Nobody will dispute that 2020 has been the strangest year of our lives. Lockdowns, restrictions, cancellations, postponements, etc. We have seen it all. Despite all the coronavirus-related issues, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers continue to surge forward doing what they can to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.
A total of 65 RMEF volunteers overcame COVID-19 hurdles by heading to the high country for two different work projects to remove 5.5 miles of fencing in Colorado. Eleven of the volunteers participated in both projects even though they were approximately 90 miles and four weeks apart. Our partners stepped up too. Members of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest provided direction, tools, muscle and their vehicles to haul out the wire.
The first project took place in late June at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Two crews overcame challenging terrain including steep grades and rocky outcroppings across what used to be a 3,500-acre private ranch. They removed barbed wire and steel posts clearing the way for wildlife and for hunters who seek to chase them.
About a month later, volunteers descended in another wildlife rich area, this one near Kremmling. Four crews spread across a wide open landscape dominated by sagebrush.
“We saw some real tangible evidence that we were doing the right thing in the right place. Several people spotted and picked up mule deer sheds scattered through the sagebrush indicating this was a significant wintering area for deer,” said Jerry Pelis of the RMEF Greeley Chapter. “One crew also spotted an elk calf hunkered down in the sage brush waiting for mom to return so we were also in a potential calving area. We couldn’t ask for better rewards.”
A heavy cloud cover highlighted by an occasional drizzle kept the workers cool. When all was said and done, two trailers of barbed wire headed for the recycle yard. And going forward, elk, deer and other critters can now crisscross the land unimpeded.
Treated to lunch at both project sites, volunteers also took advantage of the opportunity to do what volunteers do. They socialized, consumed pulled pork, played games, swapped hunting tales (some of which are probably true) and camped with family and friends.
“You just can’t say enough about our volunteers,” said Allen Kerby, senior regional director. “They just go and do and keep going and keep doing. They’re amazing and elk and other wildlife are the big winners because of their energy and efforts.”
(In totality, Pelis estimates Colorado volunteers removed about 31.5 miles of old fencing from the landscape so far this year.)