Editor’s Note: This article appears in the September/October 2021 of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle Magazine. Although primarily focused on the work of the RMEF, the topic is so significant that we are re-publishing it -in segments- this week. Today, “hijacking” the term conservation, and a measure for how much an organization truly does for conservation versus what it says. Our thanks to the RMEF for allowing us to share this story. We’ve reported on it for more than 20 years as well. But the abuses continue.
What is particularly vexing, and especially perplexing for the general public, is the hijacking of the word conservation by environmental groups. CBD, for one, refers to itself as “a national, nonprofit conservation organization.” Others do the same, although hats off to the Sierra Club for identifying itself as what it really is – a “grassroots environmental organization.” Some media outlets further the confusion by referring to environmental groups as conservation groups.
Merriam-Webster defines conservation as “planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect.” Cited examples include water conservation and wildlife conservation. In other words, conservation is the hands-on stewardship of natural resources such as habitat enhancement and permanent protection of vital migration corridors and winter ranges.
Environmentalism on the other hand, again according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “advocacy of the preservation of the natural environment.” Preservation often refers to a hands-off approach or preventing any type of management activity.
There are swaths of designated wilderness and other backcountry areas that remain relatively untouched for very good reason. However, there are millions of acres of public forests that are overly dense with heavy fuel loads and downed deadfall due to decades of fire suppression. These overgrown forests throttle the growth of grasses and forbs vital for elk and other wildlife, and are susceptible to disease, beetle kill and an elevated risk of catastrophic wildfire that can decimate an ecosystem.
What True Conservation Looks Like
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s mission is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. RMEF does so by working collaboratively with federal and state agencies as well as other partners to provide both funding and volunteer manpower to carry out prescribed burning, forest thinning, noxious weed treatments, repairing or constructing wildlife water developments, fertilizations, planting seedlings and other actions to maintain or improve habitat for elk and other wildlife.
RMEF also provides grant funding for wildlife management, scientific research and predator management. Additionally, RMEF seeks to permanently protect and open access to elk winter and summer range, migration corridors and calving grounds via land acquisitions, access agreements and easements, conservation easements, land donations and other means. RMEF also works to reestablish elk in historic ranges where habitat and cultural tolerance create a high potential for self-sustaining wild, free-ranging herds.
Just one small but impactful example of planned management or conservation: RMEF recently provided additional funding for an ongoing series of projects to create and enhance forage openings and water sources for elk and other wildlife in Virginia’s Elk Restoration Zone. This important habitat enhancement work benefits Virginia’s growing elk herd, which was restored to its historic range by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and RMEF in 2012. Because of projects designed to improve elk habitat like this one, DWR recently introduced a special elk hunting license that may lead to Virginia’s first managed elk hunt in more than a century, one that will generate vital funding to benefit elk herds and habitat for a rich variety of other wildlife.
Any objective look at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s lifetime conservation accomplishments shows the immense impact the organization has had on elk, other wildlife and habitat. As of January 1, 2021, RMEF conserved or enhanced more than 6.8 million acres of wildlife habitat and permanently protected 1.3 million acres of land. That amounts to more than 8.1 million acres of combined conservation work. On top of that, RMEF played a pivotal role in restoring wild, free-ranging elk to Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario. and RMEF has invested millions of dollars to help fund wildlife research key to delivering the most effective management. All that adds up to a lot of work and a lot of conservation.