By Nick Simonson
While known for its work in securing, improving and gaining public access to elk habitat in the western United States, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) is making an impact for its namesake and for new hunters in North Dakota. In 2019, RMEF undertook a number of projects and grants investing in land acquisition, habitat improvement and youth outdoor projects totaling just over $197,000. Through direct donations and the leveraging of incentive dollars and like-kind matches from partner groups, the organization, which has 11 chapters in the Roughrider State, capped off this achievement with the acquisition of 160 acres added to the Tretault Woods State Forest near Walhalla, N.D. over the summer. According to Kris Lofstrom, Regional Director for RMEF in North Dakota, the Clairmont Addition will further increase recreational use of the forest and provide more habitat for the region’s elk population and other wildlife species.
“RMEF actually partnered with the Forest Service, ND Game and Fish and a few other partners just recently here this year, to purchase what’s called the Clairmont Addition to the Tetrault State Forest in the northeastern portion of the state, and it basically added 160 acres to that land, opening it up to future generations,” he stated, adding that it will benefit the resident elk populations along with other wildlife in addition to providing access for hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists such as canoers and kayakers utilizing the Pembina River which runs through the state forest.
The organization also supported a multi-phase weed control project to knock back noxious plants which had been overtaking public and private lands in the Pembina Gorge region. Since 2012, the organization and its partners have been working to clean up and restore more than 8,700 acres of natural grassland and other habitat to benefit wildlife in northeastern North Dakota. Additionally, in 2019, RMEF invested heavily in recruiting new hunters by supporting a number of shooting sports programs throughout the state, partnering with other local groups to get more shotgunners, archers and new sportsmen skilled in various disciplines and out into the field.
“This year we were able to give back to 17 different programs across the state of North Dakota benefiting youth archery, trap teams, 4-H clubs, sportsman’s clubs, also women in wildlife programs,” Lofstrom detailed, “for us they’re just as important as lands projects because we want the younger generations to enjoy and understand all the hard work we’re putting in now into conservation and wildlife – they are the future of RMEF and conservation,” he concluded.
Founded in 1984 by four hunters from Troy, and based in Missoula, Mont., RMEF’s mission is to ensure the future of elk and other wildlife, while preserving their habitat and the hunting heritage. The organization boasts a four-star rating with Charity Navigator and an overall score of 91.19/100. Supported through donations and government grants, along with membership dues, RMEF leverages these finances for projects at the local level spearheaded by chapter volunteers throughout North Dakota and the United States. Through those grassroots efforts since its inception, in 2015 RMEF topped the $1 Billion dollar mark in terms of conservation value added through more than 9,738 projects impacting over 6.7 million acres.
“We were very fortunate this year to work with a bunch of different groups throughout North Dakota, ranging from land projects to youth projects,” Lofstrom stated “a lot of people know us as a national organization, which we are, but with very strong ties locally and that’s why we’re structured the way we are, and why we give back so much to the local chapters, local events and local groups that have an interest in us and what we can do,” he concluded.
Featured Photo: The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is working to improve habitat for elk and other wildlife and bring new hunters into the field as part of its annual investments and volunteer efforts in ND. Simonson Photo.