Bugle Magazine, a publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, published this fabulous feature story on conserving sagebrush country in its Nov/Dec 2017 issue
Nineteen-year RMEF member Tim Griffths knows he has an elk problem. “I’m a bowhunter. I’ve bowhunted elk for 30 years. It’s a sickness,” he says. “All my leave every year is spent in September, chasing elk.”
Excitement creeps into his voice. “The other 11 months, I’m scouting, training, preparing. It’s a 365-day adventure for me.”
He picks up speed, the words flowing faster now. “I can’t even tell you how much I love elk. They’re just the coolest animal in the world. They inhabit the coolest places that you then have to explore to find them.”
A long sigh full of the heavy weight of mid-July, a yearning for fall.
“And that time of year when you’re bowhunting them, and the leaves are changing and the mornings are cool, it’s a religious experience that just transforms you. I can’t think of a thing I’d rather do than bowhunt elk in the fall out West.”
When he’s not hunting elk or thinking about hunting elk, Griffiths works to conserve some of those coolest places for them—well, technically mainly for sage grouse, but elk also call sage grouse country home. The blue-green tint of sagebrush is just as much the color of elk country as golden aspen or black timber—and every bit as vital.
Griffiths, based in Bozeman, Montana, is the Western coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife partnership. What drives him is a deceptively simple goal: implementing conservation and stewardship that deliver maximum benefit to both agriculture and wildlife on the largest scale possible. When it works, people, cattle, elk and a seven-pound bird with one of the weirdest mating rituals in America all win.
Funded by the Farm Bill, NRCS spearheads the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), a massive effort to restore these birds. From an estimated 16 million birds when Lewis and Clark ventured west, this signature species of the sage has lost more than half its range and 98 percent of its population. Roughly 200,000 birds remain today.
Sage Grouse & Elk = Peanut Butter & Jelly
Almost 40 percent of current sage grouse range overlaps elk range and more than half of SGI’s conservation easements lie in prime elk country. So it’s only natural RMEF and SGI, which falls under the Working Lands for Wildlife umbrella, have joined forces on dozens of projects to conserve vital habitat.
Elk and sage grouse share 40 million acres of sagebrush across the American West. It’s no coincidence that the 11 states where sage grouse persist—California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming—are also home to some of the best elk hunting anywhere.