Wild elk populations in 23 states are higher now than 25 years ago when the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) was launched to help conserve habitat for elk and other wildlife.
Nationally, elk numbers grew 44 percent, from about 715,000 to over 1,031,000, between 1984 and 2009. During that same time span, RMEF fundraisers generated millions of dollars, which helped leverage millions more, for a conservation effort that has enhanced or protected nearly a square mile of habitat per day–Now totaling over 5.5 million acres.
Population highlights among top elk states: California, Nevada and New Mexico experienced the greatest increases with growth exceeding 100 percent. Colorado, Montana and Utah herds are 50-70 percent larger. Oregon and Wyoming are up 20-40 percent.
Several states with smaller elk herds documented exponential growth rates over the past 25 years. For example, Nebraska’s herd expanded from 80 to 1,650 elk (1,963 percent).
RMEF has been instrumental in helping restore elk to long-vacant parts of their historic range, such as in Kentucky, Tennessee and Wisconsin. In these three states together, elk numbers have swelled from zero to over 10,400.
“Growth in elk populations is one measure of our success. Since we opened our doors on May 14, 1984, we’ve been all about habitat conservation with a focus on elk. Of course, when habitat is good for elk, it’s also good for other species of wildlife and fish. And that, in turn, is good for people who enjoy these resources,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO.
Allen pointed out that elk populations are tied to many factors besides habitat, such as weather, predators–and, perhaps most importantly, herd management objectives of the respective states. State wildlife agencies are ultimately responsible for growing or reducing local elk herds to fit biological and cultural tolerances.
However, Allen said, “The Elk Foundation is extremely proud of our role ensuring that habitat conditions are optimum for healthy, flourishing elk herds. These latest population statistics validate our hard work over the past 25 years.”
Like elk populations, public awareness and enthusiasm for elk and habitat conservation have also appeared to grow alongside RMEF education efforts through the years.
“As the Elk Foundation celebrates its silver anniversary, I hope our volunteers, partners and other supporters will stop and look back at all that we’ve helped accomplish, because it’s really quite amazing,” said Allen.
A logger, realtor, pastor and drive-in owner, each a Montanan worried about habitat loss and its impacts on elk hunting, co-founded the RMEF. The first office was in the back of a trailer in Troy, Montana. Today the nonprofit organization has a modern headquarters in Missoula, Montana., and 150,000 members worldwide. Some 10,000 volunteers host over 550 fundraisers annually. To date, this funding has supported more than 6,100 different conservation projects across the country.
Habitat enhancement projects include prescribed burns, weed treatments, forest thinning, water developments and more. RMEF land protection work, such as brokering a 2008 land swap that added 61,578 acres of elk habitat to the state forest system in Washington’s central Cascades, preclude future loss to development or subdivision.
Click here for a table of the state-bystate numbers.