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Elk foundation grants boost Washington elk habitat, research

WILDLIFE — Prescribed burning, noxious weed treatments, forest restoration and big-game related research will get a boost in Washington this year from grants awarded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

 The Missoula-based group has announced it has designated $212,692 to help it's partners fund 15 conservation projects benefiting 8,760 acres of elk habitat in Washington.

The projects are in Asotin, Chelan, Columbia, Cowlitz, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens and Yakima Counties.

“These projects will help improve elk habitat in areas where encroaching weeds and forest overgrowth have a detrimental effect on wildlife,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “We are also providing funds for research regarding forage availability for elk and other wildlife near Mount St. Helens.”

Allen thanked RMEF volunteers for their hard work and dedication in raising funds for projects in Washington.

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners have completed 551 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Washington with a combined value of more than $112.3 million, the group says in a media release. These projects have protected or enhanced 453,854 acres of habitat and have opened or secured public access to 118,756 acres. 

Here is a sampling of Washington’s 2015 projects, listed by county:

Garfield County—Burn 2,685 acres within the broader Asotin Creek Prescribed Fire Project area to restore native grasslands and improve wildlife forage. To ensure the establishment of native grasses, 435 acres will be aerially seeded after the burn on a landscape that is a summer, winter and calving area for elk as well as bighorn sheep range.

Skamania County—Provide funding for continuing research to address the interaction of forage availability and nutritional quality on the elk population within the Mt. St. Helens eruption blast zone on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest compared to state and federal land outside the zone. The results provide a foundation for evaluating forest management, predicting future habitat condition trends and a basis for elk population management in the area.

Yakima County—Seed 820 acres with grasses, forbes and sagebrush to restore habitat for elk and other wildlife within the Cottonwood 2 Wildfire area that burned nearly 9,000 acres of winter range in 2014 (also affects Kittitas County).

  • For a complete list of Washington’s projects, go here.
  • Partners for the Washington projects include the Colville, Gifford Pinchot and Umatilla National Forests, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, private landowners and various sportsmen, wildlife, civic, and government organizations.

Groups help state acquire Plum Creek lands in Cascades

PUBLIC LANDS — The Nature Conservancy has purchased 1,280 acres of timberland from Plum Creek in the Manastash area west of Ellensburg, and transferred it to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to be managed as part of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

This acquisition is the most recent in a decade-long project to eliminate a "checkerboard pattern" of public and private land and create large blocks of public lands in the Cascade Mountains.

Partnerships including the state agency, TNC, the Yakama Nation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have brought more than 25,000 acres of private timberlands into public ownership as part of the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative.

The program assures public access to these lands as it heads off the possibility of the timber company selling the properties to private interests that could install locked gates.

"These particular sections are full of streams and tributaries that flow into the Yakima River," TNC says in a media release. "Conserving this forest will protect valuable river habitat for wildlife as well as ensure water downstream for people, fish, and the rich agriculture of the Yakima Valley.

Plum Creek has played an important role in keeping these forests intact while the Conservancy brought together financing to bring them into public ownership.

  • “Protecting the streams and forests in this region supports the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Plan, assuring water for people, salmon, wildlife and farms into the future," said Mike Stevens, Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy.
  • "Plum Creek recognizes the public benefits of this project and is pleased to participate in the partnership that achieved this important conservation outcome,” said Jerry Sorensen, senior director of land management for Plum Creek.
  • “Together, we’re ensuring that the public will continue to have access to this land for fishing, hunting, hiking and camping,” said Mike Livingston, Southcentral Region director for WDFW. “This diverse habitat supports threatened and endangered species such as bull trout, steelhead, spotted owls and wolves, as well as big-game such as mule deer and elk.”

The Washington Department of Ecology provided funding for this project through its Office of Columbia River.

Hiker finds Blue Mountains elk herded up with young in tow

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The Blue Mountains delivered a Yellowstone-like wildlife watching experience for hiker Ken Vanden Heuvel of Newman Lake last weekend.

He was solo hiking one of the ridge trails that lead into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness when he came across a herd of elk — at least 46 cows, yearlings and calves.

I cropped in on the left portion of Ken's main photo for a blow-up shot of the left portion of the herd where at least 12 calves were concentrated for protection.  

"When they came back up the ridge in front of me, the calves were whining," Ken said, noting that he held still to watch the spectacle. "As I waited for them to cross, a few of the calves were nursing."

A few weeks ago, the cows were all off on their own delivering their young of the year.  As soon as the calves were strong enough, they joined up with other cows and yearlings for strength in numbers — more eyes and ears to help detect danger from predators.

This looks like a good crop.

The bulls, by the way, are off on their own — until September

Elk group gives Idaho $276K for projects

WILDLIFE — Shoshone County is one of 10 Idaho counties that will be sharing a $276,584 Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation grant for wildlife habitat projects on nearly 76,000 acres in the state. 

Shoshone County's portion will be used in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to aerially ignite 1,200 acres to improve big game forage, stand conditions and reduce natural fuels on elk summer range within the Heller Creek and Wisdom Creek drainages on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.  

This project is part of a larger plan to treat 3,750 acres with prescribed fire resulting in up to 21 percent of the project area becoming forage openings, according to RMEF officials.  Prescribed burning also will be applied to 1,500 acres in the Lost Creek area of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains as part of a 5-10 year habitat enhancement project. 

The grant also will help fund statewide research in areas where elk are declining, especially in the Clearwater region.

The steady elk decline in the Clearwater Basin of north-central Idaho over the past three decades is attributed to substantial loss of habitat, human pressures and the reintroduction of wolves, RMEF officials said. Money in that county will be used for a multi-year elk nutrition study and developing habitat models.

Read on for details about the grant funding for other counties and statewide projects.

 

Lottery winner’s first purchase: Lifetime membership to Elk Foundation

CONSERVATION — A Spokane man who won a big lottery jackpot put wildlife on the top of his list of benefactors from the windfall.

Kelly Cruz, 53, a local carpenter, scored a win in the Lucky for Life scratch ticket and will receive $1,000 a week for life.

That's a bit short of the mega millions jackpots we hear about every few months, but still a nice security blanket for anyone to win and still enough to give a man a shot at opening his wallet to a worthy cause.

According to today's story in The Spokesman-Review:

"With the money, he plans to buy a lifetime membership in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and probably will give to more causes. But he doesn’t plan to move or make major changes in his life. 

The Missoula-based RMEF, which has about 200,000 members, raises money and recruits volunteers to improve habitat for a wide range of wildlife, especially elk, across the country.  A lifetime membership will set Cruz back for a week and a half of lottery winnings — a noble share to the cause.

Since it was founded in 1984, RMEF has: 

  • Protected and enhanced more than 6.4 million acres
  • Opened and/or secured for public access for hunting and other outdoor recreation more than 667,000 acres

The group also has organized more than 8,500 projects for permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration, conservation education and hunting heritage.

Liberty Lake man honored for elk habitat conservation

CONSERVATION — Rance Block of Liberty Lake was honored today for decades of work to protect wildlife habitat and sportsmen's access to the outdoors across the West, especially in Eastern Washington. 

Block was presented the Joan Thomas Award at the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition's annual breakfast this morning at the Seattle Westin Hotel.

Block left a 15-year career at Boeing to join the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and dedicate his negotiation talents to conservation. Block recently retired from RMEF after 20 years during which he had a direct hand in protecting more than 130,000 acres of wildlife habitat in six western states.

"One would think that I have great anecdotes about kicking the dirt with Rance and a land-owner or dawn hikes to spot wildlife … I don't," said Peter Dykstra, Coalition board president who presented the award. "I know him from countless hours in community rooms working with communities to overcome differences, find common ground, and build dreams protecting vital wildlife habitat. The reality of conservation work is that you spend a lot of times indoors and not a lot of time outdoors."

In his address, Block highlighted his work on the Rock Creek project as an example of how unconventional community partnerships and grants from sources like the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program can help preserve access for all outdoor enthusiasts.

The project near Naches protected more than 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, addressing the problem of checker-board ownership that put access to the area in jeopardy.

The project, which closed in late 2012, garnered broad support from elected and business leaders in the community in addition to recreationists.

He was involved in several similar efforts to block up checkerboarded land that will boost efforts to maintain the big-game habitat as well as assure public access.

Block offered some advice to conservationists looking to expand partnerships: 

"It's important to have a cup of coffee and listen to the needs of elected officials … potential partners … of outdoor users," Block said. "In conservation work, there are a lot of potential partners that often go ignored when you're looking for supporters. It is important to recognize that people utilize our public lands differently and it's important to find ways to incorporate their support."

He also noted that many of the breakfast's almost 700 attendees, most of them were over the age of 35. Block encouraged everyone in the room to take time to listen to the younger generation and craft programs that appeal to future conservationists.

Incidentally, the WWRC knows a few things about partnerships and conservation. Since it was founded 24 years ago, WWRC has leveraged $1.1 billion in government grants and appropriations and private donations to fund over 1,000 projects across the state. The money has used to create playgrounds for disabled kids, build urban and rural trails, buy wildlife habitat, secure farmland from development, provide new water access and more.

Read on for details about the Joan Thomas Award:

Wildlife benefits of prescribed burns easy to see

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Sinlahekin Wildlife Area manager Dale Swedberg doesn't just preach the gospel of rejuvenating wildlife habitat with controlled prescribed fires — he'll let you see for yourself.

A website with an eye-opening collection of photos compares historic photos of the Sinlanhekin Wildlife Area with photos of the same locations made in recent years.

 While the northcentral Washington landscape near Loomis has been improved in some ways, the most glaring observation is the increase in tree cover due to fire supression in the past 90 years.  Trees are good, but too many of them clogging the landscape eliminates the habitat diversity needed by wildlife.

Fire has been around as long as life because fire depends on living things to produce the fuels fire needs to exist. A person would think that there might be some important connections developed in such a long relationship. — Dale Swedberg

Resources for learning more about prescribed burns include:

Video: Take a moment to relax with wildlife

WILDLIFE — Before you launch into another week, pause for a soothing couple of minutes with wintering wildlife accompanied by Kenny G's tenor sax: Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Newberg joins Elk Foundation board despite outfitters’ plea

HUNTING — Despite an effort and even a hint of extortion by some Montana outfitters to have him barred, television host Randy Newberg’s appointment to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s board was announced on Wednesday.

“Our position is pretty simple,” David Allen, RMEF’s CEO, told the Billings Gazette. “We feel we have room for all types of hunters and nonhunters.
 
Some outfitters don't like Newberg because his Sportsman Channel show features do-it-yourself hunting at the expense of guided hunts.  See details and links in this previous post.
 
“We are not going to get into hunter versus hunter debates because that’s nonproductive for all of us,” Allen added. “One person on a 24-member board does not have an undue influence on strategy.”
 
Click here for the story by Brett French of the Billing Gazette.

Montana outfitters threaten Elk Foundation over board nominee

BIG-GAME — Some Montana outfitters are threatening to withdraw support from the the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation if the conservation group doesn't withdraw its nomination of national hunting TV show host Randy Newberg to its board of directors.

The outfitters contend Newberg's Sportsman Channel show, On Your Own Adventures, favors do-it-yourself hunters and puts down the services of guides.

In an email from Montana Outfitters and Guides Association to all of the RMEF board members, management and other state outfitter associations, director Mac Minard stated on Wednesday that “Outfitters from several states have expressed concern …” because Newberg “…is affiliated with, and often represents one or more organizations that some perceive to be anti-outfitting/landowner often presenting the western Outfitting Industry in a negative light.”

Minard’s email goes on to say, “(Montana based outfitters) have indicated they may withdraw donations to RMEF if the appointment goes through.”

  • Newberg is outraged by the charges and posted this thread of comments on his Hunt Talk blog site.
  • Billings Gazette outdoor writer posted a story on the flap, noting that the story may be updated later today.

My two cents: I'm very surprised the MOGA would take this stand against a hunter and outdoorsman who is top notch in his line of work. If anything else, a little diversity on the RMEF board would make the organization stronger. Mostly, I see this as another regrettable fracture in the ranks of sportsmen.

Read on for more details from the Gazette story:

Hunters, conservation groups swept up in gun controversy

SHOOTING — Hunters and wildlife conservation groups are finding it difficult to stay out of the nation's gun control controversies.

Even the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation felt pressure from the gun lobby to pull out of a huge sportsmen's show in the East when the show organizers prohibited exhibits by makers of AR-15 assault-style rifles.

The site of the Reed Exhibitions show in Pennsylvania is 250 miles from the site of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.

Click here for a localized story on RMEF and the National Wild Turkey Federation by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune.

Click "continue reading" to see an Outdoor Wire industry perspective posted Jan. 25, with insight into the troubles for small outdoor businesses caused by the sportsman show boycott.

Wildlife scientist’s family slams Elk Foundation for wolf stance

WILDLIFE ISSUES — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has removed all references to its Olaus Murie conservation award after the researcher’s family objected to the group’s policy on wolves.

The Missoulian has the full story.

In a letter to RMEF President David Allen, Olaus Murie’s son, Donald Murie, said the organization’s “all-out war against wolves” is “anathema to the entire Murie family.”

RMEF started giving the Olaus Murie Award in 1999 and has presented it five or six times since then to standouts in the field of wildlife science. The Murie family has no involvement with funding or chosing the award.

Murie, who died in 1963, “was a renowned biologist and one of the country’s great champions of wildlife and wilderness,” according the website of the Wilderness Society, where he served as director.

Murie published pioneering research on the elk herd in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and became “an early, staunch defender of predators and their crucial role in ecosystems,” the site says.

Incidentally: Montana just authorized a 2012-2013 wolf trapping season to help beef up the hunting season that failed to take the quota of wolves sought by wildlife managers last year.

This week, within 24 hours of opening registration for the state's first wolf trapping certification course — a prerequisite to getting a wolf-trapping license — 110 people had signed up.

Controlled burns boost elk habitat in Colville NF

PUBLIC LANDS — Fires were purposely set on the Colville National Forest last week to provide two big dividends later this summer: a hedge against catastrophic wildfire and a boom in lush tender growth to feed elk.

Colville National Forest crews have completed a 320-acre prescribed fire in the Sullivan Creek drainage in northern Pend Oreille County just east of the Cascade Cut-off Road (Forest Road 2200250). 

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation helped fund the effort to improve local forage for big game, reduce hazardous fuels in the forest and re-introduce fire into the ecosystem. 

 
Read on for details.

Elk Foundation offers to pay trappers to kill more wolves

PREDATORS — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation wants wolves to be more aggressively managed in Montana and they’re offering state wildlife officials at least $50,000 to contract with federal trappers to kill more of the predators.

RMEF President David Allen tells the Missoulian the state isn’t using remedies allowed under the wolf management plan to the fullest.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says the agency is still considering the offer, according to the Associated Press.

Mike Leahy with Defenders of Wildlife argues that assistance from conservation organizations should further conservation, not undermine it.

Despite months of open public wolf hunting and some Wildlife Services action to kill wolves causing livestock losses, biologists estimate Montana’s wolf population grew by at least 15 percent last year compared to 2010 levels.

The state had at least 643 wolves at the end of 2011. FWP Director Joe Maurier has said the goal in Montana is about 425 wolves.

Top elk callers crowned by RMEF

HUNTING — Elk callers from 10 states, led by Oregon, Colorado and Nevada, earned Top honors in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation/Leupold World Elk Calling Championships for 2012.

One man from Idaho and one from Washington were in the cream of the crop.

Competition was held during the RMEF annual convention and expo, which ended Feb. 4 in Las Vegas.

Read on for the results.

Conserving lowland private forests critical for wildlife

CONSERVATION — I hear grumbling about state and federal agencies being proactive by buying or blocking up lowland wild areas. But listen up.

Far-sighted groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Inland Northwest Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy are joining the cause and teaming with agencies to save some of these precious wildlife and winter range lands from future development.

 As private timber companies liquidate their forests and look for the higher profit of subdividing and developing their lands, consider this quote in today's front page S-R story on the forest planning process being kicked off in North Idaho.

"You look at real estate ads these days. They say, 'Adjacent to national forest lands.' That's a selling point for people."

Mary Farnsworth, supervisor of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, where nearly 40 percent of its 2.5 million acres are now classified as "wildland-urban interface."
- Spokane Spokesman-Review

See how private groups are helping the Forest Service and state wildlife agencies preserve critical wildlife areas in the east slope of the Cascades as well as north of Lake Pend Oreille.

Sportsmen help Forest Service acquire land overlooking Lake Pend Oreille

CONSERVATION — On the south face of the Cabinet Mountains overlooking Lake Pend Oreille, 921 acres of elk and moose wintering range have been permanently secured for wildlife habitat and public access in a land-exchange signed Dec. 22.

The swap between Stimson Lumber Co. and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests was made possible in part by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Formerly owned by Stimson Lumber, area has become part of the adjoining Kaniksu National Forest. In exchange, Stimson received a similar amount of U.S. Forest Service acreage in the form of small isolated tracts that are not connected to the main body of the national forest.

All of the lands involved are in Bonner County, Idaho.

Read on for information from the elk foundation:

Elk Foundation withdraws support for Lochas land swap

In the news:

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation withdraws support for Idaho land swap

— Lewiston Morning Tribune

The proposed land swap in Northern Idaho that would trade 18,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands in three forests in Idaho for 40,000 acres owned by Western Pacific Timber in the upper Lochsa River basin had the early support of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, but the organization withdrew that support last week, citing concern of members and the expansion of the deal into elk habitat in Idaho County.

Few dispute the value of eliminating the checkerboard ownership in the upper Lochsa drainage to make it all managed by the national forests.   The issue is complicated by the other scattered lands the public would have to give up in the exchange.

See more details on the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange.

Read on for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News report on the RMEF backout.

Four-year effort protects 10,000 acres in Cascades for wildlife

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION — Good things don't always come quick and easy.

Hunters and other conservationists are reminded of that this week as a deal closed to seal four years of negotiations by a partnership of conservation groups and state agencies. The project blocks up and protects about 10,000 acres of public land for big-game and other wildlife in the east and central Cascades.

The deal has foresight to secure the real estate elk and other critters need from winter to summer range.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the most recent purchase in November, using funding from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Grant Program.

But the negotiations and original purchases of land were undertaken by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. The land was purchased from Plum Creek Timber Company to prevent the land from being developed or subdivided as well as to maintain public access.

The first phase of the project was completed in 2009, securing 2,675-acres.

Read on for details from a just-issued RMEF media release a day after the final phase of the deal was closed.

Gregoire fills two vacancies on Fish and Wildlife Commission

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Larry Carpenter, a Mount Vernon boat dealer and long-time sportfishing enthusiast, and Jay Kehne, an Omak conservationist, sheep farmer and hunter, have been appointed to vacant positions on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The commission is a nine-member panel that makes policy for the state Fish and Wildlife Department and sets rules such those for hunting and fishing seasons.

The announcedment was made today by Gov. Chris Gregoire's office.

Carpenter is likely to be a strong voice for salmon and steelhead sportfishing. 

Kehne likely falls in the category of wolf advocate, considering he’s the Okanogan outreach coordinator for Conservation Northwest, but he has a well-rounded resume of credentials.

Here's some insight from a "Living with Wolves" program report by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic.

During his 31-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kehne’s worked to provide conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers.  He’s worked with conservation easements involving counties as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He’s a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mule Deer Foundation.

Kehne is the replacement for Spokane’s George Orr, who retired from the commission at the end of his term a year ago.

Updated with video: WA approves conservation land acquisition to boost wildlife

CONSERVATION — Although the discussion on the state's wolf plan caught most of the attention last week, the  Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission also made a major land acquisition after years of support and negotiations facilitated by The Nature Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The purchase of 7,711 acres of wildlife habitat in Kittitas County is another testament to the benefits of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program that was proposed for huge cuts in last year's legislative session.

This purchase concludes the second phase of the “Heart of the Cascades” project that adds over 10,000 acres to WDFW’s 47,200-acre Oak Creek Wildlife Area. The plan helps "block up" public land to protect big game habitat from winter ranges all the way up to summer ranges.

  • Click on the video above to see a two-minute clip that explains the Heart of the Cascades Project.

Last year, 2,675 acres were acquired in the Bald Mountain/Rock Creek area, about 25 miles northwest of Yakima on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains. This year’s acquisition involves purchase of 3,807 acres from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for $2,325,000 and 3,904 acres from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) for $2,317,000.

Funding for the new acquisition comes from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through a Habitat Conservation Plan grant.

Ranging from 2,500 to 6,000 feet in elevation, the property has a wide diversity of habitats, including coniferous forests, basalt cliffs, shrub-steppe and riparian areas. It supports many federal- and state-protected species, including spotted owls, bull trout and steelhead, as well as many game species, including elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

The property will be managed with support from TNC, RMEF and the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative—a coalition of public, non-profit and tribal land managers—to share the estimated $123,500 annual operation and maintenance costs.

Hunting groups support Ore. order to shoot wolves

WILDLIFE – Three hunting groups are supporting the state of Oregon in a lawsuit trying to overturn state authority to shoot wolves that attack livestock, the Associated Press reports.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Oregon Hunters Association, and the Oregon chapter of the North American Wild Sheep Foundation have all asked the Oregon Court of Appeals to allow them to file friend of the court briefs supporting the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Conservation groups are trying to overturn a department order to kill two wolves from the Imnaha pack that have been blamed for livestock attacks in northeastern Oregon.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation says in a statement that elk herds are struggling to survive in places wolves have been reintroduced.

Conservation groups counter climate change and habitat are more likely causes than wolves.

Washington conservation projects earn Elk Foundation funding

WILDLIFE HABITAT — Elk research at Mt. St. Helens and habitat improvements on four national forests and other public lands in Washington headline a just-announced slate of projects selected for 2011 grants from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The far-east side of the state isn't overlooked, with prescribed burn habitat improvement projects set for Asotin, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

The new RMEF grants total $156,380 with an impact on up to 100,000 acres, officials said. The money usually is leveraged with money from other groups or agencies for more benefits on the ground

Read on for more details.