Saving Idaho’s Elk Country on a Grand Scale
By Lena Viall, Bugle Intern
The Danskin Mountains near Boise, Idaho, are a broad expanse providing critical winter range to thousands of elk and vital habitat for other wildlife. Unfortunately, the region lies in the projected path of tremendous urban growth spreading from Boise.
The same story echoes throughout southwest Idaho’s elk country. That’s why in 2008 the Elk Foundation created the Wildlife Habitat Conservation Partnership (WHCP), an alliance made up of conservation groups, federal, tribal and state agencies and private landowners that is working to develop and complete a far-reaching set of habitat projects for elk and other wildlife living in the fourth fastest growing state in the nation.
“We need to conserve habitat on a landscape scale if we are going to make a difference, and partnerships are vital to making that happen,” says Dave Torell, RMEF lands program manager for Southern Idaho and Nevada and WHCP founder.
Three groups make up the central core of the WHCP: RMEF, Idaho Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and Bureau of Land Management, all of which provide leadership and financing for the project. Other partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Mule Deer Foundation, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Owyhee County Local Sage Grouse Working Group, several county commissions and coordinated weed management groups and landowners provide manpower, funding and input. The scope of the WHCP is as broad as its supporting organizations. Stretching across 13 counties, the partnership has identified three focus areas—the Owyhee Uplands, West-Central (primarily the Payette and Boise national forests), and Boise/Fairfield nestled between Boise and Mountain Home.
In the Danskin Mountains, the WHCP has implemented a variety of projects including weed treatment and reseeding on the Ditto Creek Ranch, an elk telemetry study, a 120-acre land exchange, and plans to implement wildlife habitat GIS data into rural planning.
“This project has been a long time coming,” says Dennis Radocha, longtime RMEF volunteer and chairman of the foundation’s Regional Chairs.
Torell says RMEF volunteers have been vital to the fundraising that powers the WHCP. They have worked tirelessly within their chapters and communities to spread the word about the WHCP and contact possible donors, and have already raised $80,000 to fund projects in 2009.
WHCP seeks to address the issue of habitat loss through public outreach as well. Already project managers have tapped area landowners regarding perceptions and interest in conservation projects on private lands and plan to hold a public symposium to address the impacts of growth and change on wildlife and habitat in Idaho. And, they have partnered with scientists from institutions like the University of Idaho. “We’ve brought the science to bear on the work,” says Torell. “We’re using professionals to help us design our projects and evaluate the differences that we make.”
Designed to evolve as the objectives and partners change, the WHCP has tremendous potential for growth, with only funding as the limiting factor. “We need to let the public know the resources are there, but we need their support to make this really go,” says DFG’s Greg Servheen.
For more information on WHCP and how you can help, contact Dave Torell at firstname.lastname@example.org.