|Mike Mueller lets out an elk bugle call|
(Photo via Thom Bridge/Independent Record)
Mueller was part of a small but enthusiastic group of about 30 people who gathered in mid-October 2014 to celebrate a land acquisition project, brokered by RMEF that transferred nearly 1,000 acres of prime elk country from private to public ownership.
“We’re truly blessed today. This is a big deal and you know we need to pause and take time because we worked so hard for this,” said Mueller, as reported in the Independent Record.
It would not have happened if four sisters decided to sell their land –the former Neild family ranch– to private interests. Instead they teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service, RMEF and other partners to sell the 988 acres and watch it be conveyed to the Helena National Forest. The transaction also improves public access for hunters, hikers, anglers and other outdoor lovers to more than 6,000 additional acres of public land.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet day for us,” Barbara O'Dore, one of two Neild sisters on hand, told the Independent Record. “We have a lot of memories up here; you know we used to trail cattle up here and come up on picnics and pick choke cherries. Now the good thing is we can still come. It is a beautiful piece of property.”
In addition to being prime elk habitat, the property contains a segment of Ray Creek that covers more than two miles.
|Photo via Thom Bridge/Independent Record|
“It was a fantastic day of celebrating partnerships,” said Jennifer Doherty, RMEF director of lands. “So many entities and people came together to make this project happen and it was evident that it was at the heart of what so many people value: public access for Montanans and habitat for elk and pure-strain westslope cutthroat trout.”
The dedication ceremony continued with a sign unveiling, recognition, picture-taking and the sharing of many heartfelt feelings of gratitude. In the midst of it all, it finally came. Although barely imperceptible, several in the celebration party heard it. A bull elk chimed in with a distant bugle, seemingly in approval and appreciation of the successful conservation efforts directed at its homeland.
Below are the words of RMEF President and CEO David Allen, shared by Doherty at the dedication:
“This is what it’s all about. This projects hits at the heart of the mission of the Rocky Mountain Elk foundation. It’s an incredible project that permanently protects almost a thousand acres of prime elk habitat while also providing a new access point for sportsmen and women…AND making it happen alongside a great group of conservation partners who understand and appreciate its importance.
“RMEF is proud to have collaborated with the Neild Family, US Forest Service, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Cinnabar, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and all of those who worked to secure federal Land and Water Conservation Funds.
“This project celebrates many winners. It’s not only you and I and the people of Montana, but also elk, mule deer, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, other critters and, of course, the pure-blood westslope cutthroat trout that live in Ray Creek.
“We express our sincere thanks to all who made this day possible. Again, we thank our partners, our volunteers and members, and each of you for your support of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.”
|Mike Mueller, Barbara and George O'Dore, Edwina Hankinson (Barbara's sister)|
and Bob Dennee, retired US Forest Service team leader
(Left to right)
(Photo courtesy Stephanie Parker)
|Ray Creek Conservation Project|
(Photo courtesy Stephanie Parker)