The local, state and national chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are making a huge commitment of time and money to Arizona's wildlife.
According to RMEF Arizona volunteer chairman Dan Hunter, the elk foundation has spent a total conservation outlay of $8.1 million in Arizona.
Of that amount, $5.2 million came from RMEF's Arizona coffers and another $2.9 million from national partner contributions.
"Because Arizona has been prioritized as a key elk state, local spending has far exceeded local fund-raising," Hunter said.
That, however, doesn't mean local residents have been shy about supporting the efforts of the foundation.
According to national statistics, the RMEF has received $4.7 million from Arizona banquets, events, donations and memberships.
"Arizonans have contributed mightily to (RMEF) efforts," Hunter said.
In the Rim country, Dr. Drew Justice a large-animal veterinarian serving his first year as president of the local RMEF chapter said Payson also is doing its share to support the conservation cause.
"Our last banquet, held at the (Mazatzal) casino July 20, was a sell out ... about 220 people attended," he said. "Our contributions are up 25 percent over a year ago."
Justice's goal as Payson president is to have as much money returned to local efforts as possible and to also attract the national fund-raising dollars.
The most recent RMEF co-sponsored event was a water-hauling project during Arizona's drought and the Rodeo-Chediski fire.
Throughout the early summer, Hunter said, water trucks were running from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. hauling between 28,000 and 36,000 gallons of water per day to replenish tanks, drinkers and water-catching devices.
Although the devastating effects of the drought have softened a bit with recent rain, the local chapter continues to oversee several conservation projects.
One of those projects is near Round Valley, where a dirt tank is being built, Justice said.
On the agenda of the local chapter is to fund several controlled burns designed to improve wildlife habitat.
In 1996 and 1999, RMEF's local, state and national chapters joined forces to haul water during Arizona drought emergencies.
RMEF's two largest projects in the last two decades have been the acquisition of the Cross L and White Mountain Ranches in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
In 1993, RMEF helped the Arizona Game and Fish Department purchase 1,362 aces of the White Mountain Ranch south of Springerville/Eager.
According to Hunter, up to 1,000 elk, and other wildlife spend the winter on the property that is highlighted by wetlands, rolling hills, grassland and pijuniper forests.
Rudd Creek, which runs through the property, provides habitat for two threatened species the Apache trout and the Little Colorado spinedace.
In 1999, the elk foundation bought the 1,723 acre Cross L Ranch. The ranch now offers habitat for 500 to 1,000 elk and a herd of pronghorn antelope, Hunter said.
The RMEF has since turned over the ranch, and rights to 650 acre-feet of water, to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Justice said he was drawn to the foundation because of its ability to make large contributions, like the purchase of the two ranches.
"There are a lot of projects the national chapter can help us with," he said.
For more information about the RMEF, call Justice at 472-6891 or (800) CALL-ELK.