MISSOULA, Mont.—Counties in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Washington and Wyoming are among the 10 fastest-growing areas to benefit from wildlife habitat protection by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

A newly released Top 25 list shows the relative significance of RMEF habitat protection projects. Listings are based on “RMEF Impact Ratios.” The ratios reflect county-by-county totals of RMEF-protected lands versus current local forces of population growth and residential development, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The greater the threat of loss, the more vital is each saved acre.

Nationwide, RMEF has helped permanently protect almost 1 million acres, and helped enhance almost 5 million more, for elk and other wildlife.

Currently, the organization’s most impactful habitat-protection area is Gallatin County, Mont. Over time, RMEF has purchased open lands and transferred them to public ownership, recorded private conservation easements and completed other projects to permanently protect 7,671 acres in Gallatin County. However, in the past 10 years, the county’s population has grown by 33 percent. The many new households in Gallatin County multiply the value of every RMEF-protected acre—most of which are in lower elevation winter ranges typically platted for development.

Many partners have joined RMEF to make such projects become reality.

Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of lands and conservation, said, “It’s both gratifying and alarming to know that the elk winter ranges, summer ranges, migration corridors, calving areas—and accessible elk hunting lands—that we’ve helped secure across elk country could have easily been new subdivisions today.”

He added, “As time goes on, all of our land protection projects, both in rapidly growing counties and slowly growing counties, will become more and more significant.”

Henning added that RMEF is continually refining habitat protection criteria in order to target its resources for maximum benefit to elk.

Nationwide, more than 5,000 acres of wildlife habitat are lost each day to development.

Other states represented on the RMEF list of most-impactful project-areas include Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota and Tennessee.

See list below:

Only counties with a minimum of 5,000 acres in RMEF land protection projects were considered for this list. County growth figures are based on U.S. Census Bureau data from April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2010, released March 2011. The bureau estimates an average of 2.59 people per household.

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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