U.S. Forest Service Chiefs Reflect on RMEF, Elk & Hunters

U.S. Forest Service Chiefs Reflect on RMEF, Elk & Hunters

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

MISSOULA, Mont. –-(Ammoland.com)- Since Theodore Roosevelt appointed Gifford Pinchot to the job in 1898, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service has been one of America’s most important conservation positions.

For the past 26 years, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has been working with this agency and its top forester to ensure a vital part of our national outdoor heritage–elk and elk hunting.

An estimated four-fifths of the elk in the U.S. spend all or part of their lives on national forests and grasslands. Most elk hunting occurs on Forest Service lands, too.

RMEF and its partners, together with the Forest Service, have helped to enhance habitat for elk and other wildlife on over 2.5 million acres of national forest lands–an area larger than Yellowstone National Park. Most of this success can be credited to RMEF volunteers who raise and allocate funding for conservation projects all across elk country.

But the range of RMEF’s conservation influence goes much further.

Current and former Forest Service chiefs were invited to answer (within 150 words) the following question: “During your tenure as chief of the U.S. Forest Service, what forest management issue posed the greatest threat to elk and elk hunters? And how did your partnership with RMEF make a difference?”

Here are their responses:

Tom Tidwell, Forest Service Chief, 2009-Present

“Elk populations are affected by disease, predation, hunting, habitat quality and availability. Forests with open understories and plentiful forage are growing scarce, and as homes spread into the countryside, elk habitat is vanishing and public access to national forests can become more difficult. RMEF has led the way in stewardship contracting with the Forest Service. From the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming to the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona, RMEF stewardship contracts are improving elk habitat across entire landscapes. Through conservation easements, land exchanges and acquisitions, RMEF has been an outstanding partner in protecting as well as enhancing habitat. Working together, we have secured public access while still protecting elk security areas. We are grateful to RMEF for helping to revise our national rule for land management planning on national forests and grasslands, and for its thoughtful input on public access, ecological restoration and the benefits of wildlife habitat connectivity.”

Dale Bosworth, Forest Service Chief, 2001-2007

“During my years as chief, RMEF was a great partner of the Forest Service. We experienced a number of large forest fires and the cost of suppression far exceeded historic levels. The agency was not funded adequately to combat these fires, and money had to be diverted from other programs, including wildlife, to make up the difference. That left many Forest Service programs severely underfunded. RMEF contributed significant funds for habitat improvement, which allowed the Forest Service to keep this very important program going. RMEF’s support also helped bring the funding problem to the attention of Congress. During that time, RMEF supported what was then the relatively new concept of stewardship contracting. Its involvement helped pave the way for improving habitat on many more acres at a far lower cost. RMEF is now a leader in the implementation of stewardship contracting and the American people are benefiting from that leadership.”

Mike Dombeck, Forest Service Chief, 1996-2001

“Our national forests make up the core of this country’s elk habitat and are open to all to hunt, fish, hike or just get out and connect with the outdoors. In partnership with RMEF, the Forest Service has restored and improved thousands of acres of elk habitat and partnered with states to reintroduce elk to places like my home country in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest. The value of this partnership cannot be overstated. RMEF together with the Forest Service is a model of agencies working together with local citizens to improve the health of the land not just for elk, but for hundreds of wildlife and fish species.”

Jack Ward Thomas, Forest Service Chief, 1993-1996

“Chiefs have different backgrounds. Mine is that of a research wildlife biologist who focused on elk habitat in managed forests and helped produce the habitat models in use for more than 30 years. Those models keyed off the adverse impacts to elk from roads open to traffic, and the appropriate sizing, spacing and timing of silvicultural treatments to benefit elk habitat. That puts RMEF and the Forest Service on the horns of a dilemma. Roads mean access for hunters, which can be enhanced by use of 4-wheel drives, tracked vehicles, motorbikes and 4-wheelers. Many such hunters belong to RMEF and manufacturers of such equipment are RMEF supporters. As timber harvest declines and shifts from clearcutting to single-tree and group-selection tree harvesting, elk habitat conditions will gradually decline, making road management increasingly critical. Regulation will be controversial and require enforcement. RMEF can help face up to the dilemma.”

Dale Robertson, Forest Service Chief, 1987-1993

“During my tenure as chief, protecting and improving key winter range was our biggest challenge. As I recall, RMEF was the first ‘species-oriented’ organization that entered into partnership with the Forest Service to improve wildlife habitat and expand key winter range. We combined our talent and money to do many elk habitat improvement projects and worked out the details of a partnership agreement that became a model for many other “species-oriented” organizations. Partnerships became the thrust of wildlife management during my tenure and RMEF was at the leading edge of that movement!”

Max Peterson, Forest Service Chief, 1979-1987

“During my years, there was real polarization between those who wanted essentially no management of national forests and those who advocated major increases in timber harvest. Both Republican and Democrat administrations pushed for more sawtimber to meet the era’s housing crisis. But the balance of power was held by wildlife organizations like RMEF (founded in 1984). Local chapter members were in key positions to tell elected representatives that some management of forests is beneficial to species like elk. RMEF and the Forest Service began habitat “demonstration projects” that helped significantly defuse the situation and restore trusts. I asked Congress to provide $500,000 for more of these projects with a promise that funds would pay for equipment and materials while labor would be provided by volunteers. There was great skepticism by Congress but the process worked beautifully, was renewed by later Congresses and now has grown substantially. RMEF was a pioneer in this effort.”

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.8 million acres–a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.