Check out just a few of the ways RMEF has been Restoring Elk Country nationwide
Elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep worship the native grasses that drape the stair-stepped ridges and benches of the Salmon River Breaks west of the town of North Fork. But one wildfire after another has burned across this area since 2012, allowing one of the nastiest of non-native grasses—cheatgrass—to dominate. RMEF recently helped fund herbicide spraying across 962 infested acres using a helicopter due to the steep and roadless character of this country. In addition, 40 acres were aerially seeded with native grasses and forbs.
Pinyons, junipers, Gambel oak and serviceberry are overtaking sagebrush meadows on Cedar Mountain north of Rifle Gap Reservoir. That’s pushed mule deer and elk to look elsewhere for the food they need to outlast winter. But RMEF, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, BLM and other partners are fighting back with a combination of hand thinning and using a tractor-mounted masticator to reopen the brushy canopy across a 371-acre patchwork. That will allow sage, grasses and forbs to rebound and once again provide a buffet for the White River Elk Herd.
Hunting is commonplace in western Montana, but that doesn’t mean everyone automatically gets a chance to try it. With that in mind, RMEF helped fund scholarships for teens to attend a 2018 summer camp put on by the Montana Bowhunters Association (MBA) in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. Now in its third year, the camp brought 21 participants ages 12 to 18 to learn orienteering, camping skills, game tracking and calling—and of course, how, where and when to shoot their bows accurately at the vitals of an elk. They left prepared to take to the woods come fall.
Guzzlers capture rain and snow to fill a covered drink tank for wildlife. For decades, a network of them has helped slake the thirst of elk and other wildlife in the Pine Ridge region. But wildfires in 2006 and 2012 destroyed several guzzlers. Chadron State College’s RMEF student chapter rebuilt the first in 2015 with help from an RMEF grant. Then in 2018, wildlife technicians finished restoring two more guzzlers and wildlife-friendly fencing to exclude cattle. Soon after, a teen installed another guzzler to complete his Eagle Scout Service Project.
State Game Lands 14 spans almost 15,000 acres in Cameron County, but nine out of every 10 of those acres are heavily forested. Forage openings are vital to elk and other wildlife for the grasses and forbs they provide, which are otherwise scant under the dense canopy of trees. Over the past two years, RMEF has helped fund a pair of Pennsylvania Game Commission-led projects to create six new herbaceous openings totaling more than 60 acres.
In the arid Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, springs and riparian meadows are magnets for both livestock and wildlife. Guzzlers and other man-made water sources have been added to help spread out the impact, but some are beginning to show their age with dilapidated fences and broken pipelines. The Forest Service partnered with RMEF and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to refurbish those most in need and most vital. In 2017 and 2018, workers replaced old barbed wire with pipe rail fencing around 20 riparian areas, and purchased another 10 new water guzzlers that will be installed this summer.
Ponderosa pine forests depend on frequent low‑intensity fires to clean house, protecting them from catastrophic burns while also reinvigorating lush grasses and forbs on the forest floor. RMEF recently helped fund a 3,581-acre prescribed burn led by the Santa Fe National Forest on French Mesa north of Gallina. Part of a forest-wide effort to return a historical fire regime to this landscape, this project improved forage quality and quantity for deer and elk while reducing the risk of high-intensity wildfires. The burns should also create a nice fire break to help protect a nearby Girl Scout camp.
On the Black Hills National Forest northwest of Crows Nest Peak near the Wyoming border, a posse of invasive weeds including leafy spurge, spotted knapweed, absinthe wormwood and oxeye daisy are diminishing vital elk habitat. But Pennington County weed managers are retaliating with help from RMEF. Since 2015, they’ve sprayed 400 acres of these foreign invaders in multiple phases, working with 12 private landowners to hit infestations regardless of land ownership. Two thirds of the weeds sprayed were on national forest, while the rest lay on private land.