Elk NetworkHands-on New Mexico Volunteers Spruce Up Wildlife Habitat

Volunteer News | March 23, 2023

From fish to elk, Coues’ whitetail deer to mule deer, pronghorn antelope to black bears to turkey to mountain lions and beyond, New Mexico has an incredible array of wildlife. And when it comes to actions that help keep them and their habitats thriving, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers in the Land of Enchantment like to take a hands-on approach.

During the summer of 2022, RMEF volunteers laced up their track shoes (so to speak) to try to run down newborn elk calves in the Gila National Forest near the New Mexico-Arizona state line. The goal was to capture the animals so New Mexico Game and Fish biologists could outfit them with GPS collars to monitor their movement, survival and mortality. Click here to watch an RMEF Films production of the effort.

In the fall of 2021, some 275 miles to the east in southcentral New Mexico, RMEF volunteers wholeheartedly tackled a completely different type of task. They gathered in the Lincoln National Forest to build and install four beaver dam analogs. What are those, you ask? They are man-made devices meant to mimic the structure of a beaver dam.

RMEF volunteers worked alongside other groups to strategically place rocks and posts, then cut, weave and stack willows through them. The result was structures that slow the spread of water, form pools, capture sediment and increase willow and riparian vegetation while helping prevent stream bank erosion.

They also installed multiple one-rock dams with the beaver dam analogs along 1.2 miles of Big Bear Creek. The Big Bear riparian area (Hunting Unit 36) serves as an important habitat for elk and other big game species by providing forage, water, cover and acts as a migration corridor from winter to summer ranges.

“Just terrific work by our volunteers! They just go and go and go,” says Josh McDonald, RMEF’s New Mexico regional director. “And let’s not forget that they also give their time year-round to plan, organize and host fundraising banquets. Those dollars are vital because they go back on the ground to help conserve and enhance habitat, and supply funding for youth recreational shooting teams, mentored hunts and other hunting and conservation related efforts.”

Thanks to its volunteers, RMEF and its partners completed 449 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in New Mexico to date, with a combined value of more than $46.1 million. Those projects conserved or enhanced 539,825 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 110,483 acres.