Elk Network‘My First Volunteer Project:’ A Testimonial from an RMEF Member

Volunteer News | September 26, 2023

(Photo credits: Nevada Department of Wildlife)

Here is an edited letter from RMEF member Don Woods of Las Vegas. In an email to RMEF, he wrote, “I thought you might want to see this article from a first-time volunteer on an RMEF project. I took it from my journal I save for my three daughters.” Woods was featured in the 2023 September-October issue of Bugle magazine, just inside the back cover. If you have a story you would like to share about your service as a volunteer, email it along with a few high-resolution images to [email protected].

It was a no brainer decision, when I received the e-mail early in 2022! I had always wanted to volunteer for a project with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. A flyer indicated there would be a guzzler installed on Butte Mountain just below the Rubies in central Nevada, on the 18th and 19th of June 2022, and they were needing volunteers.

Previous projects—a fence crossing and a road crossing offered during the 2000/2002 pandemic—had been cancelled, and I had been in the foundation for some five years with no other wildlife opportunities lining up with my schedule! I quickly responded to the sender to put me on the list and penciled it onto my calendar.

I was expecting not to know anyone at the camp because I wasn’t familiar with the Elko RMEF Chapter, as I am a member of the Las Vegas Chapter, which does a lot of activities with the Pahrump Chapter. However, I was really surprised by the number of Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) employees that I ran into because I am a serious volunteer with the Southern Division of NDOW. In fact, they were eager to know how I had even heard about the project. I quickly responded to please accept me as I got a flyer from RMEF. I determined that most of the officials in this camp were actually NDOW employees from Elko, Reno, and Las Vegas and I do not recall meeting any Elko RMEF members!

Because of the high wind I went to sleep in my pickup around 9 p.m. instead of setting up my little backpacking tent.

I woke up at 4:30 the next morning, returned the pickup to its normal appearance and went for coffee.

About 7:30 a.m. the workday started. Somebody from NDOW took the microphone and detailed what had previously been done at this guzzler site to date, and what we volunteers would be doing today. Details but no assignments! A little before 8 a.m., we took a nine-mile drive through the very sandy and dusty desert road up the north side of Butte Mountain where we found the parking area about 200 yards from where we were going to be working. There really were no further instructions. They just kind of let us drift over to the area where all of preconstruction material was located. Some sheet metal paneling and hand tools were on the ground. Those volunteers that were familiar with this type of project started providing suggestions like, “Well, the first thing we have to do is take the plastic sheeting, (which is like cellophane), off of the siding.” That siding was really aluminum sheet paneling that would be used to catch rain for runoff into the pipes that go underground to a large storage bladder. Thereafter, we spent most of the morning ripping off that thin cellophane and restacking the sheeting.

Meanwhile, other volunteers were collecting various size rocks to put around the pool that was going to be the watering hole. Most of us made ourselves useful by either using a shovel to direct the sparks from the grinders that were used to cut off the metal studs or we helped improve the holes that had been pre-dug by tractor equipment. The whole area had been measured and staked, but we helped red paint the ground so all the holes were dug in straight lines. Then the steel girders were put in the holes, aligned and marked for being cut off. Then extra girders bolted on horizontally at the height that panels were going to be attached.

It wasn’t hard work. It was just busy work. We had to find things to do and there were 48 of us volunteers to do so. There were actually more people than needed. After the provided lunch, all the panels were going to be put on to the structure we had helped build. Some of the people started putting up a barbed wire fence around the panel structure.

Earlier in the day, some of the NDOW people had actually made a pipe-pole corral around the pool where the animals would drink. The idea was that elk, antelope and deer would be able get in to drink, but antelope could go under the fence, while deer and elk could jump the fence. Domestic animals such as horses and cattle don’t crawl under and don’t jump that high. The barb wire fence around the panels was to keep goats and antelope from crawling up on top of the sheet metal and denting or damaging it.

We completed the whole operation by about 3:30 in the afternoon. And they took a picture of the group behind the project. When they released us about 4 o’clock, I started driving out and decided that I still had time to make the Father’s Day Sunday Service at my church and be with my family at the party they had planned for me after church that day, and thus debunk their criticizing me for making that Father’s Day a part of my bucket list, i.e., the project!

Would I do it again? IN A HEART BEAT! It was not hard work, nor dangerous! I met and worked with a lot of likeminded, friendly, helpful people, and it was a very good and worthwhile project! Not to mention, I learned a lot during our working and downtime conversations. Next time, I would still like to do another but possibly different kind of project, just to broaden my experience and education before I get much older than 82.

Back-on-the dirt road, I beelined past the campsite’s evening festivities of BBQ, awards and raffles, and I did get back to Vegas by 10 p.m. On the return I went on pavement and went through Ely, creating about 360 miles to get home!

Don Woods