Male elk in the fall meadows of the Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado
Martina Birnbaum via Getty Images

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: Preservation Through Persistence

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) operating out of Missoula, Montana has worked relentlessly to conserve Rocky Mountain elk populations for decades. RMEF boasts efforts for habitat enhancement, outreach programs, hunting preserves, and educational content for its members and elk hunters all over the continent.

Founded in 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has blossomed from its humble beginnings into a network of over 500 chapters and over 231,000 members. Through years of effort, RMEF has preserved over 8.3 million acres of elk habitat. Its main publication, Bugle Magazine, remains active.

RMEF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a special tax exemption status, making fiscal reports publicly accessible. These include key employee salaries, sources of revenue and expenses, and assets and liabilities. RMEF's primary sources of income are contributions (which include gifts of the land that might be announced as acquisitions), corporate sponsorships, and income from various investments. The public keeps this organization afloat.

Their slogan, "Hunting is Conservation," along with a significant portion of their funding being reinvested into public hunting access and anti-poaching efforts, hasn't wavered in ever-changing political climates. This nonprofit organization has kept to its vision through the years while providing the public a return on its investment.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation History

RMEF was founded on May 14, 1984, by four avid hunters in northwest Montana. Sacrifices through private funding and loans from just these four individuals sparked the beginning of the now-leading conservation organization for North American elk populations. Bob Munson, Bill Munson, Dan Bull, and Charlie Decker had every reason to give up early in this organization's development. Their plan to get boots on the ground consisted of a subscription to RMEF's not-yet-published magazine, and that was about it. Out of their original 43,000 hand-folded brochure solicitations, only 233 people replied. Persistence led these men to borrow even more money to see the promise through for those 233 original respondents. They printed 32,000 copies of Bugle and hand-delivered them to gas stations, grocery stores, and the like across the western United States. As a result, RMEF had almost 2,500 members within one year, only to grow from there.

The RMEF has an impressive list of milestone achievements from its conception to today. In Spokane, Washington, the premier convention of 1985 led to RMEF later raising enough funding for a prescribed burn in Libby, Montana, along Elk Creek. The organization progressed further in 1988, acquiring the Robb Creek property in Montana, receiving its first endorsement from Anheuser-Busch, and growing in memberships and chapters across the country. RMEF also moved its headquarters to Missoula, Montana this same year. In 2014, RMEF reached the 200,000-member mark, and held a special commemoration in Troy, Montana.

Conservation Efforts

Big bull elk running with elk cows during rutting north of Yellowstone National Park near the town of Gardiner, Montana in western USA.

John Morrison via Getty Images

Conservation efforts have now totaled over $1 billion and span across the United States. This organization defines its conservation efforts as multi-faceted. Responsible hunting practices and regulations, habitat enhancement and preservation, and even involvement in litigation all help RMEF adhere to its mission and purpose. In 2019, RMEF, along with Guidefitter and Nevada Bighorns Unlimited, pledged $5,000 to International Wildlife Crimestoppers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting North America's wildlife resources through sustainable use and conservation law enforcement support.

In 2020, RMEF supported crucial litigation in Oregon to "increase the reporting, citing and prosecuting of crimes against wildlife. $4.4 million was spread across three agencies to fund new personnel and equipment vital for these efforts." Remington also partnered with RMEF for the year to "increase the visibility of poaching incidents in an effort to reduce poaching nationwide." This year, Fiocchi Ammunition has partnered with RMEF as well.

Habitat stewardship ventures for the RMEF include prescribed burns, forest restoration, wildfire repair efforts, and habitat reconstruction. All are proposed and completed to enhance natural elk ranges and habitats. Some projects might target encroaching flora, including conifers and weeds, while others may target re-seeding after earth-scorching wildfires. Impressively, RMEF recognizes the benefits of natural wildfire cycles and their impacts on the environment. Their efforts to fund prescribed burns are designed to prevent catastrophic events that create more damage to natural habitats and structural damage across enormous amounts of acreage.

RMEF 2022 projects include seeding, noxious weed management, water development repair, and wildfire restorations across Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Membership, Engagement, and Reach

Two bowhunters tracking elk in a mountain range located in the Pacific Northwest region of the USA check their location using GPS on a mobile phone. One of the men is holding a bull elk grunt tube between his knees. The other man is holding a crossbow.

Fly View Productions via Getty Images

RMEF may have had humble beginnings, but that hasn't stopped the group from adapting to the public's changing engagement styles, expanding outreach efforts, and recruiting new volunteers, partners, donors, and members yearly. With over 500 chapters and almost a quarter-million members across the U.S., hard work has paid off for RMEF.

RMEF membership is a multi-tiered system, and RMEF offers those interested to sign up through their online platform or by phone. Tiers and pricing only recently changed in 2020 to account for new discount programs with partners such as Browning, Eberlestock, and Traeger.

Membership tiers vary from the $35 annual supporting member, in which the member receives a yearly subscription to Bugle magazine, to a $ 1,500-lifetime membership. This top-tier membership option includes a lifetime subscription to Bugle magazine, a custom Tundra 45 cooler from YETI, exclusive gear, gifts, apparel access, and discounts on even car rentals and office supplies.

RMEF often offers promotions, giveaways, and raffles as incentives to induce membership upgrades (and, in turn, more revenue), donations, and overall public engagement. Sponsorship of various events, chapter banquets, and fundraising events ensure RMEF's presence remains well-known in the hunting community.

RMEF holds an executive leadership team as well as a board of directors. Their board of directors is elected annually. Members may serve two, or three-year terms in total, where their executive leaders may be hired from outside the organization or promoted internally. Currently, there are 16 positions on the board, including chair and vice-chair positions.

There's little to scrutinize outright in what research I delved into about The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. From humble beginnings to a nationwide reach, their conservation efforts and partnerships echo among big-game hunters and wildlife enthusiasts who want to make a genuine difference in preserving hunting heritage, habitat, and elk populations for generations.