The roots of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation run deep in Montana. And not just because it began there. Volunteers have been and remain a driving force in helping RMEF further its mission.
Still, 38 years ago, Charlie Decker and three fellow elk hunters decided since there was no organized effort to look out for elk and elk habitat, that they’d do something about it. So, on May 14, 1984, they filed the paperwork and RMEF was born. Decker supplied much-needed financial support and guidance as one of RMEF’s earliest volunteers. And today, almost four decades later, he still freely gives his time as a member of the RMEF Board of Directors in helping create strategic direction for the organization.
Charlie will be the first to tell you he’s just one man, and it’s the scores of other volunteers that really make the RMEF engine purr. In Montana alone, there are more than 14,000 RMEF members and hundreds of volunteers across 20 chapters that organize fundraising banquets and other activities to generate dollars that go on the ground for conservation.
Here’s an example. In 2019-2020, RMEF put volunteer-generated funding to work at the Robb-Ledford Wildlife Management Area in southwest Montana, RMEF’s first-ever land conservation and access project back in 1987. Expansive conifer growth over time reduced aspen habitat by 70 to 80 percent in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest while also gobbling up life-sustaining water and choking out sagebrush grasslands. That’s bad news for elk, moose, pronghorn antelope, deer, sage-grouse and other wildlife. Crews removed Douglas-fir, juniper and limber pines from 1,000 acres of elk winter range and followed that up with prescribed burning. The result was a massive green-up helping native grasses and vegetation and, yes, elk range.
“Each and every dollar raised by our volunteers makes a difference in elk country. And when those dollars are used to leverage partner dollars, that equates to a much greater and more profound beneficial impact,” said Kirk Murphy, director of northwest operations and former long-time Montana regional director. “We appreciate our volunteers, the efforts they put forward and the sacrifices they make. RMEF cannot do what it does without them.”
Earlier this summer, about 70 RMEF volunteers and members gathered in the small town of Boulder in the southwest part of the state for the annual Montana Rendezvous, a three-day gathering featuring camping, archery, a wild game cookoff, shed hunting and other activities including a fence pull.
“The volunteer project on Friday morning was a huge success. With the volunteers we had, we completed a little over a mile and half fence pull on a property outside of boulder in the Elkhorn Mountains Hunting District 380,” said Chris Doyle, eastern Montana regional director. “We helped a landowner who allows public access through the block management program get rid of a section fence. This landowner has been doing great work in the past and RMEF has helped with other projects there. They have been involved with some prescribed burns and habitat management projects to make this a great place for elk.”
Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 1,194 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Montana with a combined value of more than $207.4 million, conserving and enhancing 913,608 acres of habitat and opening or improving public access to 352,728 acres.
Some gawdy numbers indeed. But would these numbers have happened without the efforts of RMEF’s volunteers in Big Sky Country? Nope. Just ask Charlie.