Elk NetworkRMEF Sees Mission Successes in 2020

Volunteer News | January 20, 2021

Amongst all the craziness of last year, RMEF stuck to the mission of conserving and improving habitat for elk and other wildlife. We even conserved our 8 millionth acre over the 36-year life of the organization. Our success on the ground is a testament to you and every one of our other supporters. Here are some achievements of 2020:

Wyoming’s Black Hills –RMEF celebrated the acquisition of the Grand Canyon of the Black Hills. The project put 4,350 acres into public hands and improved access to 12,620 acres of public lands. “This project was a triple threat – securing protection of an iconic landscape, improving recreational access for the public and maintaining traditional uses of the land such as grazing and timber management,” says Jennifer Doherty, RMEF director of lands. State and local agencies worked together with support from multiple organizations while Leah Burgess, RMEF senior lands program manager, kept the project moving towards the finish line. This is a must-see RMEF project, with rock arches and ledges, wetlands and unique forest. The steadfast landowner said it best when he said “…this is a legacy everyone should be proud of.”

New Mexico Elk Migrations – Nearly 1,200 acres of vital elk winter range in northern New Mexico was permanently protected and opened to the public in December of 2020. Working with the Ortega, Santistevan and Thorne families and the Bureau of Land Management, RMEF was able to secure these properties for long-term protection and access. The four private parcels were once in-holdings within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in the San Luis Valley. “RMEF is grateful for the landowner’s conservation ethics and their patience. The conservation of these in-holdings helps create a more contiguous landscape for the massive migration of 10,000 or more elk that move freely between Colorado and New Mexico each year,” says Ryan Chapin, lands operations manager. “Assisting in the protection of a migration route of this scale and importance is at the heart of RMEF’s longstanding work in the area.”

Michigan’s Pigeon River Country State Forest (PRC) – RMEF conserved Dorsy and Walled Lake, at 120 and 597 acres respectively. RMEF has a history within Michigan’s Lower Peninsula elk range, with multi-year habitat improvement projects such as putting prescribed fire back on the ground and enhancing meadows. The properties, which Michigan’s Department of Nature Resources purchased in winter 2020, were dubbed as the largest inholdings within the state’s elk zone. This means it is uniquely positioned to be well loved by wildlife and yet far from creating any conflict with traditional property owners located just outside of the elk zone.

Jackson to Hoback Cheatgrass Management – Invasive cheatgrass continues to rapidly expand on hillsides from Grand Teton National Park, south to the Snake River and Hoback Canyons in Wyoming. This area provides crucial forage for elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep; however, cheatgrass is severely impacting native plant communities by altering the frequency and intensity of fires and out-competing native forage. RMEF partnered with Teton County, Wyoming Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service and others to treat more than 4,000 acres in 2020 across public and private lands used by wildlife. In 2021, partners plan to use drone technology to treat cheatgrass in hard-to-reach areas.