Montana volunteers have a reputation for knowing how to throw a party, specifically their summer rendezvous. The June 2016 volunteer celebration—the event’s 21st year—attracted over 120 attendees from across the Big Sky State for a campout near Bozeman, where they enjoyed music, played games and hung out by the fire.
But the event has another tradition that involves a little more muscle.
“At one point, the volunteers decided, ‘Hey, we’re all together, and we are celebrating some really good stuff. Why not have fence projects? Let’s try and make what we’ve already done even better,’” says Jared Wold, RMEF regional director for Western Montana and northern Idaho.
“We usually just do one, but we had quite a few volunteers and thought we would have enough help to get two projects accomplished in a day,” says Matt Ashley, Eastern Montana reginal director. “They are passionate about putting their efforts back on the ground to better elk country.”
Volunteers chose which of two fencing projects they preferred, with two teams heading out on the morning of June 24 to help tear down old fencing.
“RMEF volunteers are one of the fastest groups when it comes to taking fence down and piling fence posts,” says Wold. “As a staff member, it’s a great part of the job to be working shoulder to shoulder with such awesome people.”
The first group of RMEF volunteers removed one mile of old fence on private land in prime elk wintering grounds where elk calves have a history of becoming entangled. While not a participant in Montana’s Block Management Program, the landowner has been known to allow public hunting access. When the landowner wasn’t able to remove the fence alone, they reached out to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for help, who in return reached out to the Elk Foundation, says Wold.
Another group of volunteers removed 2 ½ miles of barbed-wire fence at Durnham Meadows on the Gallatin National Forest. The 72-acre site was formerly a private land until it is became part of the national forest in 1978. After the land was purchased using Land and Water Conservation Funds, the Forest Service fenced this meadow and kept livestock and horses there for almost 15 years. Now, elk use the meadow frequently, and some have become tangled up in the fence, says Ashley.
“With the fence now gone, wildlife will have safer access to this area’s excellent feeding grounds and be able to move freely between the mountains and the river,” says Cody Yeatts, USFS Partnership & Volunteer Coordinator for the Bozeman Ranger District. “These volunteers put in their hard work to improve this wildlife habitat.”
The event was Karl Gyde’s first rendezvous. While a member of RMEF since the ‘80s, he’s recently become more active in his efforts to help RMEF’s work to secure public lands and hunting access. Gyde also brought his 15-year-old son Bo with him.
“It’s something we were thinking of doing for a long time and just never got around to it,” Gyde says. “This year we did it, and we had a blast—probably some of the most fun I’ve ever had.”
The father and son duo signed up for the Durnham Meadows fence removal project. As the youngest volunteer, Bo helped to pick up and pile removed posts for disposal.
“It was hard work, but it was very rewarding and very fun,” Bo says. “I love to hunt elk. That’s one of my favorite things to do. When you get to go out and you get to help that animal’s life be a little bit easier—and make it easier on yourself to hunt that animal—it’s fun. It helps deer and other animals out there as well. That was hard work, but it pays off in the end.”
The project left a big impression on both father and son.
“It was crazy,” Gyde said. “The impact was very visible. You didn’t notice that much fence, but when we were done, it changes the landscape totally. It didn’t look like the same place. It looks wild again.”
The 22nd annual Montana Summer Rendezvous takes place June 22-25, 2017 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Boulder. For more information, contact Kim Wold at [email protected] or register online at https://events.rmef.org/!6E8.