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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Laying the Groundwork for a West Virginia Elk Reintroduction

The table is set, the welcome mat is rolled out (although not officially) and now all that’s needed is for the invitations to go out and be accepted. That about sums up what’s going on in West Virginia, the latest state looking to reintroduce elk within its borders.

Truth be told, there are already elk in West Virginia—a few of them anyway. Some elk from Kentucky’s nearby thriving herd of 10,000-plus already crossed state lines but West Virginia wildlife officials want to bolster a herd to call their own. 

Sgt. Terry Ballard, RMEF Regional Director
Bill Carman, RMEF WV State Chair Brian
Satterfield and DNR Biologist Randy Kelley
(left to right)
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is doing its part to support the return of elk to their native range in the Mountain State. RMEF recently presented the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with a $50,000 seed grant to be applied toward reintroduction. The donation is the most recent move to further the cause. 

In 2014, RMEF designated West Virginia an “elk state” by awarding $20,000 for a habitat project to enhance forage and create wildlife water sources at the Panther Wildlife Management Area. In 2011, DNR completed a “passive” elk management plan and declared an “elk zone designation.” In 2005, RMEF carried out a feasibility study or, in other words, a biological assessment of potential habitat and the social feasibility of restoring elk to West Virginia’s landscape.

Historically, the elk population in West Virginia declined throughout the 1800’s because of subsistence hunting, market hunting and wide scale timber removal by European settlers. The last native elk on record was in Pocahontas County in 1873 and the Webster Springs area of Webster County in 1875. A 1913 effort to reintroduce 50 elk into West Virginia from Yellowstone Park ultimately failed.

Holding pen used during Virginia's elk restoration
That brings us back to 2015 when returning elk to West Virginia’s southern coalfields is not yet a done deal but does look promising. Two public hearings held in 2014 show 95 percent of those who submitted public comment did so in favor of reintroduction. There is also a bill before the legislature to enable the process. Negotiations are underway with land companies to allow public access to where the herd would be located plus the quarantine pen used in Virginia’s elk restoration effort would need to be moved across the border to West Virginia. However the biggest task for DNR is reaching an agreement with Kentucky to trap and transport elk.

“Restoring these things is not an easy task. It’s all going to depend on how many elk we can secure to release,” said Curtis Taylor, DNR wildlife resources section chief. “There is a passion in the southern part of the state for wildlife of any kind — elk in particular.”

And RMEF remains ready to stand by to offer more assistance in the effort.

See West Virginia’s proposed Elk Management Plan here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Patriotic Salute from 2,700 Miles Away

It was a uniquely patriotic opportunity—an opportunity that Mike Goe jumped at, or should we say bid on. Goe was among those who attended the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s North Central Oregon Chapter Big Game Banquet in April of 2014.

U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-Oregon) provided the chapter with an American flag. Attendees then had the opportunity to bid on the flag and have it flown over the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. on the date of their choice. 

Mike Goe, a long-time Hood River resident and orchardist, won the flag and chose to honor his recently deceased uncle, Don Goe, by having it flown over the Capitol on Don’s birthday, July 7, 2014. Later that summer, the flag was presented to Don’s wife, Helen, on August 28 by Risa Wonsyld, an aide to Congressman Walden.

Below is a letter Rep. Walden sent to North Central Oregon Chapter volunteers:

Rep. Greg Walden
Oregonians know how important it is to protect our beautiful state, preserve access to public lands, and educate others, especially young people, about our proud hunting heritage. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation works hard on these goals and more, here in Oregon and nationwide. That’s why I was proud to donate an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to the North Central Oregon RMEF chapter to be auctioned at their annual banquet.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is active all over Oregon. You have over 14,000 members in our state, have raised over $21 million, and have conserved over 750,000 acres in Oregon. Keep up the good work!

I am proud to support these important efforts around the state, and I’ll continue to work on behalf of Oregonians to grow and strengthen rural communities, protect access to public lands, and stand up for our Second Amendment rights.

Greg Walden

Risa Wonsyld, Helen Goe and Mike Goe (left to right)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Senate Unveils Sportsmen's Act

Senate Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus Members Introduce Sportsmen's Act

February 5, 2015 (Washington, DC) - Today, leaders and Members of the Senate Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus (CSC) introduced the Sportsmen's Act of 2015 as a comprehensive sportsmen's package of legislation aimed to benefit America's sportsmen's community.

“This is a vital piece of legislation that should resonate with all sportsmen and women,” said David Allen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “It addresses conservation funding, mandating public access to federal lands to hunt, fish and otherwise enjoy, as well as other crucial issues such as protecting our outdoor traditions.”

Introduced by CSC Members Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), with original cosponsors, CSC Co-Chairs Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), and CSC Vice-Chairs Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), this package of legislation starts out with strong bipartisan support in the 114th Congress.

The bill includes 14 provisions, several similar to those within the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014 from the 113th Congress. Among other provisions, the bill makes the existing exemption from EPA regulation for lead shot permanent, and adds lead tackle to the exempted products, leaving regulatory authority to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and wildlife agencies; Requires federal land managers to consider how management plans affect opportunities to engage in hunting, fishing and recreational shooting; enables states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges on federal and non-federal lands; and directs 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to enhancing public recreational access for hunting, angling, and recreational shooting, otherwise known as Making Public Lands Public (MPLP).

"The Bipartisan Sportsman's Act is not only an access bill, but also a way to promote economic growth in our country. Sportsmen and women across the country spend billions of dollars each year on outdoor activities. In Alaska alone there are more than 125,000 individuals who engage in hunting each year. This economic activity not only helps local communities but aids conservation efforts as well," said Sen. Murkowski. "This commonsense, bipartisan legislation supports conservation efforts while also improving access to recreational hunting and fishing on federal lands."

"The number one issue for sportsmen and women across the country is access. This widely supported, bipartisan bill will open more areas to hunting and fishing and grow America's thriving outdoor recreation economy. Hunters and anglers alone spend more than $465 million per year in New Mexico, and outdoor recreation as a whole is directly responsible for 68,000 jobs in our state," said Sen. Heinrich. "As an avid hunter myself, I remain deeply committed to preserving our outdoor heritage and treasured public lands for future generations to enjoy."

On Wednesday, February 4, the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF) hosted the annual "Welcome to Congress" reception on Capitol Hill, welcoming new and returning Members of the CSC, and giving the CSC and sportsmen's community an opportunity to discuss the introduction of the Sportsmen's Act. "Getting a sportsmen's package passed in this Congress is vital to the future of the nation's hunting and angling opportunities. We have great bipartisan CSC support so far, but need to get as many Members of Congress involved as possible," said CSF President Jeff Crane.

"Whether sportsmen and sportswomen go hunting or fishing to put food on the table, or for sport, or to pass down a tradition to their family, or for game management purposes, there is something in the Sportsmen's Act of 2015 for all of them," said Sen. Risch. "With more than 39 million sportsmen and sportswomen of all ages in the United States, this legislation will ensure all can continue to access their favorite hunting or fishing spot. As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, I cannot put into words how important sporting issues are to so many Americans and their families. Hunting and fishing give us a great reason to be in the great outdoors, a great reason to hand down traditions, and a great reason to support this legislation."

"As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus and as an avid sportsman, it makes me so proud that we can come together as Democrats and Republicans to preserve America's beloved outdoor traditions," Sen. Manchin said. "I've worked hard on these priorities ever since being the inaugural Co-Chairman of the Governors Sportsmen's Caucus, and I am continuing that work here in the Senate. Outdoor recreation is vital to sustaining our economy, preserving our family traditions, and maintaining our way of life. This comprehensive package will boost opportunities for hunters, anglers, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationists alike; improve access to federal lands; and strengthen the overall outdoor recreation industry. I truly believe that the American people should be able to enjoy the great outdoors, and this bill expands people's ability to do just that."

The House CSC leadership is also currently working on a similar legislative sportsmen's package that they are likely to introduce in the upcoming weeks.

The text of the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2015 is available, here.