The Colville Valley Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation welcomed two of the organization’s founders at a Founder’s Reception and 25th Annual Banquet Fundraiser held Jan. 25-26 in Colville. The two, Bob Munson and Charlie Decker, were hosted by Banquet Chairman Bob Wellman of Chewelah and greeted by local members and hunting enthusiasts.
Munson and Decker established the foundation in 1984 in Troy, Mont. along with fellow hunters Dan Bull and Bill Munson for the purpose of preserving and improving habitat for elk and other wildlife.
“We were really a group of naive sportsmen,” Munson described laughingly about the group’s early days. Munson was a real estate agent; Decker a logger (and still is). The other two were a pastor and a drive-in owner.
The four founders each contributed $6,000 to the cause and printed and mailed 43,000 membership brochures with the help of a Spokane marketing firm. They had “conservatively” hoped to gain 2,200 members from that initial drive. “We would run out to the mailbox each day, expecting a flood of responses,” Munson recalled. After about a month, and the initial response waned, they had only received 230 memberships.
Undeterred, they borrowed an additional $25,000 to follow through on their promise to publish a quarterly magazine about elk and elk hunting. They printed 32,000 copies of their first issue of Bugle magazine to mail to the new members and distribute to magazine racks throughout the Western states. Their persistence started to show positive results, and by the end of 1984 the foundation had nearly 2,500 members.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation held their first convention in Spokane in April 1985. In that same year, they were also able to fund their first habitat project, a prescribed burn on the Kootenai National Forest near Libby, Mont.
“We were barely able to pay the Sheraton Hotel bill at the end of that first convention,” Decker remembered. “We had several lean years in the beginning, but I truly believe God was involved with the creation of the organization.”
“It’s been a fun ride!” Munson exclaimed about his involvement over the last 29 years.
Today, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has over 196,000 members nationwide, more than 500 regional chapters, publishes a bi-monthly magazine, and has worked to improve and protect nearly 6.3 million acres of wildlife habitat. Munson and Decker are now Honorary Lifetime Directors of the organization along with 20 other elected officers and directors. Munson lives in Lynwood, Wash. and Decker lives in Libby, Mont.
Locally, the Colville Valley Chapter has 125 volunteers who work to organize the annual Fundraising Dinner and Auction. The chapter formed in 1988. In 25 years, the chapter has raised over $1.4 million for the foundation, which helps fund conservation projects nationwide, according to Wellman.
In this area, funding has been provided for prescribed burns in the Cottonwood Creek, Leslie Creek, and Cliff Ridge areas, among others, Wellman said. He explained that prescribed burning helps to remove undesirable materials from the forest floor while promoting the growth of plants that are more beneficial to wildlife habitat.
Munson emphasized that the foundation can leverage their own funds by combining with state and federal dollars to multiply the impact of habitat projects. He said that, amongst other conservation groups, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation claims the highest efficiency of utilizing money toward their mission.
“So the dollars donated will really mean something on the ground,” Munson said proudly.
“91 cents of every dollar raised goes toward conservation projects,” Decker added.
Munson and Decker were honored to be part of this year’s Colville Valley Chapter fundraiser.
“We are thrilled to be here to thank the people that make all this possible,” Munson said. “It’s the volunteers who really own the organization.”
“Amen to that,” Decker interjected. “The membership are real salt of the earth people – and the banquets are fun!”
Wellman said that the fundraiser starts with a social hour and games, continues with a live auction, and ends with a dinner. The event attracts about 300 people who have a chance to win raffle prizes or bid on high quality auction items and enjoy a nice dinner.
To learn more about Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, visit www.rmef.org.
By Jared Arnold, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Pictured (l-r) are Bob Wellman, Charlie Decker, and Bob Munson. Decker and Munson are original founders of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and visited the Colville Valley Chapter for their 25th annual fundraising banquet Jan. 25-26. Jared Arnold photo