Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist, writing for the Pathfinder




RMEF volunteers
celebrate Phase I purchase

Klaus and Beate von Stutterheim of New York with RMEF chairman Wayne Heaton, center, at last week's
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Rendezvous.



Pat and Linda Holt (at left), owners of Montana Pines Hide-Away, hosted last week's 5th Annual Montana Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Summer Rendezvous for volunteers from around the state who spent several days in workshops as well as socializing at the local resort. Conrad and Sharon Rowe (at right) were recognized for Conrad's donation of an elk photo scenic shot on the Game Range for a fundraiser.

July 6, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson

Last week in Seeley Lake, Sharon and I had the pleasure of joining with volunteers from the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter and other Chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) from across Montana and the United States to celebrate a long-awaited event.

Yes, on June 23 in Seattle, RMEF, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and Plum Creek Timber Company closed on the final 523 acres in Phase I of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range 50th Anniversary Project. Right on schedule.

This latest transaction means that all 856 acres originally identified for Phase I by project partners in early 1999 were indeed transferred from Plum Creek to joint RMEF-FWP ownership in the space of a little over one year.

Six hundred white-tailed deer and smaller groups of mule deer and bull elk will not notice the difference when they return to their Phase I winter range along the west slope of Boyd Mountain this November and December. And, isn't that the point?

By bringing this critical winter habitat into public ownership, with management direction dedicated to the perpetuation of this winter range, we take an important step in ensuring that our treasured migratory herds of elk and deer can count on forage, cover and solitude for every winter to come. Just as they have every winter since the Game Range was purchased in 1948.

It is especially fitting that RMEF should embark on such a notable habitat project in our local area, according to Dale Burk, noted Montana conservationist, sportsman and publisher, who spoke at the RMEF volunteers function at Montana Pines Hideaway last week.

Because the seeds for this and many other similar accomplishments were sown "just over the hill" quite a few years back around a campfire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Burk informed us. Dale was present, along with the late Phil Tawney (whose contributions were memorialized at the 50th Anniversary Celebration on the Game Range last spring) and a few other individuals whose names I'm sorry I didn't recognize. It was around that campfire that the idea for RMEF's North American Habitat Fund was born.

Now that some 3 million acres of wildlife habitat have been conserved and enhanced all across North America as a result of the establishment and skillful management of that Fund, it is time for direct benefit to cycle back to its birthplacethe Bob Marshall Wilderness Areaand one of the key winter ranges for its migratory elk herds.

Sharon and I also enjoyed meeting Klaus and Beate von Stutterheim, who were recognized by Wayne Heaton and the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter for their generous monetary support of the Phase I land acquisition. True to form, Klaus and Beate couldn't make it through the evening without contributing yet another sum for habitat conservation after an impromptu auction of an RMEF fly rod. And, we were pleased to learn they are avid Pathfinder readers, even while at their residence in New York.

Local wildlife photographer, Conrad Rowe, who had already donated prints of a classic winter scene on the Game Range to generate income for Phase I, also left the function with a lighter wallet and a new custom RMEF receiver for the trailer hitch on his vehicle. Conrad contributed a lot of entertainment during the course of this spirited transaction as the visiting Chapter Chair from Helena kept bidding up the price. I liked the look of the receiver, but I still haven't decided whether Conrad or the guy from Helena came out best in that deal. But, it was definitely good for elk!

Elinor Williamson would not be outdone. Elinor, along with Conrad and their spouses, Charlie and Sharon, is already a Habitat Partner for the 50th Anniversary Project. Still, she contributed more for a large, iron, reproduction of the RMEF logo in the auction for wildlife.

Work continues on schedule in preparation of a draft environmental impact statement for public review of Phase IIa proposed trade between Plum Creek and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC)that would bring another 3,040 acres on the Game Range into state ownership. And, the Lolo National Forest and Plum Creek continue to discuss options for bringing 2,960 additional acres on the Game Range into Forest Service ownership in Phase III.

Last week's party in Seeley Lake was a well-earned occasion to savor an important milestone for the 50th Anniversary Project. But, RMEF Development Director, Gary Burnett, reminded us that we still have debts to repay before the books are closed on Phase I. In addition to $500,000 from FWP, $10,000 from Five Valleys Land Trust and an ever-growing pot of several hundred thousand dollars collected by the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter and other RMEF fundraisers from across Montana, the closing on Phase I was also supported by a short-term loan from RMEF's North American Habitat Fund. Fundraising will continue toward repaying this loan and helping fund some of the expenses for Phases II and III.

So, if you don't have one of Conrad's Game Range photos framed over your fireplace, it's not too late to give him a call to make your mark on the 50th Anniversary Project.

And, in closing, I'd like to offer a word of thanks to Plum Creek, and especially Denny Sigars, Plum Creek's Clearwater Unit Manager in Missoula. I still remember when Mack Long, FWP Region 2 Supervisor, and I brought a crude map to Denny's office and asked if he would expand his offer of 300 acres to 856. He would have been true to his word and his company's previous positions on the subject if he had replied with a firm "no." But, instead he said yes. And, Plum Creek followed through in good faith and on schedule with closing on a Phase I that by itself really does make a difference to wildlife.

Now, it's on to the other Phases!

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