-tying exhibitions, fish-cleaning stations, wildlife and fisheries exhibits, food, music and door prizes. Each registered child received a fishing pole, t-shirt, hat, hooks and bait, breakfast and lunch. What a deal! (RMEF contributed $3,000 to help purchase the fishing poles.)

Among those reveling in the scene were volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Great Smoky Mountains Chapter. In fact, it was the chapter’s twelfth year of helping out. Volunteers manned a booth where they used an RMEF elk trunk to help kids learn more about elk and elk country. They provided elk booklets for kids and Bugle magazine for adults. Volunteers blew up balloons, put temporary tattoos on kids and their parents, spotted on the riverbank for safety and helped boys and girls fishing in the river by baiting hooks, stringing line, casting and removing fish.

Judging from the smiles, selfies and other photos, it was a day to remember for the young anglers and their folks. And don’t forget to save the date. The 15th annual gathering is already scheduled for Friday, July 31, 2015.

RMEF Pioneer Aaron Jones Passes Away

Aaron Jones
Below is a news release regarding the death of Aaron Jones, former president, chairman of the board and dear friend of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

MISSOULA, Mont.—Aaron Jones, a man who staunchly supported the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation from its earliest beginnings with both his leadership abilities and philanthropic efforts, died at the age of 92.

Jones served as RMEF’s second chairman of the board and its fourth president. He was also a life member and a Habitat Council member. Jones received the 2001 Wallace Fennell Pate Wildlife Conservation Award, RMEF’s highest honor, for contributions of lasting significance to the Elk Foundation’s mission.

Jones receives 2001 Wallace Pate Award
Charlie Decker, Aaron & Marie Jones,
RMEF board member Jack Ward Thomas
(left to right)
“Without Aaron, there’s a good possibility that we wouldn’t have made it because he stepped up to the plate financially several different times,” said Charlie Decker, RMEF co-founder. “He was really key and critical to the start of RMEF. We had to get Bugle magazine published so we called him to borrow $10,000. He told us to pay him back in a year but in a year we didn’t have it so we went to the bank and borrowed $10,000 and sent it to him. He sent it back to us and said ‘I was just checking you guys out.’ 

Jones was born in Texas but was raised in Oregon. He served his country in World War II before graduating from the University of Oregon. Jones founded the Seneca Sawmill Company in 1953. He later founded Seneca Jones Timber Company in 1992. Today, the two Oregon mills employ more than 400 people with production levels exceeding 650 million board feet.

As much as Jones enjoyed working alongside his lumber family, he especially enjoyed getting out in the woods.

“Hunting season was Aaron’s favorite time of the year, and it was the only time you wouldn’t find him hard at work at his desk or out in the mill,” said Marie Jones, Aaron’s wife. “He loved to talk about the hunting trophies that hung on the walls at his office and at his cabin.”

“We got to be great friends. I think we took close to 20 hunting trips together. He was a self-made man and a very special guy,” added Decker. 

Jones and his Arizona bull elk with initial measurements
scoring 420 Boone & Crockett (2003)
“Aaron will be remembered for the way he treated people. If he believed in someone, there was no limit to his support of that person. If he believed that something was right, there was no limit to his support of that principle,” added Marie Jones.

Jones is survived by his wife, three daughters, one step-daughter, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A memorial service honoring Jones is scheduled for Wednesday, October 1, at Matthew Knight Arena on the University of Oregon campus.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded over 30 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of more than 200,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 6.4 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.

Read more about the life of Aaron Jones here.

Aaron Jones, RMEF Life Member #7

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RMEF Statement on Wyoming Wolf Management Ruling

Tuesday’s ruling from a federal judge regarding Wyoming’s wolf management plan is not the kiss of death that folks may perceive. It is basically a case of a technicality in how Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the wolf management plan. We believe that is easily fixed on Wyoming’s end. There are some silver linings within this ruling handed down from Judge Jackson as she ruled against two of the major three claims made by the plaintiffs that the court ruled on, including confirmation of the fact that Wyoming’s wolf population has recovered and is not endangered. We anticipate Wyoming will be able to fix the issue with how its wolf management plan is written to satisfy the court.

The real shame of this continuing litigation and legal maneuvering by HSUS, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and others is the amount of American taxpayer money the judge may award them for their legal fees, all in the name of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). This is a continued misuse of taxpayer dollars for an ideological agenda that has little to do with wolves. These groups continue to use the gray wolf reintroduction as a fundraising tool by profiting from EAJA payments awarded by courts, yet they do nothing for wolves, wolf habitat, collaring wolves for the sake of research and beyond. 

In reality, nothing relative to the gray wolf recovery program is likely to change in the long run as a result of this court case but thousands of dollars will change hands for legal fees. This is not conservation work.

David Allen
RMEF President & CEO

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

RMEF, Partners Improve Access to Wyoming Hunting Grounds

La Barge Creek, Wyoming
Sometimes just getting there is the toughest task. That’s an especially difficult challenge when your favorite public hunting grounds are located behind privately owned land and your main port of entry is washed out by flooding and beaver activity. 

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation teamed up with a local contractor (Ross Howard) and staff from the Bureau of Land Management’s High Desert District and Pinedale Field Office to fortify an unimproved road through a 160-acre property in southwestern Wyoming, and did so just in time for hunting season. The repaired entry point is located west of La Barge along County Road 315 (La Barge Creek Road). It is surrounded by public lands and provides important access to the BLM Miller Mountain Management Area and the BLM Lake Mountain Wilderness Study Area, as well as nearby state land and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Joe Cantrell (BLM) and Ross Howard (contractor)
“This project truly was a concerted team effort—where the necessary talent, hard work, and practical know-how came from dedicated individuals working together to keep our public lands accessible,” said Linda Cardenas, BLM/RMEF national liaison. “The La Barge Creek access improvement project exemplifies the enormous benefits to the public that can be achieved when agencies work in partnership with conservation organizations like the RMEF.” 

The La Barge Creek Drainage corridor serves as crucial winter range for elk and moose and is an important migration route for mule deer. It is also vital spawning and rearing habitat for the Colorado River cutthroat trout as well as riparian habitat for the Boreal toad, which are identified as BLM Sensitive Species. 

RMEF acquired the parcel via a private donation in 2011. As per the donor’s wishes, the donation and future sale of the property to a public landowner will provide a means for RMEF to further its mission of protecting key habitat and providing public access to important landscapes for everyone to hunt, fish, hike or otherwise enjoy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fighting Fire with Fire: Burn Saves Town

It was a scene that has played out all too often across the West in recent years: a wildfire roars to life, forcing people from their homes and charring thousands of acres of forestland. This time it was in late June of 2014 just south of the small east-central Arizona community of Vernon. Massive plumes of smoke billowed into the sky and flames jumped from treetop to treetop in the White Mountains as the San Juan Fire raced across nearly 7,000 acres.

Wind gusts up to 25 mph propelled the fire through a forest parched by drought. Firefighters could do little as the fire behavior became extreme, with 100-foot flames burning as much as 6 miles an hour and embers spotting a half a mile out ahead. But the fiery fury of Mother Nature ran into a roadblock, of sorts, in the form of a series of forest thinning projects sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners. When the flames hit those areas previously treated by thinning and prescribed burns, the spread rate slowed to 1-2 miles per hour, flames dropped to just 8-12 feet and the fire was spotting just 150-200 feet ahead. 

Low intensity back burn in previously treated  area
“One of the first pieces of information from the San Juan Fire Incident Management Team was the account of the fire laying down when it hit areas of treatment in the pine,” said Jim Zornes, forest supervisor for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

One of those treatment areas lay at the north end or “head” of the San Juan Fire. Dubbed the Coon Mountain prescribed burn, a multi-year collaborative effort between the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona Game and Fish, Eastern Arizona Resource Advisory Committee and the RMEF, it was completed just two years earlier and positively affected more than 1,000 acres. The goal was to use prescribed burns to restore meadows, improve forage quality and quantity, and reduce hazardous fuels. 

High intensity burn within untreated area
The Coon Mountain burn was part of a larger effort known as the White Mountain Stewardship (WMS) program, designed to reduce fuels through thinning across the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. In Game Management Unit 1 (GMU 1) fire was part of the design of partnership projects to restore and enhance winter range for elk and other wildlife. Some of the projects overlapped in the WMS and the Forest Service was able to burn areas where projects had been completed. The 3,500-acre Iris Springs prescribed fire, also completed in 2012, was funded entirely by RMEF. Just across the way the Garris Knoll project (still in progress) covers 5,400 acres. So far, RMEF has contributed $40,000 to assist overall GMU 1 projects and committed another $80,000 for ongoing and future habitat enhancement work. That commitment helped leverage other partner funds and build support for future fire treatment activities on landscapes that need it.

Control line on San Juan Fire
“It is, and has been, wildly successful. Those continued partnership activities are what it is going to take to continue to make advancements in protecting communities and resources in the White Mountains,” added Zornes.

Fire is not just good for elk habitat, it’s essential. But in areas like this where fire has long been absent due to fire suppression, there can easily be way too much of a good thing. Thinning and prescribed burns allow foresters to restore healthy habitat while keeping people and their property safe. 

The success of RMEF collaborative projects in providing great forage for wildlife and slowing catastrophic wildfire goes way beyond the San Juan Fire. Another recent example occurred in October of 2012. The 340,000-acre Mustang Fire threatened several small, unincorporated towns in east-central Idaho and a nearby ski resort on the Idaho-Montana border. Officials credited the Hughes Creek thinning project, a 13,000-acre community-driven forest health effort funded in part by RMEF, for giving firefighters a location where they could confidently set up a last line of defense to dig in and stop the flames.

Mustang Complex Fire 2012
"The fuels treatments in the Hughes Creek area implemented by the North Fork Ranger District were put to the test during the Mustang fire," said Danny Montoya, Mustang Fire Team Operations Chief. "I firmly believe that they provided us with the opportunity to steer the fire away from the Highway 93 Corridor and the Lost Trail Ski Area." 

So far, all across elk country RMEF has helped fund more than 1,100 thinning and burning projects to greatly improve habitat on more than 1.3 million acres.

"These projects are win-win for everyone," said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. "Not only do they have a positive impact for firefighters, but the on-the-ground work itself improves vital habitat, travel corridors, and forage for elk and other wildlife."

And that’s a winning formula for forestland and wildlife whether in Arizona, Idaho or anywhere across elk country.

Mark Holyoak
RMEF Director of Communication

Aerial view of area impacted by San Juan Fire. Background shows high intensity fire which transitions to
low intensity fire in treated ponderosa pine stands at lower elevation. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Youth Get RMEF Memberships in North Carolina Elk Country

Cataloochee Valley, NC
(photo courtesy Chris Croy)
When you hear "elk country," what comes to mind? Maybe the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains ? What about North Carolina? Really? It's true!

The "Old North State," as many call it, is home to wild, free-ranging elk. Back in 2001, the National Park Service released 52 elk into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as part of a five-year experiment that was eventually lifted in 2011. Today, more than 150 elk roam on land managed by the park, the state and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. In fact, Cataloochee Valley is one of the best places to view elk east of the Mississippi.

With that in mind, 25 boys and girls now have stronger ties to North Carolina elk and elk country. Thanks to a donation by Ray and Ramona Bryson, they are now among the newest hat-wearing, card-carrying youth members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It happened at the 2014 RMEF Great Smoky Mountains Chapter Banquet. The kids also received RMEF bandanas thanks to the Tony Schmidt family. In the photo below, they are also holding their certificates of honorary committee membership.

Hopefully, these young folks will continue to enjoy the benefits of RMEF membership as they grow up to serve on the committee. (Hunter and Ainsley already have several years of volunteer time under their belts.) There are already three RMEF life members in the group.

Welcome aboard!

Learn more about the RMEF youth membership here.

Photo courtesy Anna Ferguson

Wyoming’s Women for WildLife are “Mad” About Elk

Members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation know all too well that when you get a group of women together –with NO MEN ALLOWED other than the ring crew– some pretty crazy things can happen. (Just attend any Ladies Luncheon and Auction at Elk Camp and you know what we mean.)

Check out the recent sights in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where about 140 people, mostly from Rock Springs but from across the state and as far away as Texas, gathered for what they called the Women for WildLife Gala. The theme was Alice in Wonderland/The Mad Hatter. As you can see, the women and girls more than looked the part.

Activities included both live and silent auctions that raised thousands of dollars for elk and elk country. Highlights from the live auction included a Pro Bull Riders package that sold for $3,300, a mini schnauzer puppy that sold for $2,200 and a custom built log and antler dresser that went for $1,400. Raffles stuck to the theme thanks to pink shot glasses with lanyards, purse charms, mini drink-me bottles and other decorations. There was also a costume contest.

“The Women for WildLife event really rocked the house,” said Jill Tonn, RMEF senior regional director. “The ladies from the Sweetwater Chapter put a lot of time into creating the d├ęcor and raffle trinkets. The ring crew was decked out in red union suits, cowboy hats and boots, and made sure the attendees had fun.”

The (ruggedly male) Ring Crew
Organizers turned to social media to publicize the inaugural event. They delivered some invitations and put up about 20 posters, but they created two Facebook pages to spread the word. It sold out just two days later and 12 of the 15 tables sold as corporate tables. That was enough to put a smile on the faces of both the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit.

“The whole event was amazing! The gals began planning next year’s event the day after!” added Tonn.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Washington Rendezvous: Smiles, Good Food, Good Work to Help Elk

Nearly 100 members and volunteers of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation capped the summer of 2014 by gathering in White Pass, Washington, about 100 miles southeast of Seattle, for the annual RMEF Washington Rendezvous. The White Pass Ski Area was an ideal location because it was an easy trip for most folks and is near the heart of prime winter range for elk.

The three-day event kicked off at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, an area that covers 64,200 acres that is home to elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, grouse, turkey, quail and other small mammals and birds. It is also home to the Oak Creek Feeding Station, a high-fenced area often supported by RMEF grant funding that provides a barrier between winter range and nearby orchard growers and livestock producers. The program is designed to reduce damage to agricultural lands and provide up-close elk viewing opportunities.

Photos courtesy Stephanie Pelham
Work gloves, wire cutters, shovels, posthole diggers and wrecking bars were the tools of the day as volunteers helped rebuild burned and broken fencing. Sweat, accompanied by a lot of laughter, poured as freely as compliments and slaps on the back from volunteers. 

RMEF co-founders Charlie Decker and Bob Munson welcomed attendees of all ages and thanked them for their dedication to and service for elk and elk country.

Charlie recognizes young attendees
Bob welcomes fellow members
Other highlighted activities included a potluck dinner, an update on elk hoof disease, geo-cache outing, National Archery in the Schools 3-D range, West Seattle Totems Shooting Club range, entertainment, games, dutch oven cooking, raffles, silent auction and other happenings.

Our thanks to all of the good folks in Washington for helping ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage in the Evergreen State.

Mission accomplished: The work crew gets 'er done

Rick Godwin of North Puget Sound Chapter receives plaque for becoming an Imperial Habitat Partner
Vicki & Bob Munson, Godwin, Charlie & Yvonne Decker (left to right)
Dan Loshbaugh of Sammamish Valley Chapter receives plaque for becoming a Habitat Partner