MISSOULA, Mont.—In 1984, a logger, a realtor, a pastor and a drive-in owner—all from Lincoln County, Mont.—launched the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation from a small office in the town of Troy. Twenty-five years later, RMEF is now international in scope yet remains active in habitat conservation projects back home.
Charlie Decker, a Libby logger who was concerned about the area’s habitat loss and still serves on the RMEF board, remembers the organization’s early days all too vividly.
“We needed start-up money and I used my oldest son’s college fund. My wife and I had saved for years. It nearly cost me a divorce,” said Decker.
Together, the four founders pooled the Decker funds with second mortgages, loans against businesses and deep dips into personal checking accounts. It was enough to print and mail 43,000 brochures soliciting members and promising a magazine and annual convention. Only 233 people responded. But the founders honored their commitment to those first joiners, and the rest is history.
Today the nonprofit Elk Foundation has grown to 150,000 members worldwide.
Some 10,000 volunteers provide even more financial fuel, holding over 550 fundraisers annually, such as the RMEF Lincoln County Big Game Banquet slated for Oct. 17 in Libby (for more information, contact Toni Kinden at 406-334-0134).
Funds from these events have paid for more than 6,100 different conservation projects such as prescribed burns, weed treatments, forest thinning, water developments and more. Combined, these efforts now top 5.6 million acres of habitat for elk and other wildlife.
Back home in Lincoln County, RMEF remains true to its roots, making its home county one the top project areas in Montana.
RMEF Activity in Lincoln County, Mont.
- 31 projects funded; nearly 30,000 acres enhanced for elk and other wildlife.
- First-ever RMEF project: Transplanted 17 elk including 11 calves, 5 cows and 1 bull from the National Bison Range to the Pete Creek area in the Yaak River drainage in northwestern Montana.
- Funded a cooperative, integrated noxious weed management project on 12,500 acres of high-use elk winter range within the Butler and Alder Creek drainages east of Fisher River. Partners included Lincoln County Weed District, Plum Creek Timber Company, Montana Department of Natural Resource and Conservation, Montana Department of Transportation and Kootenai National Forest. Spotted knapweed and other weeds treated along 39.4 miles of road treated with herbicide and biocontrols.
- Developed four wildlife-watering sites on dry summer range supporting elk, moose, deer and other wildlife in the Libby Ranger District.
- Treated more than 11,200 acres of national forest and state lands with prescribed fire to improve forage for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and moose.
However, for all the good it has accomplished, Decker believes the Elk Foundation’s window of opportunity may be closing.
He said, “The landscape is changing fast. The hunters who’ve always been the backbone of the Elk Foundation are declining. A growing population and increasing demands on open space mean our organization needs to work at a feverish pace, and I worry about getting it all done before it’s too late.”
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org
or 800-CALL ELK.