The future of the elk in America has not always been bright. Massive agricultural expansion and elimination of elk habitat in the East and Plains states, and unregulated commercial market hunting for elk hides and meat, brought the elk to the brink of extinction. By the late 1800s many naturalists considered the elk extinct.
Fortunately, a few elk survived in backcountry mountainous pockets, and from this small nucleus today’s elk herd was derived. The story of the elk in modern times is a pure conservation success story. Elk have been brought back from the verge of oblivion by sportsmen who recognized the unique sporting and viewing qualities of this huge, graceful beast. Aggressive conservation efforts through the years now have the elk flourishing not only in western states, but also in many midwestern and eastern states where the Wapiti had disappeared over a century ago.
Today, states such as North and South Dakota, Michigan, Arkansas, Texas, Pennsylvania and Kentucky have small, but growing, elk herds. This is largely due to a relatively new conservation organization called the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation(RMEF).
Founded in the late 1980’s, the RMEF has built itself into a tightly run, non-profit organization with over 100,000 members and over 50 group chapters worldwide. Many conservation projects aiding elk and wildlife in general have been funded by the RMEF. Critical elk winter range has been purchased with money donated by members and large corporate sponsors.
Conservation easements have also been negotiated with individuals who own large tracts of critical elk habitat. In addition, group chapters do small conservation projects in elk country, such as providing water tanks in the parched Nevada desert country so that elk, and other wildlife, can exist.
But most importantly, the RMEF has brought the American elk to the forefront of conservation-minded America. Millions of folks have been turned on to the fantastic aura of this giant deer. And with this knowledge comes a sincere desire to conserve elk habitat and help this mighty animal flourish.