MISSOULA, Mont. — March is officially Women’s History Month. Congress designated the tribute to generations of women whose contributions proved invaluable to American society. Education. Arts. Business. Technology. Medicine. Alongside these areas, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also is commemorating women’s role in conservation.“Most Americans appreciate wildlife and wild places, but most also are unaware that these public resources thrive because of hunters — and, more than ever, because of hunters who happen to be women,” RMEF President and CEO David Allen said.
Today, conservation funding from women collectively, and conservation leadership from women individually, are undervalued but extremely significant.
Allen explained, “The number of women in hunting, sport shooting and gun ownership is up; therefore, the number of women who are contributing to conservation also is up.”
Statistics suggest that women now contribute up to $117 million per year to wildlife and habitat programs by way of their hunting license fees, special taxes on new firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows, and voluntary donations to organizations like RMEF.
Women hunters also are responsible for up to $5.9 billion per year in economic output.
Those figures are calculated as 9 percent of the respective totals generated by all hunters combined, since females make up about 9 percent of all hunters.
Females also compose roughly 9 percent of elk hunters specifically—as well as about 9 percent of all RMEF members. That percentage jumps a couple points in demographic studies of the most avid attendees at RMEF fundraising events. It jumps again at the volunteer ranks. An estimated 33 percent of RMEF volunteers are women.
Aside from their contributions as hunters, sport shooters, gun owners, consumers, donors and volunteers, women are vital to conservation today as professionals working in the field. About 40 percent of the RMEF staff is women. RMEF’s largest conservation partner, the U.S. Forest Service, has a workforce of wildlife biologists that is that 43 percent female. Women work as game wardens, researchers, land managers, agency directors and every other role that helps make conservation go.
Allen said, “If conservation had a number to represent its ‘Gross Domestic Product,’ meaning the total of all goods and services associated with conservation in 2012, I think we’d all be surprised at how much of that total is influenced by women.”
Examples of women whose influence has reached deep into elk country:
• Gail Kimbell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, 2007-2009. Kimbell presided over conservation work on 193 million acres of public lands. Most elk and elk hunting in the U.S. occur on these lands.
• Dr. Christine Thomas, RMEF past-director and founder of Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, the nation’s premier program to introduce women to sporting lifestyles.
• Cheryl Haralson, RMEF past-director. Known as the “Arkansas Elk Lady,” she hunted and bagged Arkansas’ state-record bull and continues to champion elk and elk habitat in her home state and across the country.
• Haralson, Kay Clark, Debbie Lewis, Annie Lewis, Penney Oncken and Tammie Lynne Smith are among the recipients of RMEF’s highest honor, the Wallace Fennell Pate Wildlife Conservation Award. Alongside their husbands and families, each has given special gifts of money, time and talent to benefit elk and other wildlife.
• Four of the ten Elk Country Awards presented by RMEF and the U.S. Forest Service for exemplary habitat stewardship have honored women: Jodie Canfield of the Helena National Forest, Jane Ingebretson of the Flathead National Forest, Kathleen Johnson of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and Melanie Woolever of the agency’s regional office in Denver.
• RMEF Team Elk members Tiffany Lakosky and Kristy Titus, TV personalities who inspire countless girls and women to get involved with hunting and conservation.
Allen said, “Women are contributing in various ways to the RMEF mission. They’re a major part of why hunting is conservation today — and their growing involvement positions our entire community to better meet our challenges in the future.”
• RMEF now exceeds $500,000 in sponsorships of Becoming an Outdoors-Woman and other programs to introduce women to hunting, sport shooting and conservation.
• According to CBS News, the national total for female gun owners has doubled over the last decade, increasing to nearly 5 million women since 2001.
• The most authoritative source of hunter data, the National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, shows flat recent trends in numbers of women hunters. But the survey did track a remarkable spike—in fact, a doubling—of females afield between 1985 and 1990.
• Data from the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), an organization for retailers, shows that female participation in hunting rose 36 percent between 2001 and 2010, to a total of 2.4 million women hunters.
• NSGA data also shows that female participation in sport shooting rose 46 percent during 2001-2010, to a total of 4.8 million.
• The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the shooting, hunting and outdoor industry, reports that 61 percent of its member companies noted an increase in female customers between 2009 and 2010.