A major problem with hunting today is that hunters are a mysterious minority group that the vast majority of Americans have had little first-hand contact with, let alone through mainstream media. That makes hunters, regardless of whether they are ethical or not, an easy target for anti-hunters to stigmatize, and for the media to misinterpret.

A case in point is an article in the December 1 New York Times titled “Utah Hunters Criticize Market Approach to Licenses and Conservation”. The article is about the rising cost of resident and non-resident hunting licenses, and how people with enough money can buy licenses that others could not afford. In that article there is a quote by David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF).

“Money has definitely infiltrated our American hunting system. Some of it’s ethical and legal and aboveboard. But is it all good? Maybe, maybe not,” Allen is quoted as saying.

“I spoke with that reporter for almost for almost an hour and a half,” Allen told me. “I think she missed the point. What I was telling her is really two major points. The first is that while conservation groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation can help state agencies support some programs, state fish and game agencies are ultimately dependent on fishing and hunting license revenues to keep afloat, which in these cash-strapped times is getting increasing more difficult. A lot of state agencies right now have their own financial cliffs. Montana and Idaho state wildlife agencies are both saying they have 12-24 months before they hit their cliffs. Wyoming Game and Fish says they need $8-$10 million cash right now. Other states are in the same boat. Without hunting, we would lose our entire wildlife system. Sure, they can try raising fees, but hunters and fishermen are ultimately customers to these agencies, and you always want to keep the customer satisfied. You won’t save hunting by selling a few high-price tags. You save it with a widespread group of hunters and anglers, buying licenses and spending money in communities all across the US.

RMEF President and CEO David Allen.

“The second point I wanted to make is that there are two kinds of ‘tags’ that are sold at higher prices. The first are ‘conservation tags,’ and the money from those go directly to agencies to support conservation programs. The second are ‘convention tags’ like those sold at the Utah expo conventions. Wildlife is a public trust. What I told her was that there needs to be accountability about the money from those tags. Where does the money go? Even if it is spent in appropriate ways, there needs to be transparency so there is no room for suspicion.”

David Allen grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A lifelong hunter, Allen is the kind of person that likes to make things happen. His first career position was handling media relations for the Pro Rodeo Association. From that he moved to Wrangler Jeans, where he became Director of Special Events, which included producing country music concerts. Wrangler Jeans was the first primary sponsor of NASCAR race driver legend Dale Earnhardt. David was with Dale Earnhardt from 1980 to Earnhardt’s tragic death in 2001.

In 2003, David joined the Board of Directors of the RMEF. Four years later, David Allen became the President and CEO. To make his point about transparency, he called attention to RMEF’s approach. Charity Navigator gives RMEF a score of 65.26 out of 70 possible points. Almost 90% of their annual income is spent on projects.

Elk recovery: successes and setbacks

The story of elk recovery, in which the RMEF played a critical role, would make Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold very proud. When the Mayflower landed there may have been as many as 10 million elk in the US, which had the largest range of any deer species in North America. By 1907, due to market hunting and loss of habitat, the elk or “wapiti” (Native American word meaning “white rump”), the national population had plummeted to 41,000.

Thanks to the conservation movement, by 1975 the elk herd had climbed back to half a million. A good start, but in 1984 the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was launched to restore the elk herd nationwide, with hunting being a key to sustainable wildlife management. Since then the elk herd in the US has doubled again to over one million, and the RMEF has been a factor in raising money to support that expansion, which has included transplanting elk into five more states. The future seems positive, but in addition to the tenuous state of funding for state wildlife agencies, there are some other obstacles to deal with. One very important one is wolves, who seem to place elk high on their menu.

There were wolves living in the northern Rockies prior to 1995, but not many. A program was launched by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in cooperation with the US National Park Service to catch and relocate 66 wolves from Canada into the Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. The goal was to establish 100 wolves with at least 10 breeding pairs in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Despite the federal government’s program killing wolves that prey on livestock and recently-introduced hunting seasons, the wolf population in the northern Rockies is at least 2,000 animals today, and some believe twice that many. Elk herds in many areas have plummeted as a result of the wolves. Along with the declining number of elk has come declining license sales and downturns in money spent by hunters in communities in elk country.

Wolves were delisted in 2011, and their population remains far above the original goals. However, environmental groups including Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity maintain that the states should not be allowing the hunting and trapping of wolves.

“The environmental groups are not focused on ecology. Wolves are their ‘cash cow.’ These groups say that the wolf populations should be allowed to keep growing even though renowned experts like Dr. David Mech, perhaps the foremost authority on wolves in the world, says that the wolf populations in the northern Rockies were adequately recovered by 2000,” says Allen. “These groups keep moving the goal line because it’s profitable for them to sell ‘saving the wolves’ to their members. What I want to know is how this money to save wolves is being spent. We publish our audited financials at the end of each year so we are transparent. We make those 100% available to the public. How do these pro-wolf groups spend their money? We should see an audited trail of money in and money out on how their money is used to defend wolves.”

Two lawsuits have recently been filed by environmental and animal rights groups challenging Wyoming’s wolf management program. In one, the major plaintiff groups state their membership numbers as a way to support their position. Defenders of Wildlife has 385,173 members nationwide, but only 4,312 in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The NRDC has 363,778 members nationwide, but only 776 in Wyoming, 1,770 in Idaho, and 1,745 in Montana. The Sierra Club has 595,288 members nationwide, but only 891 in Wyoming, 2,214 in Idaho, and 2,061 in Montana.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has started new elk herds in five states.

“I suspect that a number of those folks belong to all four,” Allen observes. “As for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, our membership is about 193,000. In Idaho we have 6,756 members. There are 9,015 REMF members in Wyoming and 12,414 in Montana. Our policy is really to represent our members. They are like shareholders. And we have donated over $400,000 to support scientific research on wolves, providing data that we use to guide our policies on wolf management.”

“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation does not want to eradicate wolves and we have never stated such,” Allen went on to say. “We believe they should be managed in keeping with ecological and social considerations, and our membership supports this. This idea of some ‘ideal balance of nature’ with the return of all predators to numbers of hundreds of years ago these environmental groups are peddling is like a Walt Disney movie. You cannot restore the wolf population to the levels it once was because there are 300 million people they have to co-exist with. The same is true for bears, mountain lions and coyotes, as well as elk, deer, and so forth. You can’t go back to the past. You cannot replace hunters with predators to keep wildlife populations sustainable.”

Looking to the future of conservation

The predator issues strike a sobering chord with Allen.

“Our North American Wildlife Model of Wildlife Conservation is a model for the world. And the North American Model of Wildlife Management is in jeopardy,” he added. “The Fish and Wildlife Service says their goal is to turn over all management of wolves to the states by 2014. The hunters and anglers sustain the state system now, and state agencies are already in financial trouble. We cannot manage wildlife as if the United States is a large national park. Already predator management is placing a burden on the states, and their populations are growing and spreading.”

Under Allen’s leadership, the RMEF recently passed 6.1 million acres in habitat conserved or enhanced for elk and other wildlife. Problem is that we are losing elk habitat at the rate of 4-5,000 acres a day, Allen says.

Allen admits that right now the hunting-conservation groups are fighting a defensive battle.

“The sportsmen’s groups do not cooperate with each other like the anti-hunting groups,” he says. “We must stop being afraid to tell the story of how hunting and conservation are essential. We have to make our case.”

Allen’s background in media is part of his strategy. To see one example of how Allen is walking his talk, see the RMEF video, “Hunting is Conservation”, embedded below.


Images courtesy RMEF

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4 thoughts on “Working to Save Wildlife with the RMEF’s David Allen

  1. “You cannot replace hunters with predators to keep wildlife populations sustainable.” Thanks for the great article! Can you elaborate on the above quoted statement for me? I am eager to join your camp and to help get the good word out about the part hunters play in conserving our natural resources but it also seems that if elk populations are getting crushed by wolves that the wolves are in fact doing their job, albeit a bit too well! My understanding of natural cycles is that the pendulum swings back and forth, correct? No single animal population stays at its current levels. Or is the premise simply that the wolves, due to not having a natural predator sufficient to contain them, is out of control because the line on population #s keeps moving? By the way, given the terrible events this past week, I think it is time that proud outdoor enthusiasts and hunters join the national conversation so that we are not labeled unfairly/unjustly. Keep up the great work!

  2. Great article!

    To understand what is going on with Fish and Game agencies, we must first understand where they have been. RMEF and the State agencies are somewhat of a partnership. Maybe not your usual partnership, but the two work very closely on many issues and land deals.

    State game agencies are running out of money, because they participated in facilitating the Federal Government Wolf infestation, which has decimated our elk populations. The game agencies have not reduced their expenditures to reflect their dismal sales, and this the nut’s and bolts of the problem with the states and their budget shortfalls.

    For over 16 years, for instance, Idaho Fish and Game not only initiated wolf introduction, they actively participated in the fraudulent science that destroyed our elk populations. Idaho Fish and Game were not alone in their gerrymandering of elk counts, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks did the exact same thing. Both of these departments skewed wolf impacts, and inflated their elk counts to offset the real impact to the wildlife. I am positive Mr. Allen will agree, it is not only elk that have suffered as a result. I questioned Idaho Fish and Game biologist Jim Hayden, the head biologist for the Idaho Panhandle, about his official wolf count, which went to the Federal Government, and ultimately to the press, where the same fraudulent number is regurgitated. I called him out at a public meeting, and I asked him to prove the excessively low wolf counts, and he said that his number was a low estimate. His low estimate is the understatement of the century. Wolf populations grow at over 30% conservative but in areas with abundant feed, we believe the numbers are more like 40-50%. If you have a 6th grade math education, you can figure out that wolf populations are exceeding elk mortality by many times. Much of the Northern Panhandle of Idaho, and certainly Central Idaho, are in emergency conditions, with only a reported 6 % cow/calf ratio. It won’t be too many more years until hunting in Idaho is finished for good. The answer to game agencies who mismanaged their resource and fed their elk to wolves, is massive layoffs. We do not need elk biologists when their are no elk to study. Collaring elk is a shell game, as we know what is eating them, and it is not humans.

    I see the numbers coming from RMEF, claiming massive loss of elk habitat every year as a sales pitch. Over 65% of Idaho is public land, much of it great wildlife habitat. With the many acres acquired by RMEF, much of that land has zero elk to inhabit that land. Without the elk, moose and deer, it is all just real estate. Conservation easements are detrimental to the local tax base, and many times not far from the mission of the Nature Conservancy. Purchasing land is not as important as forcing the USFS to manage the land under it’s original mandate. Locking up land, and then not allowing any land disturbance is creating another obstacle for elk, and that is feed. The forest’s in the West are so dense, that not one ray of sunshine reaches the forest floor. There is room for discussion on habitat, and it is much more important than buying more land.

    David Allen has done a great job since he has taken the job as president, and I commend him for much of the work he has done. I hope that in the future, many hunting organizations will sit down and have an honest discussion about the problems and solutions we need to address immediately. I plan to reach out to many of these organizations, and I hope that all of us can begin to make the necessary changes to stop the decline of our wildlife.

  3. Academia has been promoting a false premise and a damaging agenda in wildlife management for 20 years or more, namely that large predators, keystone species are crucial to the health of wildlife populations and their ecosystem. The damaging agenda, came from non-governmental organizations, promoting the speculation that hunting was a dying sport and wildlife must be managed for wildlife viewers. This has been played out in conjunction with the large predator premise, over-protecting large predators using the Endangered Species Act, even introducing a non-native species of wolf into the Rocky Mountain West. Part of the reason these projects have succeeded is because so-called conservation organizations went along with the premise despite the objections of their members or the local people who actually have to live with the damage.

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