Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
By Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
By Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
The return of the Rocky Mountain elk is a classic wildlife management story. A good part of the public involvement and awareness can be contributed to RMEF. At present, under the direction of RMEF’s president David Allen, the RMEF is in good hands and so are the efforts to continue the growth and stability of elk across North America. Make sure you join or renew your RMEF membership.
Excitement, anticipation, impatience, and a feeling of longing all wrapped up into one sleepless night. It wasn’t Christmas Eve, but it sure felt like it. It was the night before my father took me into the woods of South Dakota’s Black Hills to go on my first “real” hunt. It wasn’t my first time. He’d toted me along in his backpack when I was too young to keep up, and I’d been tagging along ever since. But it was the first time I could accompany him as a hunter myself. I tried to match his long stride through brush standing as tall as me. I remember drinking from a thermos of hot chocolate as he downed his thermos full of coffee. It was truly grand sharing the sights, the smells, and the beauty of the backcountry as our bond grew all the stronger, and I started to develop my own “hands on” love of wildlife and the outdoors.
Sometime later I shot my first deer on my grandparents’ ranch. It snowed the night before, and I remember working my way through the silence of the woods and spotting a spike Whitetail. It was glorious and something I’ll never forget! It all happened before breakfast, but Grandma didn’t believe me until I delivered the heart and liver to her. I still consider that little spike to be my greatest trophy.
As a father I’ve worked hard to create those same kinds of bonding memories with my two children. My sons started to accompany me hunting when they were just 4 years old, but I fear those memories, those experiences that tie us to the beautiful land and abundant resources around us, are no longer kindled for many. Unfortunately research bears that out. A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found children ages 8-18 spend an average of 7 1/2 hours every day connected to a smart phone, computer, television, or other electronic device. As one pediatrician stated, media use among youth is so prevalent that it is “like the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat.”
I don’t have anything against today’s electronic gizmos as I, too, am seemingly attached to my cell phone and laptop, but this shift from an active lifestyle connected to nature to a more sedentary behavior really concerns me. Still there is hope. The Hunger Games novel really opened some eyes and stirred some emotions among young people. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, learned to bowhunt to provide food for her starved family. The books and movie promote adventure, survival skills, the right to bear arms, and the importance of hunting and fishing.
This is an important time for all of us. We need to take advantage of this growing interest in outdoor-related activities and extend our love of the outdoors and wildlife to the next generation. Now is the time to do it! It is not vital for a boy or girl to shoot something, but it is vital to get them engaged. If you value your hunting heritage, then seek to extend it by showing the next generation what it’s all about. Take to the woods, the hills, or the mountains. Go hiking, floating, fishing, shooting, hunting, or camping. Your efforts will form strong bonds and lasting memories.
I feel so lucky that my dad helped me come to know that passion, and I’m not alone. Here’s how Randy Newberg, longtime RMEF life member and host of On Your Own Adventures put it, “The father-son hunting part of it is the real trophy for me. No TV. No faxes. It is kind of simple stuff to build a fire and sleep out under the stars, but it is true freedom.”
More than 95% of RMEF members are hunters, so they probably anticipate opening day as much as I do. After all we’ve waited all year, planned and deliberated, worked out, practiced shooting, broke in a new pair of boots, packed, unpacked, and repacked our packs, and at some point during the year, by attending a banquet or renewing memberships or volunteering for an on-the-ground habitat project. Together we’ve made sure that elk country is ready for hunting season, too.
Without habitat, there would be no game. Without game, there would be no hunting. Without hunters, there would be no conservation, and thus, no habitat. RMEF recognized this circular truth recently by adding three key words, “our hunting heritage,” to our mission statement. It now reads, “To ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.” Adding that little phrase merely formalizes a priority that RMEF has always supported. Since 1984 RMEF has invested more than $3.5 million in nearly 2,000 hunting heritage projects in 49 states. Still this small change in our mission statement is significant. It means the enthusiasm that you and I share for hunting is not reserved for us as individuals but an official part of our organization.
There’s more good news. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just announced that the number of hunters nationwide is on the rise. This reverses a long downward trend. More than 1 million citizens bought a hunting license and contributed to conservation in 2011 than in 2006. The tradition, lifestyle, and stewardship ethic of us, as hunters, have strengthened, not weakened, within American culture.
To me, the people volunteering their time and money to fund and do the kind of boots-on-the-ground habitat protection and stewardship work that has defined the RMEF since 1984 are America at her best. Thanks to our 197,000 members the RMEF has now conserved more than 6.2 million acres. Those acres span 21 states, from Alaska to Arizona and from California to Pennsylvania. And this isn’t just any land. These are the most critical pieces of habitat for elk and other wildlife. Not coincidentally they are also some of the finest places you could ever hope to hunt. From the mountains to the prairies, these lands truly are the heart of elk country.
Maybe even more importantly two out of every three acres we’ve protected are now open to public access. Let me say that again. Two out of every three acres the RMEF has protected are now open to you and me. But the fact is we need more of the freedom that only comes with access to great elk country. So far the RMEF has helped open more than 650,000 acres of formerly off-limits land for the public to hunt, fish, and enjoy. And the RMEF is charging harder than ever to purchase key land and to secure easements that open the way to public land that’s now blocked off. Because without access, elk hunting, as most of us know it, would not exist.
If you’re already a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, thanks for making a lasting difference. If you haven’t yet joined us, I hope you’ll help ensure that tomorrow’s children will always have the chance to know that indescribable feeling of the night before their first hunt.