O give me a home where the buffaloes roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
“Home on the Range” became the official state song of Kansas in 1947. Well-known for its endless fields of waving wheat and monster whitetail bucks, elk historically roamed from one end of Kansas to the other. Extirpated at the turn of the 19th century, elk were nowhere to be found in Kansas in 1947. In fact, wild wapiti did not return to the Sunflower State until the late 1980s.
Today, the best place to find free-ranging elk is in the rolling Flint Hills of east-central Kansas within the Fort Riley Military Reservation. The herd numbers about 120 and is thriving thanks, in great part, to the volunteers who oversee nine chapters and make up more than 2,200 Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation members across the state. Those volunteers host big game banquets, membership drives and other events that generate funds placed back on the ground in Kansas elk country.
Dating back to 1989, RMEF and its partners have completed 114 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Kansas with a combined value of more than $2.8 million and enhanced 54,432 acres of habitat.
Specific to the Fort Riley landscape, Kansas volunteers helped generate $175,000 in funding that leveraged an additional half a million dollars in partner funds to carry out two dozen habitat enhancement projects such as improving wildlife forage plots, removing old fencing and applying invasive weed treatment to enhance quality wildlife forage while also reducing crop damage on adjacent private farmland. And thanks to improved habitat, Kansas hosts an annual elk hunt. The state receives approximately 900 applications each year for the 20 or so allotted permits divided up among military personnel and Kansas residents.
“We’re proud to have wild elk in Kansas. And we’re especially proud of our Kansas volunteers who do so much to enhance elk habitat and help further RMEF’s mission,” said Jordan Brown, RMEF regional director.
Go here to watch a video about Fort Riley forage enhancement work.