MISSOULA, Mont.–The U.S. Census Bureau projects that human populations in western
states will grow twice as fast as other states over the next 18 years. The Rocky
Mountain Elk Foundation offers five ways to prepare for the growth and ensure a
future for elk, other wildlife and their habitat.
RMEF leaders say the population forecast defines an alarmingly short window for
conservationists to help shape the heart of elk country before an additional 20
million people are living in the region by 2030.
“We have to work with an increasing sense of urgency,” said RMEF President and CEO
David Allen. “We often talk about conserving wild places for our kids and grandkids
to enjoy, and that’s powerful motivation. But we’re on the doorstep of
landscape-scale changes that will affect current generations, too, if we don’t act
quickly. Some of us elk hunters could lose our traditional way of life before we
even have a chance to pass it on.”
According to the Census Bureau, states along and west of the Rocky Mountains will
see an average of 28 percent growth by 2030. For all states eastward, the bureau
anticipates an average growth rate of just 14 percent.
About 90 percent of all elk in North America occur in the rapid-growth states.
RMEF’s five ways to prepare:
1. Good Planning. Any profusion of poorly planned subdivisions, sprawl or related
activity could accelerate loss, fragmentation and degradation of elk habitat.
Consideration of these areas is increasingly important for developers, city
planners, highway engineers, food and energy producers, etc. To help, RMEF
contributes habitat data to mapping programs available to professionals who wish to
identify and avoid critical areas of elk country, including:
Winter Range–In much of the West, some of the most attractive tracts for
development are lower elevation lands that also happen to be historic winter range
for elk. Abundance and quality of winter range are limiting factors in the size of a
region’s elk herd.
Calving Grounds–Like winter range, elk calving grounds also are used traditionally.
Once displaced from primary areas, pregnant cows will settle for secondary habitats
that offer less cover, space, forage and water.
Summer Range–Lush green summer range is vital to the health of elk as they nourish
calves, evade predators and enter the rut. But research shows that extended drought
and overgrown forests are negatively affecting some elk herds, especially in areas
where predators are undermanaged.
Migration Corridors–Highly mobile elk do best with unimpeded travel routes between
2. Land Protection. Conserving strategic tracts of open space is a key to offsetting
human population growth. Tools include purchasing land from willing sellers and
conveying it to public ownership, land swaps and conservation easements. To date,
RMEF has used these and more to help permanently protect over 1 million acres of elk
3. Habitat Stewardship. Managing protected habitat for optimum productivity is ever
more important. Prescribe burning, treating noxious weeds, forest thinning to create
early seral habitat, rejuvenating meadows and wetlands, improving riparian zones and
adding guzzlers are among the ways to help habitat hold more wildlife. To date, RMEF
has used these and more to help enhance over 5 million acres of elk country.
4. Predator Management. Much of elk country no longer resembles its original form.
People made it smaller. Fire suppression made it thick and overgrown. Noxious weed
infestations made forage problems even worse. Elk are amazingly adaptable but in
certain areas they are proving unable to handle the added challenge of burgeoning
predator populations. Calf survival rates are too low to sustain some herds for the
future. Current and expected habitat conditions dictate responsible management of
wolves, bears and lions on balance with other wildlife and human needs. RMEF is
pressing this issue on several fronts.
5. Keep Hunting. With the anticipated population growth in the West, open space and
opportunities for hunting could be reduced. Loss of hunters will translate to less
wildlife management and less funding for conservation overall, which will compound
all of the above problems. RMEF is prioritizing projects that enhance public hunting
access and strengthening America’s understanding of the important conservation
heritage of hunting.
RMEF membership, now at 184,135 and growing, has set records for four consecutive
years. With continued support, RMEF will be positioned to keep making a difference
over the critical 18 years to come.