Idaho volunteers participated in three land stewardship projects this July, proving that RMEF’s force of dedicated volunteers continues to get things done on the ground.
On July 10, 25 volunteers met along the Route of the Hiawatha, a scenic mountain bike trail straddling the Idaho-Montana border, to remove stretches of old telegraph wire from the steep, wooded terrain during the northern Idaho Rendezvous work project. In 2019, someone found a dead bull elk in the area, antlers wrapped tightly in the wire. This year, RMEF volunteers took to the hills on the Coeur d’Alene National Forest within the St. Joe Ranger District to keep this from happening again.
The volunteers spent six hours and removed about a quarter mile of the multiple-strand wire. “It was amazing when we got back down to the trucks there were just piles and piles of wire,” says volunteer Loren Smith. “Just to know that much area was now opened up so elk could get through and other wildlife could get through there safely—it was just really cool.” The award for farthest traveled went to Carole Rowland, a RMEF volunteer who came all the way from Iowa to join in the project.
As they cut and coiled the old wire, which had been placed around 1910, the volunteers had their own cheering section. “As people would ride by on their bikes, as they found out what we were doing, they were more than grateful to us,” says Smith. “On our way out of the park, right where people were loading onto buses, they were all applauding and cheering us on as we were driving through. That was really cool to get a huge standing ovation for the work we were doing.”
In another project, three RMEF Volunteers from the Southeast Idaho Chapter in Pocatello met at the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area on July 25 and 26 along with an Idaho Fish and Game employee. The goal was to remove conifers to promote aspen stands. They worked for two 8-hour days clearing conifers from approximately two acres, says Southeast Idaho Chapter Co-Chair J.D. Johnston.
Elk habitat is also looking better on the Sawtooth National Forest near Ketchum, thanks to 11 RMEF adult volunteers and five youth volunteers. Loren Smith volunteered on this project as well. Spurred onward by a midday sandwich bar and water provided by RMEF regional director Jameson Sharp, these on-the-ground conservationists spent six hours fighting back encroaching conifer trees around the Smiley Creek area on July 25. It was hard work. “After that six hour day we were all pretty tired,” says Sharp.
The conifers were extending their insidious roots into two different open meadows that served as important foraging habitat for elk. The hard work of the RMEF volunteers with bow saws and loppers helped maintain the mosaic of habitat types that elk need to flourish. They cut out conifers from 1-3 inches in diameter and piled them in slash piles. “When we looked back and saw how much we cleared out it was actually pretty humbling to see how much work a group of people can really get done,” says Smith. “You could actually see the difference you’d made. You could see what the meadow looked like when you came in and then when you were done, just how much more open it was.”
The volunteers hailed from the Magic Valley Chapter in Twin Falls and the Mini-Cassia Chapter from Burley. There were also non-chapter-associated volunteers from Salt Lake City and Mountain Home, Idaho. Even one volunteer from Elko, Nevada, hopped on to help.
RMEF had already donated PAC funds to the project, the overall goal of which was to create a fire break and establish clear delineations between different habitat types. Much to the delight of Nelson Mills, Sawtooth NRA Forester on the project, the volunteers decided to donate people power to go along with the funds. “We got 34 acres done in one day. It was way more than I expected to get done, and the quality of the work was outstanding,” says Mills.
The day finished on a high note with a great meal. Idaho State Chair Joe Mabey cooked dinner for all the volunteers in a smoker. “We put pork butts on and when we got back, we did pulled pork that night,” says Sharp.