Washington Wolf Population Grows by 20 Percent


Below is a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Washington’s wolf population grew for the 15th consecutive year in 2023, according to the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2023 Annual Report, released today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The report shows a 20% increase in wolf population growth from the previous count in 2022. As of Dec. 31, 2023, WDFW and partnering tribes counted 260 wolves in 42 packs in Washington. Twenty-five of the packs were successful breeding pairs that raised at least two pups through the end of the calendar year. These numbers follow the previous year’s count of 216 wolves in 37 packs and 26 breeding pairs.

“Although the first pack to recolonize the South Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery region only had one wolf during the year end counts in 2023, we have observed multiple collared wolves south of Interstate 90 in the last year,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “This likely means it is only a matter of time before new packs begin to establish in that recovery region.”

Seven packs formed or reestablished in 2023 including the Beaver Creek pack in Okanogan County, the Skookum pack in Pend Orielle County, Ruby pack in Stevens County, the Couse pack in Asotin County, and the Dollar Mountain, Nason, and Scatter packs in Ferry County that overlap portions of the Confederated Tribes of the Coville Reservation (CTCR). As occurs each year, the numbers of animals within a pack, or the status of a pack, fluctuates.

Wolves are counted annually through activities like track, aerial, and camera surveys. As in past years, survey results represent minimum counts of wolves in the state due to the difficulty of counting for every animal – especially lone wolves that do not belong to a pack.

Because this is a minimum count, the actual number of wolves in Washington is higher. Since the first WDFW survey in 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 23% per year.

While wolf numbers in Washington grew, reported depredations on domestic animals didn’t increase correspondingly. WDFW documented 23 confirmed or probable depredation events in 2023. Seventy-eight percent of wolf packs were not involved in any livestock depredations, while 21% of known wolf packs (9 packs) were involved in at least one confirmed or probable depredation. Only two packs were involved in two or more depredations, even though many of the pack territories overlap livestock operations.

“Livestock producers have worked closely with WDFW staff in the past year, along with community partners and range riders, to use non-lethal methods to discourage wolves from negatively interacting with domestic animals,” said WDFW Statewide Wolf Specialist Ben Maletzke. “These proactive and reactive efforts require significant investments in time and resources by livestock operators and others but have reduced the number of wolf depredations and lethal removal of wolves.”

WDFW recently released the first-ever status review for wolves in Washington and recommended wolves be reclassified to Sensitive status based on significant progress toward recovery objectives. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to make a decision on the reclassification proposal in July.

Wolves remain federally listed in the western two-thirds of the state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has the lead role in the recovery of wolves in the North Cascades and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery regions.

Contributors to WDFW’s annual wolf report include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, Swinomish Tribe, Yakama Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

In addition to the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2023 Annual Report being available on the Department’s website, a recording of today’s presentation of the report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission will be available on the website soon.

(Photo credit: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

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RMEF, Partners to Enhance Idaho Elk Habitat


Below is a news release from the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have begun prescribed burns on the North Fork Clearwater Ranger District to improve elk habitat. The project had to be carefully timed to find a period of time when the moisture level of fuels was low enough and temperatures were high enough to enable burning.

The project will treat 2,185 acres of mature ponderosa pine in 38 stands through a mixture of non-commercial thinning and prescribed burning. This project will ensure the long-term persistence of ponderosa pines by reducing the risk of loss due to wildfire by reducing fuels. It will also reduce overmature brush and create desired vegetation conditions, providing more palatable, available, and nutritious forage for elk in the Lolo Zone. Lolo elk populations began declining in the 1990s, partially due to maturing forest habitats and declining forage availability. The project will increase early seral habitat on the landscape and provide important nutrition for elk, moose and deer.

Tara Ball, the Regional Wildlife Biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) explained: “IDFG is really excited to see this work get done. This mixture of treatments will create a mosaic of new and old vegetation, providing diverse habitat within the forested system that is important to many wildlife species. RMEF has been a big proponent of doing good things for elk across Idaho and is no stranger to the Clearwater Basin. It truly takes an integrated effort by all.”

This is just one of the many projects the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and Idaho Fish and Game are currently working on together this year and demonstrates the continued commitment of both parties to healthy and resilient landscapes. The North Fork Ponderosa Pine Restoration Project will begin as early as Monday, April 22, 2024. Approximately 775 acres of ponderosa pine ground will be burned utilizing aerial ignitions. This burning will take place along National Forest Service Roads #247 and NFSR #250, between Washington Creek Campground and Cedar Campground. Impacts to the roads, including smoke, trees, and rocks, are expected. The public should be advised that there will be some fire traffic along NFSR #247 and #250 during operations.

(Photo credit: Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests)

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RMEF Supports Invasive Plant Treatments in Oregon


Below is a news release from the Malheur National Forest.

The Malheur National Forest will soon begin invasive plant control on the forest, with work continuing from late April through November. We use an integrated approach for invasive weed control, including herbicide application, manual removal, biological control, prevention, and restoration. This project is a continuation of work started under the 2015 decision for the Malheur Site-Specific Invasive Plants Treatment Project.

Invasive species negatively affect biodiversity, wildlife habitat, animal forage, and streamside vegetation. Invasive plants targeted for treatment include knapweeds, non-native thistles, St. Johnswort, houndstongue, sulphur cinquefoil, toadflaxes, whitetop, perennial pepperweed, and leafy or myrtle spurge. Most herbicide treatments will be spot application to individual invasive plants using backpack or hand sprayers from ATVs or trucks. Some broadcast application is also planned for select roadsides and gravel pits. Herbicides we use include aminopyralid, chlorsulfuron, clopyralid, glyphosate, imazapic, imazapyr, indaziflam, metsulfuron methyl, sethoxydim, sulfometuron methyl, and triclopyr.

Treatment sites are located across the Malheur National Forest, and we will place notification signs for herbicide applications in high-use areas at the time of treatment. A blue marker dye that fades over time will be mixed with herbicides to show where application occurred. We typically avoid herbicide application in apparent edible and medicinal plant collection areas. Please contact us with your planned collection areas if you would like for us to avoid them or consider other appropriate invasive control strategies.

The following campgrounds will have no herbicide use in 2024: Billy Fields on the Blue Mountain Ranger District, North Fork Malheur on the Prairie City Ranger District, and Tip Top on the Emigrant Creek Ranger District. We may still apply herbicide to roads and invasive patches nearby but outside of these campgrounds. The remaining campgrounds will have at least half the campground herbicide-free in a 30-day period.

A map of potential treatment areas is posted on the forest’s website http://www.fs.usda.gov/malheur on the homepage under the quick links.

Partners include Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, Harney County Weed Control, Harney Cooperative Weed Management Area, Burns Paiute Tribe, Monument Soil and Water Conservation District, North Fork John Day Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, private landowners, and permittees. Funding includes appropriated dollars and grant money from Title II projects.

(Photo credit: Malheur National Forest)

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RMEF Member Named Missouri Department of Conservation Director


Below is a news release from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Jason Sumners joined the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in 2015.

The Missouri Conservation Commission has selected Jason Sumners as the next director of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), effective June 1, 2024. Sumners currently serves as the deputy director of resource management for MDC and will succeed Sara Parker Pauley, who will retire this spring after 30 years of public service, as director.

“The Commission did a national search for the director position because we knew we had tough shoes to fill with Sara leaving,” said Missouri Conservation Commission Chair Steven Harrison. “Jason is uniquely poised for this director role with his background, experience, and national connections in conservation. We are looking forward to a smooth transition with Jason at the helm with high expectations with him as the next director.”

“I am excited and humbled by this opportunity the Commission has entrusted me with and the conservation team I get to work with across the state and country,” Sumners said. “The Missouri outdoors have defined my personal and professional life, so getting to serve in this capacity and continue to tackle the ever-evolving challenges in conservation is an exciting endeavor.”

MDC protects and manages the fish, forest, and wildlife resources of the state, and provides opportunities for citizens to use, enjoy, and learn about these resources. Sumners will become the tenth director in the Conservation Department’s 87-year history.

“We congratulate Jason on being named the new MDC Director and thank the Conservation Commission for its thoughtful and thorough search to replace Director Pauley,” said Governor Mike Parson. “While we’ll miss Sara’s leadership, we look forward to Jason using his unique qualifications to build upon Missouri’s rich history of fish, forest, and wildlife preservation. MDC is one of the best departments in the nation, and we thank Jason for his commitment to continuing that legacy as a member of our cabinet.”

“Jason brings a wealth of leadership experience in conservation, both at the state and national level, as well as a diverse background in wildlife management,” said Pauley. “I’m confident he will continue that exceptional leadership he has exemplified during his career at MDC as he becomes your next director, including working collaboratively with partners and the public to carry out the conservation mission.”

As deputy director of resource management, Sumners had responsibility and oversight for the resource management efforts of the agency, including statewide resource management, regional resource management, and protection. He also led the regulations committee. Prior to his deputy director role, Sumners served as science branch chief, leading a team of more than 80 scientists that specialize in fish, forest, and wildlife research and management. He began his career at MDC in 2008 as a private lands deer biologist and later became the head of the state’s deer management program.

During Sumners’ tenure at MDC, he has been instrumental in developing the agency’s strategic and operational direction, served as chief of the Wildlife Division, led the state’s white-tailed deer management program, took part in Missouri’s elk reintroduction efforts, developed a private lands deer management program, and led the Department’s effort to develop and implement a chronic wasting disease (CWD) management and surveillance strategy. Jason also worked at the national level on the Relevancy Roadmap for state fish and wildlife agencies to enhance conservation efforts through broader engagement.

Jason received a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Missouri and a Master of Science in Biology from Mississippi State University. He is a National Conservation Leadership Institute fellow, professional member of the Boone and Crockett Club, active with many non-government organization partners, represents MDC on numerous regional and national committees, and has been recognized by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for his leadership in science-based approaches to wildlife conservation. He has published popular and scientific articles on wildlife, natural resources management, and conservation relevancy.

Sumners grew up in the small town of Lincoln, Mo., where his love for the outdoors began. His interests include hunting, fishing, and camping. He and his family live in Hartsburg, Mo.

(Photo credit: Missouri Department of Conservation)

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RMEF: Solar Development May Stifle Wildlife Movement, Habitat, Public Access


The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation warns the construction of large, new solar energy developments across 11 western states, as currently being presented, will have detrimental effects on elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and other wildlife while thwarting public access to public land.

“We express concerns over the large geographic scale of this assessment, along with the lack of protection for big game crucial habitat and loss of access to millions of acres of public land,” wrote Karie Decker, RMEF director of wildlife and habitat.

RMEF sent six pages of official comments to the Bureau of Land Management in response to an Energy Act of 2020 directive for the secretary of the Interior to authorize 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025. As of December 2022, the BLM permitted nine gigawatts of approved capacity with 66 more projects under preliminary review that would consume nearly half a million acres of public land.

By regulation, solar facilities require seven-foot-high fencing that prevents unauthorized access by people and can cover 5,000 acres or more. Such installments would also cut off migratory corridors, keep wildlife out of crucial winter range, severely limit both natural resource and wildlife management, and impact hunting, fishing and other uses of public lands.

The plan’s current preferred alternative would allocate 22 million acres for utility-scale solar development. According to the BLM, four million of those acres include big game winter range and 1.8 million are identified as migration corridors.

RMEF remains engaged in the process and will track future stages of the project.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)

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Missouri Elk Hunt Application Period Opens in May


Below is part of a news release from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) will offer five permits to hunt bull elk in Missouri this fall with at least one permit designated for qualifying landowners that own property in Carter, Reynolds, or Shannon counties and the remaining permits for qualifying Missouri residents. MDC has designated the elk archery portion to run Oct. 19-27 and the elk firearms portion to run Dec. 14-22. The five permits will be for bull elk with at least one antler being six inches or greater in length and will be valid for both archery and firearms portions.

Only Missouri residents who will be at least 11 years of age by the first day of the hunt for which they are applying are eligible during the application period of May 1-31. All permits will be assigned through a random drawing.

MDC will require a $10 application fee for elk-permit applicants. Those selected will then be eligible to buy a permit at a cost of $50. All elk-hunting permits, including those allocated to qualifying area landowners, can be used in Carter, Reynolds, and Shannon counties, except the refuge portion of Peck Ranch Conservation Area.

The archery portion will run Oct. 19-27 and the firearms portion will run Dec. 14-22. The allowed hunting methods for each elk season portion will be the same as for deer hunting. The permits will allow for the harvest of one bull elk with at least one antler being six inches or greater in length. For more information on elk and elk hunting in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/elkhunting.

Apply for the elk-permit random drawing May 1-31 online at mdc.mo.gov/buypermits, through MDC’s free MO Hunting app, through a permit vendor, or by calling 1-800-392-4115. Results of the elk-permit random drawing will be available online by July 1.

Missouri hunters harvested one bull elk during the 2023 archery portion and two during the 2023 firearms portion.

(Photo credit: Missouri Department of Conservation)

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Citing Science, RMEF Opposes Feds’ Decision to Restore Grizzlies to Northern Cascades


The National Parks Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it will place grizzly bears in the Northern Cascades in Washington. According to its joint record of decision, “the agencies will restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) through the translocation of grizzly bears from other ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains or interior British Columbia.”

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation previously urged the USFWS to wait on such plans until it made a related ruling. In February 2023, USFWS initiated a comprehensive status review of the grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem based on the best available science to inform a 12-month finding. If those findings result in proposing one or more distinct population segments for delisting, it will change the context of the ongoing recovery for the rest of the population in the larger listed entity, including the NCDE.

“RMEF has long advocated for state management of grizzly bears, which is in line with RMEF’s support of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, under which state management of wildlife along with the financial contributions from hunters has dramatically increased wildlife populations across the U.S. in the last 100 years. RMEF supports removal of grizzly bears from the ESA list, transferring its management to state wildlife agencies,” wrote Karie Decker, RMEF director of wildlife and habitat. 

As part of the April 2024 decision, North Cascades’ grizzlies will receive a nonessential experimental population designation under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, meaning authorities and land managers will have additional tools for management not otherwise be available under standard Endangered Species Act regulations. USFWS will publish a final 10(j) rule in the Federal Register. RMEF will review the details of the final rule when that happens.

The U.S. Department of Interior held a series of public meetings in 2020 and decided against placing grizzlies in the Northern Cascades. Several months later, an environmental extremist group, the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit looking to forcibly introduce grizzlies.

(Photo credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

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Celebrating 40 Years of Volunteers


Below is Kyle’s Weaver’s President’s Message as shared in the May-June 2024 issue of Bugle magazine.

In August of 1985, a mere 18 months since RMEF burst from an idea into a living being, gung-ho volunteers Lyle and Bob Button and others led the charge to hold the first ever RMEF fundraising banquet at Bob’s Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona.

In the September-October 2004 Bugle, RMEF co-founder Bob Munson mused about that successful night. “It proved to be an extraordinary seminar and banquet, with over 200 people in attendance. And I left the next morning with a check for over $4,400 payable to the RMEF.”

RMEF volunteers have driven and bankrolled this organization from the beginning. Those early volunteers set out and said, “I’m going to do it.” And they did. And that’s an attitude that is now a hallmark of the RMEF volunteer. They’ve been stalwart through every rough patch, and thanks to them the organization is still going strong as it turns 40 this year.

In the pages of this issue, we are giving some extra ink to celebrating our volunteers, the fundraisers they pour their blood, sweat and tears into along with the many on-the-ground projects they complete.

Most wildlife conservation organizations have adopted the membership banquet system since Ducks Unlimited pioneered the formula in the 1960s, and like every group, we’ve put our own spin on it. Banquets are one of the places RMEF volunteers shine the brightest. I’ve been to many, and I’m always amazed by our volunteers in action and the atmosphere of celebration they invest so many hours into creating. Like the committee in Mackay, Idaho, that rents out their local firehall for their event, moving the fire engines to fit in dozens of tables. It’s the only venue in town big enough to accommodate all their attendees. RMEF volunteers have proven time and again that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to support the mission of our organization.

RMEF held that first big game banquet in Flagstaff, our volunteers have since put on somewhere near 14,000. These events are simply a wonderful time, and the best part is that they are also putting money on the ground where it counts, in elk country. (To see a list of upcoming RMEF banquets or find the nearest one to you, click here.)

RMEF has conserved over 8.9 million acres, and we’ve opened or improved access on more than 1.59 million acres of prime elk country. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without our dedicated volunteers working year-round to put on smash hit banquets, all as a labor of love without any compensation beyond contributing to a cause they believe in. We also rely on them to be the positive public face of RMEF, because for many people who walk through the doors of a banquet, it’s their first impression of our organization. 

Not only do our volunteers shine on the banquet stage, they also excel during on-the-ground projects. They upgrade fences to wildlife-friendly specifications, build and repair water tanks for wildlife and much more. RMEF volunteers also invest their time to make sure our hunting heritage continues. They are helping connect young folks and older folks, too, with the outdoors. Many of our volunteers coach their local trap shooting team, 4-H shooting team, teach hunter education or help with their local outdoor skills day. Or like Dale Veneklasen, they help veterans. Vaneklasen is an RMEF volunteer and life member who co-founded a foundation that works to get veterans and their families connected through hunting and fishing adventures.

I realize not everyone can volunteer. Time is precious, we have busy lives, and we all have other valuable ways we chip in. But the next time you attend a banquet, I encourage you to find a committee member and thank them for how much they do to help the RMEF mission. They carry a torch handed down through the decades by great volunteers like Wallace Pate, Aaron Jones and so many other early RMEF leaders, a legacy they can be proud of.

When my hunting boots hit a piece of land open to access because of RMEF, or I touch the mane of an elk I just killed that will keep my family supplied with high-quality protein for the year, it reminds me how important our volunteers’ efforts are to us, to our kids, and especially to our kids’ kids. To every RMEF volunteer out there, thank you for the work you do for elk country. Here’s to 40 years of exceptional volunteers and to the next 40 years of working for wildlife.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)

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Antler Poaching Leads to Fine and Hunting Ban


Below is a news release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

On March 11, 2024, an Idaho man who poached elk antlers from the National Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest and initiated efforts to sell them — in violation of state and federal law — has been fined $6,000, banned for three years from Wyoming public lands, and lost all hunting privileges worldwide for three years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department worked together on this case. State and federal authorities hope the sentence, announced weeks before Wyoming’s May opening of legal shed and horn hunt season, will deter others from flouting shed antler collection rules.

The defendant pled guilty to a felony charge of the attempted transport and sale of more than 1,000 pounds of poached antlers, valued at roughly $18,000. Illegally collecting and selling antlers is a violation of the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits the transportation and sale of illegally obtained wildlife. The state of Wyoming also forbids off-season antler collection from public lands west of the Continental Divide.

In Wyoming, antler collection is prohibited until May to protect wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer, from the stress of human presence when the animals are weak and just emerging from harsh winter conditions. Encounters with humans can reduce the animals’ odds of survival.

Buyers of shed antlers have turned them into dog chews, buttons, knife handles and wall ornaments. Demand for shed antlers has grown so high that hundreds of cars line up on the entrance road to the National Elk Refuge each year on opening day May 1.

“These types of violations are an ongoing problem, as the market value of antlers keeps going up, we are experiencing more theft and trespassing on the Elk Refuge,” said Service Regional Chief of Refuge Law Enforcement David Bonham. “The opening of the shed antler season is a big deal out here, for quite a while. We send 5 to 7 additional officers to the Refuge for this event each year to serve as first responders. Our goal is to make sure everyone stays safe and prepared for whatever the conditions may be.”

Legal antler collection season opens May 1 for Wyoming residents. Under a state law passed in 2023 and effective this year, non-state residents must wait until May 8 to legally collect shed antlers from public lands.

Antler collection is illegal at all times on the National Elk Refuge.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)

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A Celebration as Big as Kentucky Elk Country


It was only fitting. As festivities took place below, a lone elk fed in the hills above in the heart of Kentucky’s elk range (see photo below).

The sun shone down on a picture-perfect day in eastern Kentucky where 70 to 80 people gathered on reclaimed land within the Cumberland Forest Wildlife Management Area to celebrate a landmark project that conserves, protects and opens public access to nearly 55,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat.

Just four months earlier, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation completed what now stands as the largest voluntary conservation agreement (conservation easement) in Kentucky state history. The real winners are elk, deer, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, scores of other wildlife species, hunters, anglers and all others who enjoy the outdoors.

“Today marks a conservation milestone for eastern elk and other wildlife. The Cumberland Forest-Ataya conservation easement and access agreement secures perpetual access for recreation and wildlife management in Kentucky,” said Jenn Doherty, RMEF director of lands and access. “RMEF thanks our partners at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for making this possible.”

Doherty presented Elk Country Partnership Awards to TNC, KDFWR, NFWF staffers and the Kentucky General Assembly, who all made success possible. For their part, Kentucky lawmakers supplied critical financial support, while championing invaluable bipartisan legislation that ensured a timely completion of the project (see above photo).

KDFWR manages the new wildlife management area for wildlife habitat, public recreation, sustainable forestry and clean water. The project connects 274,000 acres of land stretching into neighboring Tennessee.

“The future opportunities for habitat restoration are promising, and RMEF looks forward to continuing to stand up for wildlife and hunters in Kentucky,” added Doherty.

(Left to right, TNC Kentucky State Director David Phemister, NFWF Rocky Mountain Regional Office Director Chris West, Sen. Robin Webb, Rep. Adam Bowling & KDFWR Commissioner Rich Storm – not pictured Sen. Brandon Smith)

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)

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