On August 20th, the White Mountain Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) will hold their annual fundraising banquet at Hon-Dah Resort, Casino, and Conference Center. The RMEF is a nonprofit habitat-conservation organization with a mission is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat. As an organization in the forefront, they work to ensure quality outdoor experiences will still be available in years to come. The RMEF puts more than 90% of their income toward their mission statement, which is one of the many reasons RMEF receives the highest rating of 4 stars from America’s top charity ratings service.
One major misconception many have is that RMEF is simply a hunter’s organization benefiting only hunters with nothing but hunters as members. As Dave Audsley, public information officer for the White Mountain chapter, will tell you, this is simply not the case. “You do not have to be a hunter to be interested in wildlife habitat restoration and preservation. If you care about preserving habitat and wildlife, then you are RMEF member material,” says Dave.
“To give you a bit of historical perspective, it was not illegal to kill wildlife for commercial purposes before 1937. Around this time, hunters in America were noticing a massive decrease in wildlife. The hunters got together as groups and clubs nationwide and went to congress. In 1937, they passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, which outlawed commercial hunting for profit and imposed an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment to be donated to State Game and Fish departments to rehab their local wildlife habitat. An act in 1951 placed an excise tax on all fishing equipment. Thanks to these actions, there were 1 million Canadian geese in 1940 and today there are 3 million. In 1910, there were only 100,000 wild turkeys left in the U.S.; now there are 5.6 million. In 1935, they could only count 73 trumpeter swans; today, there are more than 20,000. In the year 1900, there were 500,000 whitetail deer nationwide; now there are 36 million. In 1907, a nationwide survey by the Game and Fish Department counted 41,000 elk; now there are 1.2 million in just the ten western states,” Dave adds.
In addition to these successful preservation efforts, RMEF is aiding in the reintroduction of elk to eastern states. “We are now in the process of re-introducing elk to their native habitat in states that no longer have elk because they were massacred like the buffalo,” adds Dave. “We have successfully reintroduced elk to the states of Pennsylvania; Wisconsin; Kentucky; Tennessee; Missouri, Virginia; North Carolina; West Virginia; and Ontario, Canada. We are truly bringing wildlife back to the American countryside.”
Since its inception in 1984, more than 6 million acres have been preserved nationwide. For Arizona, RMEF has helped preserve 349,504 acres. One such example is the Sipes Game Preserve near Springerville. Due to an estate sale, the 1,600-acre private ranch was at risk of being developed for housing until RMEF stepped up to buy the land and turn it over to Arizona Game & Fish so everyone could enjoy it. After the Wallow Fire blackened more than 538,000 acres of Arizona’s White Mountains, RMEF quickly stepped in, donating $150,000 to emergency wildfire mitigation projects. One project reseeded native grasses in severely burned areas, while another supplied $80,000 worth of livestock feed and hay to private landowners whose pastures were temporarily grazed by high concentrations of displaced elk.
In addition to these and many other projects, RMEF is dedicated to providing hunting ethics, hunter safety, and education about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation to our youth. “We are very active in providing junior hunting camps for young hunters who have been through the Arizona Game and Fish Hunter Safety Programs. We foster these camps to encourage young hunters to participate in hunting activities. These camps are free and we provide all the food and guides,” says Dave. “In April, we have a spring turkey hunt at Green’s Peak and a squirrel-hunt camp in October at Los Burros. In each camp, we take the kids hunting and teach them how to harvest their animal, skin it, and even cook it. We also have a camp for kids who get drawn for a cow elk tag in Unit 1. We teach them how to scout, hunt, harvest, and help them pack it out. Again, this is free for kids and their families and is an example of what we do with the funds raised at our banquet.”
This year’s banquet will begin at 4:30 P.M., at Hon-Dah Resort & Casino. During social time, there will be drawings, raffles, games, drinks, and a silent auction. Dinner and a live auction will follow.
“This is how citizens can actively participate in the preservation of habitat by simply coming to an annual banquet. The food is great and it is a lot of fun. At the banquet, we have drawings and auctions for handguns, rifles, shotguns, archery equipment, hunting and camping equipment, binoculars, furniture, jewelry, and more. This year, we will have a raffle for a precision rifle. There are only 300 tickets for it and tickets are $50. The rifle is a one-of-a-kind White Mountain Chapter 18 RMEF Winchester model 70 rifle,” says Dave Audsley, “kids 16 and under will enjoy lots of fun including an annual Youth Elk-Calling Contest. The best part is that every contestant will win a great prize.”
Tickets for the event are $85 (which includes one meal and one supporting membership) or $135 for a couple supporting ticket, which includes two meals and one supporting membership. Youth tickets are $25 (12 years old and under).