Forest Service, BLM recognize partners with conservation awards

DENVER—Last week, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management recognized the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto for their leadership and contributions to wildlife conservation and public lands stewardship. The awards were presented at the 84th North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference in Denver.

The elk foundation, a 35-year veteran partner to both agencies headquartered in Missoula, Montana, received the Forest Service–BLM 2019 Conservation Partner of the Year Award for sustained outstanding contributions to wildlife conservation and public access across the West. The grotto was awarded the Forest Service–BLM 2019 Conservation Project Award for its dedication, leadership and innovations to building collaborative partnerships that promote sound land management practices and conservation of public lands, wildlife and cave resources in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota.

“Committed partners like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto are critical to sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands. We value their dedicated commitment, technical expertise, and leadership in working with federal and state agencies, communities, and other partners to leverage resources in the management and conservation of lands and wildlife,” said Rob Harper, director of Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air and Rare Plants.

A worker stands on the tread of an excavator to consult with its operator.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered with the Forest Service for a Recovery Act project on Bitterroot National Forest. The treatments improved forest resiliency to bark beetles and wildfire, thereby improving elk habitat, recovering biomass and restoring terraced-compacted soils. Forest Service photo.

The foundation has helped both agencies implement more than 4,300 wildlife habitat enhancement, land protection and public access improvement projects. Such projects include aspen restoration, forest restoration thinning, prescribed fire, burned area restoration, planting, seeding, fence removal and weed control to enhance more than five million acres of wildlife habitat on federal public lands. 

In addition, the foundation facilitated land and easement acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It has directly contributed more than $36.6 million to both agencies to help fund wildlife and conservation projects. The combined total conservation value of the two agencies’ partnership with RMEF is estimated at more than $411 million.

“We are honored to receive this recognition for our conservation work that benefits elk and so many other wildlife species,” said Kyle Weaver, foundation president and CEO. “We appreciate our federal agency partners with whom we’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder for years now and look forward to many more joint projects that permanently protect and enhance wildlife habitat, open or improve public access and benefit hunters, anglers and so many others who cherish our wild landscapes.”

The grotto assists the Forest Service, BLM and state of Montana with cave inventory, monitoring and management, focusing on cave restoration, bat habitat monitoring, and preventing the spread of White Nose Syndrome. It is actively engaged in helping educate the public on bat conservation, including installing cave visitor register boxes, which provide information for cave visitors about clean caving practices, decontamination protocols and reporting bat observations.

“We've really enjoyed working with the Forest Service and BLM since 2011. As many agencies are stretched thin with resources, it is imperative that we learn to work more effectively to help manage the outdoor resources we all care so much about,” said Ian Chechet, grotto chairman.