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Illinois hunting and fishing

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation works to save wilderness

June 19, 2011 at 07:20 AM

The State Journal-Register

Elk disappeared from Illinois so long ago few people realize the majestic animals once inhabited Illinois.

Members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are working to be sure places where elk still roam remain protected and that they thrive in places where they have been restored.

Even in central Illinois, a local chapter works towards “the preservation of wilderness,” says Jay Cook of Springfield.

“What’s cooler than to listen to an elk bugle?” Cook says. “If that doesn’t inspire you to save wilderness, I don’t know what will.”

Cook says he hopes that ability to inspire will bring people to the group’s banquet to be held July 30 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 2200 S. Meadowbrook Road.

With the economy climbing slowly out of recession, local conservation organizations have found themselves in competition for available dollars.

The job is even tougher for a group supporting elk – animals no longer found in Illinois and with no plans to bring them back to the prairie state.

“The recession hit us pretty hard last year,” he says.

While the Foundation’s main mission is protecting elk habitat, Cook is trying to get the word out about his organization’s local focus, especially supporting youth programs.

The local chapter is involved in shooting sports programs, like the National Archery in the Schools Program.

It also has supported a 4-H shooting program and the Boy Scouts.

The group sponsors youth deer and quail hunts and makes a place for kids at their annual banquet with plenty of prizes geared towards those under 16.

The group’s volunteers also help out by getting kids outside and leading field trips to places like the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville.

On the national level, RMEF works to buy land and establish conservation easements, especially where available habitat can be stitched together.

The organization also has worked to re-establish elk herds in neighboring states like Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin.

“They are creatures that need big chunks of real estate to exist,” he says. “I think that’s what makes this conservation effort so important. If you save habitat for elk, you are helping a lot of other species.”

Cook says a trip out west for an elk hunt can be a physically challenging experience.

“It definitely requires a person to be in pretty good shape,” he says.

Still, a love of hunting is what draws many to banquets – even one that is protecting an animal that may live hundreds of miles away.

“Hunting bridges a lot of political attitudes,” Cook says.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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