The Challenge: Great Elk Need Great Habitat
Sustaining healthy elk herds requires quality habitat. Unfortunately, many corners of North America’s elk country today suffer from unnaturally dense forests, invasions of noxious weeds, lack of dependable water sources and many other challenges.
To meet this critical need, RMEF is focusing our efforts through the Managed Lands Initiative to enhance habitat across elk country. Our aim is to restore or improve an average of 115,000 acres of elk habitat annually with a five-year target of 575,000 acres—an area more than twice the size of Rocky Mountain National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park—spread across America’s elk country coast to coast wherever habitat needs help the most. We will continue to partner with federal and state management agencies, private landowners, industry, universities and other non-profits—and in the process, vastly multiply the money we are able to put on the ground to ensure the future of elk and other wildlife.
RMEF’s National Priority for the Managed Lands Initiative: Forest/rangeland thinning, Prescribed burning, Noxious weed control, Aspen restoration, Installation and maintenance of wildlife water sources.
Many forests and rangelands are overgrown with similarly aged trees. Whether it’s hardwoods in the Appalachians or Ozarks, pinyon and junipers in the Southwest’s high deserts or dog-hair spruce stands in the Pacific Northwest, landscapes once covered in healthy trees of diverse age classes and lush grasses are now all too often just barren soil under an impenetrable forest canopy. This has in too many cases led elk and deer populations to decline due to the lack of nutritional forage. RMEF is fighting back, by funding hundreds of forest thinning efforts using a variety of mechanical means, from chainsaws to tractor-mounted hydro-axes.
Most of the places elk historically thrived in North America were shaped by frequent wildfires. Elk fatten up and prosper on the burst of grasses and forbs that follow in the path of healthy fires, and amid the new trees and shrubs that are reborn from fire with fresh growth. Prescribed burns not only improve elk habitat, but applied carefully, can drastically reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires in the future. RMEF has helped fund more than 1,200 prescribed burn projects to restore healthy habitat to more than 1.4 million acres.
Noxious Weed Control
Foreign weeds are silently replacing native forage for elk and other wildlife across the country. The nutritional equivalent of cardboard, these invaders pose a serious threat. RMEF is fighting back, having treated more than half a million acres of noxious weeds across 19 states with herbicide and biological methods, like in Colorado’s Flat Tops, home to 40,000 elk.
Aspen forests are a habitat mecca for elk and scores of other species, but the trees are struggling due to a variety of factors. Sometimes fire or forest thinning is the best prescription—other times it’s a solid fence to give an overgrazed aspen stand a chance to rebound. RMEF has helped to fund aspen projects in every western state—in many landscapes where these trees have historically prospered, like South Dakota’s Black Hills and Wyoming’s Sierra Madre Mountains.
Wildlife Water Sources
RMEF funds, along with our army of volunteers, have helped install and repair hundreds of guzzlers, spring developments and ponds across the country to help elk and other wildlife find reliable water in suitable habitat and during severe drought. In the last decade alone, RMEF volunteers have installed or repaired more than 50 guzzlers on public lands in 11 states.
Restoring Elk Country
Since 1984, RMEF has completed more than 4,000 projects to improve habitat across all 28 states with free-ranging wild elk populations. The majority of this work on public lands is in partnership with the USFS, BLM, state wildlife agencies and other land managers.