Fort Riley, Kansas

 

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Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers see wildlife of Fort Riley

By Kalene Lozick | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | October 06, 2017

     With more than 300 elk scattered across the 101,000 acres Fort Riley holds, the Directorate of Public Works - Environmental Division receives help from partnerships to maintain the landscape.

      One such group, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, toured Fort Riley Sept. 30 to see how their financial assistance is used.

     According to Mason Cooper, regional director of Kansas and Missouri chapters of RMEF, they have than 200,000 members internationally, involve 11,000 volunteers and have 509 active chapters within the U.S., excluding Hawaii.

    Members of RMEF worked alongside DPW - Environmental staff in the morning to spray for sericea lespedeza, a noxious weed. In the afternoon, members rejoined Shawn Stratton, supervisory fish and wildlife biologist for DPW Environmental Division, for a briefing of the elk species at Fort Riley.

     Before the installation tour, Stratton discussed the elk herd in Kansas, how the herd was integrated to the installation and the elk research project by Jonathan M. Conard, Kansas State University Ph.D. student and DPW Conservation Branch intern.

     Throughout most of the installation and North America are Rocky Mountain Elk, Stratton said.

     “The Fort Riley herd has grown to 300-plus animals on the installation,” Stratton said. “They’re getting off all over the place. We know of a herd up near Randolph with number up in the 20 to 30 range that doesn’t come back.”

      The growth of the elk herd on post is due to reintegration that began in the 1900s.

     “The first elk that came back to Kansas were in 1951 and they were put at the Maxwell National Wildlife and Refuge in McPherson, Kansas,” Stratton said. “They came from the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma.”

    The tour was designed to show the foundation members the natural environment on the Army installation and show them where the foundation’s funds are going, as well as grabbing a glimpse of the elk.

     When the sun set on the tour, wildlife on Fort Riley became active. During the tour, the foundation saw dozens of turkeys and several white-tail deer.

      Before leaving the north side of the installation, Stratton gave the members an opportunity to view the rolling hills of Kansas.

      As the members and Stratton looked upon the horizon with binoculars, Stratton spotted two elk beyond a woody patch on the installation.

     “This is the largest chunk of public ground in the state, so this is where our main elk herd is,” Cooper said. “So it is an opportunity to get our volunteers out and do some habitat projects.”

     Most of the volunteers said they do their job to conserve the land for future generations. Without conserving land for the next generation, there won’t be elk or other wildlife on the installation.

     “We do it for them,” Lowry said.

      Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provides Fort Riley with the financial ability to conserve the land through pact grants.