Studying lions: Researchers to begin collecting DNA samples in Bitterroot Valley

After placing an electronic collar around the neck of a cow elk, biologists work to take other samples before the animal awakens during a recent elk capturing operation in the southern Bitterroot Valley. Biologists will begin fanning out across the region to begin gathering information about mountain lions as part of three year study.

Courtesy of Fish, Wildlife & Parks

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will contribute $38,000 toward an ongoing elk survival study in Ravalli County, the Missoula-based nonprofit conservation organization announced on Friday.

The study, now in its third and final year, is being conducted through a partnership between Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the University of Montana to study the elk population of the southern portion of the Bitterroot Valley.

Researchers and volunteers have been capturing and tagging elk calves and cow elk with electronic monitoring devices to determine why there is a low elk calf survival rate, and what is killing them, in the Bitterroot.

“It’s a pretty important study,” said Tom Toman, director of conservation at the Elk Foundation.

The organization also announced on Friday that it will allocate nearly $2.9 million for elk and wildlife-related conservation projects in 27 states with wild, free-ranging elk populations in 2013. Another $570,000 will also be dedicated toward hunting heritage programs in 49 states.

The funding, which totals $3,459,899, comes from banquet-based memberships and fundraising by local RMEF chapters, and represents a 30 percent increase from 2010.

“Montana this year had one of the largest amounts of money of all the states in the nation,” Toman said. “Our fundraisers really work their tails off, and we put the money on the ground for good projects.”

Toman said that an additional $100,000 will be available for Montana projects later this spring.

“This is a testament to the mission-focused attitude of our dedicated volunteers,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, in a statement. “Their successful chapter banquets raise money, which is then turned around and put back on the ground to RMEF mission programs in their own states.”

Habitat projects are selected for RMEF grants using science-based criteria and a committee of RMEF volunteers and staff along with representatives from partnering agencies and universities from their respective states. Examples of projects include habitat stewardship such as prescribed burning, forest thinning and management, weed control, water improvements and more, mostly on public lands. Also included are research projects to improve management of elk, habitat, predators and other factors that influence conservation.

“These funds allow us to carry out dozens of projects that are vital to help elk and enhance elk habitat,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. “Among those efforts are a radio-collared elk study in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, five burn projects in Wyoming to improve forage, and various other research, fence removal and water supply projects.”

In western Montana, Toman said that the money will go to several weed-control projects.

“For example, we helped FWP with a huge conservation easement from Plum Creek near Thompson Falls, and this money will be used to treat weeds in that part of the country,” he said. “It’s good for people to know that once we get something protected, we are more than willing to go back and help with stewardship.”

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

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Reporter for the Ravalli Republic.