Elk foundation’s GJ chapter leads in fundraising
While western Colorado is world-renowned for its elk hunting, the local chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is almost as well-known for its fundraising.
According to the elk foundation, the Grand Junction chapter is the most-successful of its chapters in terms of fundraising, which includes memberships and net proceeds from the annual banquet.
The local chapter has raised more than $2.167 million since its inception in 1989, said Steve Decker, foundation vice-president of marketing.
Since being founded in 1984 by four hunters from Troy, Mont., the foundation based in Missoula, Mont., has grown to more than 550 chapters with more than 160,000 members, including 10,000 active volunteers.
Chapters are found in 16 states (including Hawaii) plus the District of Columbia and the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
According to local elk foundation volunteer and banquet committee member Jerry Norton, the Grand Junction chapter’s first banquet was in April 1989 and attracted 84 people and netted about $5,000.
Last year’s banquet, held just as the nation’s economy was taking a deep dive due to the recession, still managed to pull in around 800 attendees who raised $202,000 for elk.
This year’s 22nd annual banquet, held Saturday at Two Rivers Convention Center, drew about 850 people, said local chapter chairman Terry Sweet.
“It was phenomenal,” said Sweet, who has chaired the Grand Junction chapter for 21 years. “We’re a little down (in money raised) this year but last year was such a rip-roaring year.”
Sweet said preliminary numbers indicate this year’s banquet grossed $250,000, with net proceeds expected to be about 60 percent of that amount.
“We didn’t sell as many company tables, and I only sold one big hunt this year,” Sweet said, reflecting on the impact of the soft economy.
But in this economy, “$250,000 gross is phenomenal,” he said. “It was such a fun night and it helps add more dollars for our work.”
Since its founding, the foundation has helped protect or enhance more than 5.7 million acres of wildlife habitat in North America.
That includes 378,145 acres in Colorado.
The 30 or so elk foundation chapters in Colorado have raised more than $15.1 million.
Elk foundation records show 50 percent of all banquet proceeds are earmarked for in-state projects, Decker said. The other 50 percent goes into a national account and goes to other projects.
Some of those projects include conservation easements, legal fees, monitoring costs and others, said Steve Wagner, a publicist for the foundation.
The foundation this year is funding $146,000 in projects for 14 Colorado counties. That list includes prescribed burns in Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties as well as reseeding native grasses and research into the possible causes of Sudden Aspen Decline.
Also, the foundation currently oversees $101 million worth of conservation easements in Colorado, Wagner said.
But that’s only the tip of the money spent on elk habitat in Colorado, Decker said.
Another way to measure local impacts is by looking at the value of projects the foundation has helped to fund, where foundation dollars have been pooled with, and in some cases leverage, more funding from more sources for more habitat conservation, Decker said.
“The total value of RMEF projects in Colorado is $115 million, which includes the value of conservation easements we hold there,” Decker said. “The bottom line is, although Colorado RMEF chapters have raised $15.1 million, the on-the-ground return on that investment is actually much greater.”
Sweet credited the hard-working banquet committee for whatever success the local chapter has enjoyed.
“It’s not a one-man show, it’s the people,” Sweet said. “I have such a great committee, I just can’t say enough about our committee.”
But it’s more than just spending money.
For the second consecutive year, the Grand Junction chapter, with help from elk guide and outfitter Terry Commander of Somerset, honored a member of the armed services and donated an elk hunt and taxidermy to a member of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior program.
This year’s recipient is former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aubrey Jollotta of Westminster. Jollotta receives a guided second-season elk hunt in Game Unit 521 northwest of Gunnison for himself and a companion.