In 2014, then 12-year-old Ryley McCuiston shot this magnificent bull elk in northwest Arkansas.
It is a product and reflection of the healthy habitat created from a decade of ongoing work known as the Bearcat Hollow Restoration Project.
The collaborative effort involves the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, National Wild Turkey Federation, Arkansas Wildlife Federation and many other partners.
The goal is to recover the landscape from decades of fire suppression, noxious weed invasion and overuse when humans lived in the Ozark National Forest before it received that designation more than a century ago.
On-the-ground habitat work over the years includes forest thinning and the creation of meadows and wildlife openings, prescribed burns, invasive weed treatment, pond creation, fertilization and supplemental planting, fence removal and the installation of gates to prohibit unwanted entry on non-designated routes.
To date, RMEF committed more than $165,000 to the project plus volunteer manpower.
The result is 16,000 acres of improved forest health including enhanced habitat for elk, deer, bear and turkey and, according to Ryley, the –quote– “best day of my life and a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.”Restoring elk country is core to RMEF’s Managed Lands Initiative.
Since 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners completed more than 11,000 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects that protected or enhanced more than 7.6 million acres of wildlife habitat.