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

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Critters of RMEF

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is home to some of the most majestic animals in all of North America. Just take a brief stroll through the Elk Country Visitor Center and you see plenty of evidence. Massive shoulder mounts display some of the largest and most extraordinary elk ever taken.
But that’s only part of the view. RMEF’s national quarters sit on about 22 acres snuggled between grass-covered hills on the northern edge of Missoula, Montana. It’s a calm and serene scene that is budding with tall cottonwoods, birds, fish and all manner of other wildlife. 

The most impressive sight is courtesy the North Hills-Evaro elk herd. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to these animals as the ‘home herd.’ When snow covers the hills from mid to late fall until early spring, the elk are usually somewhere within a few miles above RMEF headquarters. While not always visible from our windows, the herd did spend several weeks in plain sight earlier this spring. That led to a herd of RMEF employees crowding around a spotting scope to get a better view. At last official count, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the home herd numbers 156 strong. What’s better than working for an organization where its ‘mascot’ is within sight, right?

Elk aren’t the only ungulates to roam RMEF’s homeland. Whitetail deer are abundant in the hills above and in the thick vegetation next to RMEF’s outdoor walking trail. In fact, the small trees and bushes offer quality cover for does to drop their fawns in the spring. 

A babbling Grant Creek flows through the property containing cutthroat trout and attracting a wide variety of birds and small mammals as well as larger animals drawn to the water source.

There are also predators in all shapes and sizes that crisscross or live on RMEF’s acreage. The latest high-profile sighting centers on a small but ferocious hunter. The pygmy owl measures a mere six inches in height but it demonstrates a big appetite. Bugle Conservation Editor Paul Queneau recently captured a series of photos featuring the owl as it successfully scooped up, carried away and then proudly posed with a small rodent. 

Just last fall a black bear caused a stir as it clawed its way through an old, rotten log on the banks of Grant Creek. Bears are not an uncommon sight in western Montana but this fur ball was rather large one. It spent quite a bit of time on the property and soon received the attention of a growing number of onlookers including FWP biologists who helped shoo it back into the hills. 

Source: Bert Lindler

The spot on RMEF property where a black bear hibernated several years back
On another occasion, one in which I had a fly rod in my truck with plans to try to catch and release a few trout on my lunch break, RMEF employees received an internal office email notifying us that someone spotted a mountain lion along the creek. Needless to say that led to a quick change in lunch-time plans.

Grant Creek & fish caught/released on another day
It’s only fitting that RMEF is not just about elk. After all, our mission is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage—even on our home turf.

Mark Holyoak
RMEF Director of Communications

The 'home herd'

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