MISSOULA, Mont.–Restoring grasslands by managing encroaching trees, shrubs and weeds is the main theme in a list of 2011 grants for Colorado from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Along with improving wildlife foraging areas, RMEF funding also will help Colorado with a new research project to map elk and deer movements and habitat use. Data will help biologists maximize hunting as a management tool in Delores, Montezuma and San Miguel counties.

All together, the new RMEF grants total $144,150 and affect 12 counties: Dolores, Eagle, Fremont, Grand, Gunnison, La Plata, Mesa, Mineral, Montezuma, Park, Saguache and San Miguel.

“Across Colorado, the native grasslands that elk use for forage are shrinking. Forests are slowly overgrowing and noxious weeds are infesting landscapes,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “The habitat projects that we’re funding this year will help manage these lands, and could add at least 6,500 acres to the 388,203 acres that we’ve previously helped to conserve or enhance for wildlife in Colorado.”

Nationally, RMEF hopes to impact about 100,000 acres in 2011 to reach the 6 million-acre lifetime mark in lands conserved or enhanced for elk and other wildlife.

Allen thanked RMEF volunteers and fundraiser attendees for building the organization’s grant coffers in Colorado, saying, “Because of their amazing passion and generous support, a major conservation milestone is within reach.”

RMEF grants will help fund the following 2011 projects, listed by county:

Dolores County–Begin research project to capture and radio-collar 20 cow elk and 20 doe deer in the Dove Creek area. Locations will be recorded three times a day for two years. Collected info will help biologists address seasonal habitat use and migration patterns, and how best to provide hunting opportunities to help control crop depredation in the area (also affects Montezuma and San Miguel counties).

Eagle County–Remove encroaching pinyon-juniper from 567 acres, prescribe burn 450 acres, mow 250 acres and re-seed native grasses on 150 acres to improve elk winter range in the Berry Creek, Cottonwood Mesa, High Trail Gulch, Red Dirt, Ute Trail, Muddy Creek and Derby Mesa areas of White River National Forest.

Fremont County–Improve winter range for elk by mechanically treating 500 acres of pinyon-juniper encroaching into native grasslands in the McCoy and Racepath Gulch areas of BLM lands.

Grand County–Enhance forage for elk by treating 185 acres of Canadian thistle, yellow toadflax, oxeye daisy, musk thistle and other noxious weeds in the Sulphur Ranger District of Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.

Gunnison County–Prescribe burn 450 acres in Taylor Creek area below Taylor Park Reservoir to improve habitat for elk, bighorn sheep and other species.

La Plata County–Treat 100 acres of noxious weeds such as yellow toadflax, spotted knapweed, houndstongue, oxeye daisy, musk thistle and Canada thistle to improve forage for elk and other wildlife in Cherry Creek area of San Juan National Forest.

Mesa County–Improve forage for elk, mule deer and other species by prescribe burning 1,912 acres in Nick Mountain area; provide sponsorship for annual Outdoor Heritage Day in Grand Junction to educate youths about outdoor resources, wildlife, conservation and recreation.

Mineral County–Thin 40 acres with hydro axe and prescribe burn 300 acres to remove encroaching conifer and reinvigorate native grasses, forbs and shrubs for elk in Blue Creek and Pool Table Mountain areas of Rio Grande National Forest.

Park County–Improve meadows and aspen stands used by elk and deer in winter months by removing conifer with a hydro axe and prescribe burning 2,167 acres in the Reinecker Ridge area of James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area.

Saguache County–Aerially apply herbicide to remove cheatgrass from 1,000 acres of steep elk habitat in Cochetopa Canyon area of BLM lands.

Projects are selected for grants using science-based criteria and a committee of RMEF volunteers and staff along with representatives from partnering agencies and universities.

Partners for 2011 projects in Colorado include Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Colorado Division of Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, other agencies, organizations and landowners.

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners have completed 530 different conservation and education projects in Colorado with a combined value of more than $119.1 million.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.9 million acres–a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.

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