The bulge blows again

By Posted on Apr 13 2020 | By

Note: This article was published prior to the lockdown.

March 14 gala celebrates restoration of North American Elk

Over 150 years ago, the last of Cervus elaphus canadensis disappeared in Virginia. As is often the case when man battles wildlife, man won. When the Mayflower landed in 1620, more than 10 million of the magnificent animals roamed the United States. By 1900, less than 100,000 remained in small scattered herds in the lower 48.

But man saw the error of his ways, and today one million elk populate the United States, mostly in the western states.

The resurgence of elk herds in the eastern U.S. has been an even more remarkable story. While paling in numbers to its western brethren, efforts over the last several decades have seen numbers rise from almost zero to herds totaling over 16,000.

Today, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania are reaping the benefits of the elk comeback, with the economic rewards to rural communities among the more notable accomplishments.

How did it unfold?

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
The RMEF was founded in 1984 by four outdoorsmen sitting around a western elk hunting camp. They lamented that unless action was taken, both elk habitat and the species itself would disappear. Its success is measured today by the 500 active chapters and thriving herds around the country.

The organization’s template was taken from the pages of Ducks Unlimited, who worked tirelessly since 1937 to successfully preserve wetlands and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, other wildlife, and people.

The RMEF has brought over seven million acres under conservation easement and provided critical survival habitat for the America Elk. While the emphasis has been on western land preservation, a cadre of other dedicated sportsmen have achieved similar success in the eastern U.S.

One of the drivers of the eastern success story is Danny Smedley. Smedley is a retired senior manager for an electronic funds transfer company. He ignited his passion for elk and elk hunting 30 years ago when he picked up a magazine called Bugle, published by the RMEF and headquartered in Missoula, Montana.

“I was out in Yellowstone on a family vacation after my first child was born. I looked through that magazine and was very impressed and joined the foundation,” Smedley said.

“About six months later, a gentleman who had been a former chair of the national organization invited me to a meeting in D.C. He said they were thinking about starting a Warrenton chapter of RMEF.

“I attended that meeting three decades ago have been involved with both the foundation and organizing the local fundraiser that supports our cause ever since.”

In part through his efforts, today there are now 15,000 elk in Kentucky, 200 in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 200 near Grundy, Virginia, 1,000 fittingly thriving in Elk County, Pennsylvania, and 100 in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

By any measure, the success of the establishment of these herds represent diamonds on an elk’s rack. Moreover, the location of some of the herds is on reclaimed strip-mining land in poorer sections of the country.

“Down in Grundy, Virginia they’ve got little cabins, a visitor center and viewing stations throughout the area. Annually over 350 people visit and pay $30 each to see the elk and listen to them bugle,” Smedley said.

Hunting is conversation
This is the slogan of the RMEF and underpins why the hunt is an integral part in saving a threatened species. Smedley says he is often asked about the dichotomy between hunting and recovering threatened wildlife. Actually, the two go hand-in-hand. He cites as an example the tale of two birds: The America Wood Duck and the White-Billed Woodpecker.

The former thrives as both a game duck and a successful survivor because Ducks Unlimited became its “sponsor”, recovering wetlands and building hundreds of thousands of duck boxes. Today it is one of the most numerous ducks in the country for the mutual enjoyment for both birders and hunters.

Conversely, the latter had no sponsor, and today the White-billed Woodpecker is extinct. “A species can lose out if it does not have a purpose and a sponsor,” said Smedley.

This year the RMEF’s local fundraiser will again be hosted at the Fauquier County Fairgrounds on March 14th, from 3:30 p.m. till 9:30 p.m.
In addition to speakers updating attendees on the success of elk restoration nationwide, there will be games, live and silent auctions with prizes as exotic as a premier elk hunt in Montana, an Indiana Whitetail hunt, dinner at Sibby’s in Warrenton, and high-end firearms by Weatherby, Winchester, Kimber, and others.

Tickets are $85 each, $135 for couples, and support the goal of elk revival throughout the United States. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Danny Smedley at (540) 222-4994. Smedley is also ready to answer questions on the foundation itself or on how to make a donation to the cause. To go the easy route, simply order tickets online at https://events.rmef.org/shop/bullrun1.

With tickets in hand, you’ll join some 200 other sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts and learn more about the valued work of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

A digital tour of the world of elk recovery can be taken at https://www.rmef.org/Finally, consider visiting any of the East Coast elk recovery areas and be entranced by the stately king of the forest and its haunting bugle call.

Published February 2020 in the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES