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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Silver Celebration

More than two decades. That’s how long the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Habitat Council (HC) has been around. The group, which first officially gathered way back in 1992, is comprised of philanthropic souls who truly believe in RMEF’s conservation mission of ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. They actively support that mission by giving with their hearts and their pocketbooks.

One hundred and seven attendees, an all-time high, from 25 different states recently traveled to Branson, Missouri, for the 2016 Summer Habitat Council Retreat. Many of them attended a Habitat Partnership reception the evening before the three-day event in Springfield, Missouri. More than 60 people were at the White River Conference Center, which is part of the world headquarters of Bass Pro Shops, a valued RMEF conservation partner. 

HC members boarded 10 large vans the following afternoon for the kickoff event, a convoy into the heart of Branson to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, home of “the world’s most visited dinner attraction.” More than a thousand people bellied up to long, bench-like dinner tables for a no-utensils feast of rotisserie chicken, pork loin, corn on the cob, potato wedges, soup, cheddar biscuit and dessert. (Some HC members snuck in their own forks.) Trick riders on horseback performed stunts, races, sang, danced and acted out scenes from the old Wild West.

Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands & Conservation
Day-two began with a four-hour meeting. RMEF staffers presented a financial overview and a mission update including RMEF initiatives, land projects, habitat stewardship work, elk restorations, and hunting heritage outreach and advocacy projects and efforts. HC members asked questions and learned details about upcoming events and opportunities.

“As I go around the country, there’s a culture within RMEF that permeates this organization. It’s salt of the earth people that belong to this group. When Elk Foundation people get together, they make new friends. We have the greatest people in this great country that belong to this organization. It’s God, family and country. We cannot thank you enough. We just love you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said Charlie Decker, RMEF co-founder and Habitat Council co-chair.

Charlie and Yvonne Decker
“I’ve been a volunteer a long time and I’m always amazed of the time and money that volunteers put in,” said Yvonne Decker, Habitat Council co-chair.

“You are the ambassadors that really make a difference for this organization. You folks have gone above and beyond and done things that really count,” said Bob Munson, RMEF co-founder and Habitat Council co-chair. 

“It’s not without sacrifice that you come. You leave your family, friends and some of the responsibilities of home. I think it’s important to recognize you have a vested interested in RMEF. We need to be collectively good stewards of those resources you invested,” said Vicki Munson, RMEF Habitat Council co-chair.

Bob and Vicki Munson
“The health of the Elk Foundation is the best it’s ever been—advocacy, membership, membership and politically. Our national presence is huge. We have without question elevated the level of advocacy in DC and in every state around the country. We are asked and do provide input to our congressional leaders, senators, governors and others,” said Chuck Roady, RMEF chairman of the board.

“The board of this organization is different. All of us are volunteers. We all have the heart and the head for this organization. The money you put into this organization is well-spent. The people on the staff have a heart for this organization,” said Philip Barrett, RMEF board member.

In the early evening, HC members left the meeting room and their 15-seat passenger vans behind for four-seat golf carts. Once behind the wheel, the foursomes took part in a 45-minute, two-and-a-half mile trek covering the Top of the Rock Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail. Travelers weaved along the small roadway through the natural beauty of the Ozarks, over covered Amish bridges and into caves featuring natural rock formations and waterfalls. One highlighted stop was at a small bar nestled near cascading waterfalls in Lost Canyon Cave. 

From there, HC members remained on site but made their way to the End of the Trail All-American Wine Cellar. In addition to a fine meal and plenty of friendly conversation, diners witnessed the sinking sun which led to a breathtaking view from both the reflection pool immediately outside the dining area and beyond to a shimmering Table Rock Lake in the distance. Bagpipes played and a cannon fired into the evening to mark the setting of the sun.

The highlight of every summer retreat is a trip to a RMEF field project. The 2016 gathering was no different. The 10-van convey headed across the state line and into Arkansas’s Buffalo River country. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists gave an update on the local herd numbering 600-700 in size. They also talked about habitat stewardship projects (70 projects since 1998), Chronic Wasting Disease, food plots to minimize conflict with private landowners, other wildlife, hunting regulations, research and various other issues. HC members also looked across the landscape that includes the first-ever RMEF conservation easement in Arkansas established by a HC member. 

The departure dinner took place at the Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks, a non-denominational, tuition-free liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1,400 students that commercially operates both a restaurant and hotel. Students pay no tuition because, despite whatever their educational pursuits, they are required to put in 15 hours a week raising crops, tending animals, working in the kitchen, serving as waiters and waitresses, manning and maintaining 15 hotel suites, marketing their products and services, and carrying out other duties. With an emphasis on Christian values and character, hard work, and financial responsibility, the school proudly dubs itself “Hard Work U.”

One hundred and ten students, including the professor who oversees the Culinary Arts department, manned the kitchen and worked the night of the HC dinner. Every item served as part of the farm-to-table menu was raised on campus. Highlighting the evening was a surprise appearance by “Kenny Rogers” and “Dolly Parton” (aka former HC co-chairs Howard and Nancy Holland) who serenated on-lookers and friends with a lip sync performance that those on hand won’t soon forget. 

The 2017 summer retreat will take place in Seattle. Many who attend will also join RMEF founders Bob Munson, Charlie Decker and their wives for the RMEF Founders Alaska Cruise

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Wonderful Day at Wall Creek

Sleeves rolled up and the fencing came down on an early summer morning in Montana’s Madison Valley. Approximately 20 volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, joined by a handful of other Montanans, kicked off a day-long celebration by removing more than 1.25 miles of old fencing on the newly expanded Madison-Wall Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

RMEF previously purchased and then transferred 631 acres of prime winter elk habitat on what is now part of the 7,188-acre WMA to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) as a way to permanently protect the land and open access to it for hunters, anglers, hikers and others to enjoy. The southern edge of the property borders the existing WMA while the eastern edge borders Bureau of Land Management land that runs clear to the Madison River. The project included removing a 3,096-square foot house

Following the fence pull, attendees gathered on the WMA for a barbeque lunch and a dedication ceremony to celebrate the new addition. Attendees included members of the RMEF board of directors, chapter chairs and representatives of FWP, the state of Montana and other groups and organizations. Speakers celebrated the land project and talked about the immediate history of the area as well as its importance to wildlife and Montanans. RMEF also presented Elk Country partnership Awards to FWP employees (photo below) who had key roles in the project.

Howard Burt (FWP) & Matt Ashley (RMEF), Mike Baugh (RMEF) & Julie Cunningham (FWP), Larry Irwin (RMEF) & Dean Waltee (FWP) (left to right)

The Madison-Wall Creek project celebration helped ring in Montana Open Land Month which is designed to treasure Montana’s open spaces by getting families outside to experience the land and wildlife, and enjoy access to unique outdoor recreation.

The dedication sign held (from left to right) by: Shane Brozovich (FWP game warden), Dean Waltee (FWP biologist), Matt Ashley (RMEF regional director), Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, Sam Sheppard (FWP regional supervisor), Julie Cunningham (FWP biologist), Larry Irwin and Mike Baugh (RMEF board of directors), Howard Burt (FWP regional wildlife manager), Mike Mueller (RMEF lands program manager) and Fred King (FWP WMA manager, retired).