2022: Strength, Stability and Conservation Success


MISSOULA, Mont. — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation rolls into the new year with a robust and highlight-filled 2022 conservation resume. In addition to teaming up with partners to award more than $29 million dollars for habitat enhancement, including wildfire restoration, and wildlife management projects, RMEF conserved and improved access to near-record, single-year acreage totals of elk habitat.  

“RMEF has a firm financial foundation of strength and stability which allows us to put more dollars on the ground. And that’s good news for the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage,” said Fred Lekse, RMEF Board of Directors chair.  

“We can’t say enough about the great support we receive from our members and volunteers, our state and federal agency partners, our outdoor industry partners and sportsmen and women from across the country,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We had some major conservation wins in 2022 and plan on keeping that momentum going throughout 2023 and beyond.” 

2022 conservation highlights 

  • Surpassed 8.6 million acres in lifetime mission accomplishment 
  • Completed 20 land conservation & access projects in 10 states that protected 91,271 acres – the third-highest, single-year total on record 
  • Opened or improved public access to 116,747 acres of public land in seven states – the second-highest, single-year total on record 
  • Awarded funding for 186 habitat stewardship and wildlife management projects that enhanced 176,087 acres of elk habitat 
  • Numbered 225,642 members & 11,000+ volunteers as of December 31, 2022 
  • Completed 226 hunting heritage projects 
  • Helped launch OutdoorClass, an innovative video-based subscription service for hunters of all skill levels 
  • Committed more than $1 million for wildfire restoration across western states 
  • Worked with partners to expand Kentucky’s elk herd 
  • Collaborated with partners to allocate more than $1.45 million in support of Southern Appalachian elk country   
  • Combined with partners to allocate nearly $4 million for scientific elk research  
  • Advocated for many issues that impact RMEF’s mission 

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: 

Founded more than 38 years ago and fueled by hunters, RMEF maintains more than 225,000 members and has conserved more than 8.6 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK. 

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Elk Remains Found at Ancient Stone Age Archaeological Site in England


To everyone involved, it’s simply an amazing discovery.

“It is so rare to find material this old in such good condition,” Dr. Nick Overton, archaeology research associate, told the University of Manchester. “The Mesolithic in Britain was before the introduction of pottery or metals, so finding organic remains like bone, antler and wood, which are usually not preserved, are incredibly important in helping us to reconstruct peoples’ lives.”

A team of archaeologists from two universities in England found incredibly preserved remains linked to a hunter-gatherer settlement near Scarborough, a coastal city on the North Sea about 360 miles north of London. The finding dates back about 10,500 years ago during the Mesolithic or ‘Middle Stone Age’ period. A lake filled with layer upon layer of peat over thousands of years preserved the discovery.

Among the items found were bones of animals taken while hunting including elk and red deer, beavers and water birds, and also hand-crafted weapons to take that prey such as a barbed antler and decorated bone.

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Utah Prosecuting Nine Elk, Deer Poaching Cases


Below is a news release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. For 2023, Fiocchi partnered with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to increase the visibility of poaching incidents and try to reduce poaching nationwide.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officers have recently investigated several cases involving large, trophy-sized deer and elk that were killed illegally across the state.

A “trophy” deer is defined in Utah state code as a buck deer with an outside antler measurement of 24 inches or greater. A “trophy” bull elk is defined as having six points on at least one side of its antlers. These animals also have a higher value associated with them, and when they are killed illegally, it is typically classified as a felony-level violation. Conservation officers confirmed that a total of 23 trophy deer and 29 trophy elk were illegally killed in 2022.

Here are a few of those cases that are currently being prosecuted:

  • In October 2022, a trophy bull elk was illegally killed in the La Sal Mountains in San Juan County. A witness provided information to DWR conservation officers, and it was discovered that the individual who shot the elk didn’t have a permit. The individual was identified earlier this month, and charges are currently pending.
  • A 4-point, 28-inch trophy buck deer was illegally harvested outside of the hunting season in Davis County in November 2021. Conservation officers were able to locate the individual responsible, and the individual was ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution.
  • In November 2022, conservation officers seized the head of a large trophy buck deer that had been poached on the Oquirrh/Stansbury hunting unit. The buck was well known by local residents since it spent the summer months grazing on private property in the area. During the investigation, officers discovered that an individual without a hunting permit killed the deer during the late-season muzzleloader hunt. Charges are currently pending.
  • On Dec. 9, 2022, a concerned Utahn called the DWR’s UTiP hotline to report a possible poaching of a trophy buck deer in Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake County. The individual who submitted the report provided conservation officers with a recent photo of the buck deer when it was alive, as well as an approximate location of where the deer may have been killed and the license plate number of a vehicle seen in the area at the time of the suspected poaching. A homeowner in the area confirmed that they’d seen someone drag a dead deer behind their house on Dec. 2. DWR conservation officers contacted the owner of the vehicle that was seen in the area at the time. The individual told officers he had killed the deer on Nov. 30, the last day of the extended archery deer season. He showed them a photo of the deer and officers recognized it as the trophy deer from the photo they had received from the tip. Officers obtained a search warrant and recovered the antlers of the illegally killed trophy deer from the suspect’s home. The individual is currently facing charges.
  • A trophy buck deer was killed on the Paunsaugunt hunting unit in Kane County in October 2022. Upon further investigation, DWR conservation officers discovered that a non-resident had applied as a Utah resident for the highly-sought-after Paunsaugunt deer permit, in an effort to increase their chances of obtaining the permit. Charges are currently pending.
  • In a second unrelated case, another trophy deer was also illegally killed on the Paunsaugunt hunting unit in October 2021. DWR conservation officers investigated the case, and charges are currently pending.
  • There were also three additional unrelated fraud cases where two trophy bull elk were killed in southeastern Utah and one bull elk was killed in southwestern Utah by individuals who lived out of state and applied for hunting permits as Utah residents to increase their chance of obtaining the permits. Charges are pending in these cases, as well.

“Our system in Utah is unique and tries to create a fair and equitable process that provides good opportunities for all hunters,” DWR Investigations Capt. Wade Hovinga said. “These limited-entry and premium limited-entry units provide a very limited number of permits so they can provide a quality big game hunt. When someone commits license fraud to cheat and obtain one of these desired permits illegally, they’re stealing the opportunity from a legitimate hunter who has, in some cases, waited over 25 years hoping to draw one of these permits. We need and rely heavily on tips and information from the public to help us identify these poaching incidents.”

Anyone with information regarding any wildlife-related crimes in Utah is encouraged to report it to DWR conservation officers in one of the following ways:

Every year, Utah conservation officers conduct numerous investigations into the illegal killing of wildlife. In 2022, officers confirmed a total of 1,283 wild animals and fish were illegally killed, valued over $609,000.

(Photo source: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

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Three Grizzlies Test Positive for Highly Positive Pathogenic Avian Influenza


Below is a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Three juvenile grizzly bears tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus this fall. The three bears, one near Augusta, one near Dupuyer, and another near Kalispell, were observed to be in poor condition and exhibited disorientation and partial blindness, among other neurological issues. They were euthanized due to their sickness and poor condition. These were the first documented cases of HPAI in grizzly bears. A fox and a skunk in Montana also tested positive for HPAI last year, and the virus has been found in raccoons, black bears and even a coyote in other states and countries.

“We suspect these mammals probably get the virus from consuming infected birds,” said FWP Wildlife Veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey.

Avian influenza (AI) virus is a naturally occurring virus in birds. AI viruses are classified into two groups, based on the severity of disease they cause in infected poultry. Low pathogenic AI viruses generally cause no clinical illness, or only minor symptoms in birds. HPAI viruses are extremely infectious and fatal to poultry and some species of wild birds.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers risk of HPAI spread to humans to be very low, Montanans should take precautions when handling game birds, sick or dead birds and mammals they find. Whenever possible, avoid contact with sick or dead wildlife. Even if an animal is not suspected to have died from a contagious disease, gloves should always be worn if a dead animal must be handled for disposal.

FWP staff would like to know about unusual or unexplained cases of sickness and/or death of wild birds and animals by calling their local wildlife biologist or the wildlife lab in Bozeman at 406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882.

(Photo credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)

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Idaho Wolf Population Drops 13 Percent, Remains in Line with State Management Goals


Below is a news release from the Idaho Department of Game and Fish.

Idaho’s 2022 population estimate of 1,337 wolves declined by about 13 percent, or 206 wolves, compared with the 2021 estimate based on cameras surveys that measure the population during summer near its annual peak.

“Wolf population reduction has been a priority of the Fish and Game Commission,” Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever said. “There’s been a concerted effort by Fish and Game staff, hunters, trappers and other partners and agencies to reduce wolf conflicts with livestock and bring the wolf population in balance with prey species, particularly elk.

“We are encouraged by efforts that have resulted in a drop in wolf numbers, and this aligns with our long-term goal to reduce Idaho’s wolf population. We’d like to see it fluctuate around 500, which is outlined in our draft wolf management plan and aligns with the federal rule that delisted wolves,” Schriever said.

Wolf population fluctuates seasonally

Fish and Game staff deploy cameras during summer after pups are born in the spring, which spikes the population and represents the high point of the annual population. Biologists monitor hunting, trapping and other mortality throughout the year to understand how the wolf population changes seasonally.

Between 2019 and 2021, summer population estimates have averaged 1,548 animals, and 516 of those died on average each year, or about 33 percent of the annual population.

Recent statewide summer population estimates and annual mortalities:

2022: Population estimate, 1,337, mortality – (July 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022), 234 wolves

2021: Population estimate, 1,543, annual mortality – 486 wolves

2020: Population estimate, 1,556, annual mortality – 477 wolves

2019: Population estimate, 1,545, annual mortality – 585 wolves

(Fish and Game tabulates wolf mortalities from July 1 through June 30 each year.)

Most wolf deaths are caused by hunting and trapping, so following the summer estimate, the population starts dropping quickly because most wolf deaths occur in early fall through late winter as hunter and trapper harvests increase.

Other wolf mortality includes those killed during, or after, preying on livestock, and wolf management done by Fish and Game to reduce predation on elk, as well as reported accidental wolf deaths.

The 234 wolf mortalities recorded since July 1, 2022, are tracking lower than the last 5 years.

Population reduction is a long-term goal

Fish and Game Commission in 2021 expanded wolf seasons and hunting and trapping methods. The Idaho Legislature also passed SB1211 in 2021, which further expanded methods of take and extended trapping seasons, mostly on private lands, to decrease wolf depredation on livestock.

Fish and Game staff has a draft wolf management plan that will be available in February for public review and comment that outlines population goals, actions and timelines.

The Commission and department’s goals are similar to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act wolf delisting criteria, which suggests a management range around 500 wolves in Idaho. That number would reduce wolf and livestock conflicts while still maintaining a sustainable wolf population and healthy elk herds.

Idaho currently has enough wolves meet the delisting criteria for the entire Northern Rocky Mountains, according to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting rule from 2009. The rule calls for about 1,100 wolves within the Northern Rocky Mountains, which means Idaho’s current population still meets the service’s objectives for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and other states combined.

The delisting rule also called for the Northern Rockies wolf population to exceed a minimum of 30 breeding pairs and 300 wolves, and each state shall manage for “at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves in mid-winter.”

Fish and Game pioneered estimating the statewide wolf population

Idaho was the first state to use remote cameras for a statewide wolf population estimate with the first one produced in 2019.

To get the 2022 population estimate, Fish and Game crews deployed 533 cameras in July and August of 2022, which collected about 10 million photos. Biologists used artificial intelligence software to sift through those millions of photos and then applied mathematical modeling to produce a statewide estimate of the population.

(Photo credit: Idaho Department of Game and Fish)

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