The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has been working to build a bright future for Pennsylvania’s elk herd for almost a quarter-century. To date, RMEF and its partners have completed nearly 400 conservation and hunting heritage projects with a combined value of more than $23.5 million. These projects have protected or enhanced more than 20,000 acres of wildlife habitat and opened or secured public access to more than 8,500 acres!
A HISTORY OF SURVIVAL AGAINST ALL ODDS
- This region of Pennsylvania was the final holdout of Eastern elk before the sub-species went extinct in the 1870s.
- Between 1913 and 1915, the newly formed Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) introduced 172 Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park. The animals prospered in their cousins’ former haunts, and a public elk hunt started in the 1920s.
- During the Great Depression, the herd was all but forgotten. A small herd of elk persisted, though, even as their population fell below 50. Poaching and crop-depredation killing was the primary cause of mortality.
- In the 1970s and ‘80s, the state began closely monitoring the herd and made a concerted effort to keep them from vanishing again. Throughout the 1980s, the elk population changed little, persisting at 120 to 150 animals.
RMEF’S IMPACT ON PENNSYLVANIA ELK RANGE
With the founding of the RMEF in 1984 in Montana, a new ally for elk emerged and the PGC’s elk management efforts received a substantial boost. Together, the PGC and RMEF helped erect electric fencing around crops, relocate elk away from farm fields, radio collar elk to learn more about their movements and habitat preferences, and purchase public lands for elk habitat.
- In 1991, the RMEF contributed toward the PGC’s purchase of 1,359 acres in the Winslow Hill area of Elk County near Benezette, now known as State Game Lands (SGL) #311. To date, RMEF has helped purchase and make public more than 8,500 acres for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation, and funded thousands of acres of habit at enhancement across the state’s elk range. RMEF fully donated 245 acres plus $1.4 million to help construct Pennsylvania’s world-class Elk Country Visitor Center.
- These efforts have contributed hugely to this legendary herd’s resurgence. More than 900 elk roam the Pennsylvania wilds. The state held its first modern elk hunt in 2001, and thousands of hunters now vie for the chance at a coveted tag.
- RMEF and its partners received national recognition in 2012 from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for transforming 320 acres of abandoned mine lands at Dents Run on SGL #311 into prime habitat for elk.In addition to the land benefits, the work also helped allow for Dents Run to be stocked with trout for the first time in 80 years.
- RMEF is steadfast in its commitment to the future of this herd. In 2015, the Elk Foundation provided $100,000 in funding assistance to the PGC’s purchase of the 81-acre Woodring Farm addition to SGL #311. Centrally located in the elk zone,it significantly expands public elk viewing and education opportunities. RMEF continues to help cover the cost of creating and maintaining quality wildlife habitat on public lands across the state’s elk range.