They arrived at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s headquarters from all around the nation. Representatives from 19 different state game agencies and two federal agencies gathered in RMEF’s (most appropriately named) Working for Wildlife Board Room for the second-ever National Elk Summit.
The discussion agenda included forestry reform, public access, research, hunting, disease, predator management, government affairs, public lands management, marketing and public outreach, state agency funding, habitat issues and other issues and challenges for state leaders tasked with managing their state’s elk herds and other wildlife.
All in all, the gathering included directors, assistant directors and/or game managers from Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming—all states with wild, free-ranging elk herds. The group also included representation from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the RMEF.
Below are selected comments from some of the front-line players:
RMEF Chairman of the Board
We believe in our mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. It is supported locally, by the state, regionally and federally. Listen to us and use us.
I think we have a moral obligation to actively manage federal lands. RMEF is helping lead the charge. We don’t sit on the sidelines. We don’t straddle the fence. Our members tell us loud and clear that we need to maintain public access.
We are in this together. We’re thrilled to have you here in our home.
Here at RMEF, state-based management is vital. You hear us refer to it and call it out over and over. State-based management is the foundation of our wildlife model. We have the most successful wildlife system in the world. It’s undeniable. The cornerstone of that is and has to be state-based management. The whole system is under stress demographically and fiscally but without state-based management this thing goes nowhere. In fact it crumbles real fast. What would our wildlife system look like without a state-based process? It gets pretty ugly pretty fast. That’s what’s at stake for the next decade or two or three. Keeping this system alive is an absolute must.
Our priorities are two-fold: our members are priority number-one. We continue to show steady growth. We do desire to have a big voice and represent it well. Our number-two priority is our four-fold mission—land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration and hunting heritage.
The biggest challenges we see include the health of state agencies and the health of our public lands. The American people own these lands. No government agency owns these lands.
We are all in on being partners with you and working to help you address the issues you each have individually. We’re committed to that.
RMEF Life Member/Guest Speaker
I routinely came across people that are pleasantly surprised that hunting is a regulated activity. Most of the people, 95 percent of Americans, don’t have hunting on their radar. When I explain to people that we eat game as food and we talk about specific species, I find they become very receptive to active game management and the extraction of renewable resources when we have in mind the longevity of wild species.
One of the things I’ve struggled with regarding hunting is the language around trophy hunting. That came into great clarity with Cecil and the (proposed grizzly) delisting in Yellowstone. Trophy hunting has come to embody what it really isn’t. I talk about a passage from the Arctic explorer Stefansson. They would set the polar bear’s head in the lodge so it would see the family. Their thinking is the bear would see how influential the family treats the bear. We need to begin packaging our ideas about wildlife in a way that demonstrates reverence and understanding for the animals.
How serious are the locavores? You can’t overstate the importance of it right now. We have a lot of potential license buyers out there who have been told throughout their life –Disney movies and cartoons– that there’s something wrong with hunting and they’re dying to be told it’s okay. People feel an ancestral link to hunting—physically, structurally, spiritually. Many feel that urge to be told and I think the food movement is reassuring.
What I have found that has always stopped the new hunter is obstacles to initiation, meaning people just don’t know where to go. On public land they feel nervous about reception by other people. That is the obstacle where people feel intimidated to go on public land to hunt on. We recognize the need to bring hunting to a new generation but we don’t want others to be with us in the mountains.
If we want to grow hunting/fishing numbers, finding a way how public access works and how states sponsor getting people onto private land is crucial. A great tool would be a volunteer network for days leading up to application periods where people can help people navigate for a tag. Many people say that alone keeps them from getting a license.
A great area for growth potential is the emergence of women in the outdoors. In some ways, we’re standing at the precipice of a great opportunity to bring in a huge number of Americans who want to come in but feel intimidated.
By being excited, you can make kids get excited. It feels like something that has to happen at the family level. Unless parents take the time to introduce their kids to hunting I don’t see a way around it. We keep a tight grip on our kids. Everything they get comes through us (as parents). If they don’t love it, they don’t realize its importance and if they don’t realize its importance, they don’t love it.
RMEF Board Member/Guest Speaker
What is access? There are 15,000 questions on my website related to application questions.
Access to land? Access to elk? Access to opportunity? Elk + land = opportunity
Bad land management is a major factor in the lack of access to elk. “New age” landowners either have no tolerance for public elk hunters or they only allow hunting for family and friends.
There’s a huge reason why we lose hunter access to certain properties—poor hunter behavior.
If we don’t find a way to actively manage lands, our hands are tied on getting elk on accessible land.